At the French Open, Andy Murray defeats Ivo Karlovic 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 to advance to the 4th round, whilst Rafael Nadal pulls out of the tournament with an injury to his left wrist
It would be something of an understatement to suggest that in life, let alone sport, things don’t always turn out as you expect them too.
Forrest Gump’s mother was right. And when it comes to the case of the 2016 French Open at Roland Garros, so far we’ve had ourselves quite the box of chocolates. Unfortunately that of the Swiss variety (Roger Federer) was missing from the collection.
Approaching this year’s festival of tennis on clay however, no top player had been performing better on that surface than Andy Murray, as the Scot looked imperious collecting titles in Madrid, Munich and Rome, with impressive victories over Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic en route.
At the start of this tournament in fact, owing to his recent form on the red dirt Murray was the second favourite for the French Open behind Djokovic. But then he struggled through back-to-back five-set matches against Radek Stepanek and Mathias Bourgue in the first two rounds, and with ‘King of Clay’ Nadal seeming to have rolled back the years and defending champion Stanislas Wawrinka going well, hopes of British rule in France became optimistic, rather than realistic.
Cause for concern was increased by the prospect of today’s third round opposition. That was monster serving 6’11” Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who although Murray had an unbeaten 6-0 record against as they walked out on Suzanne-Lenglen after lunch, was rarely an easy afternoon’s work for anyone. Tie-breaks were likely, and another five sets entirely possible.
It remained to be seen however how Karlovic would be feeling after winning the final set of his second-round encounter with Australian John Thompson 12-10 in the fifth. Only 4 months younger than Murray’s first round victim Radek Stepanek having turned 37 in February, fatigue would surely catch up to Karlovic before it would 29-year-old Murray.
Karlovic had hit 72 aces in the first two rounds, but that level of intimidating serving prowess appeared to be completely missing from his game in the early stages here. With Murray serving to go 1-0 up, he then won the first three points of the match on Karlovic’s serve. He didn’t convert the first break point, but he did the second with a beautiful lob.
And it turned out that would become the theme of the opening set.
It took Murray just 15 minutes to race into a 4-0 lead, and, wanting to spend as little time on court as possible to get the job done after his early tournament shenanigans, only 25 minutes to wrap up the first set 6-1. Maybe all the talk of Karlovic’s serve and the difficulty in breaking it had in fact tempted fate. Or maybe Murray was finally finding his groove.
Easy to forget however, that Murray was up a set and a break against Mathias Bourge before falling two sets to one behind, but when he broke early in the second set against Karlovic you sensed that this would pan out a little differently. He maintained that one break advantage throughout the second set to take it 6-4 .
Karlovic would start the third by smashing down two aces. More like what we had expected from the giant and he would hold to lead in a set for the first time in the match. Perhaps he had suddenly remembered that he was supposed to be taking Murray deep into tie-breaks here, rather than falling behind on his serve.
And so we finally got one. Six games a piece with no breaks of serve, the third set did indeed go to a tie-break. But Murray won the first three points, bagging himself a mini-break to lead 3-0. Karlovic regained composure on his serve and took it to 3-2, then Murray held twice to regain a three point cushion.
At 5-2, with Karlovic serving, Murray slid across the clay to curl a forehand around Karlovic – no mean feat – and break again to earn four match points. Karlovic’s response was a booming ace, but on the next point he would pay for his lack of them as Murray pressed an error from the big man, who hit a forehand out wide. 7-3 in the tiebreak and Murray was a straight sets victor 6-1, 6-4, 7-6.
The performance as well as the result will no doubt lift Murray and provide his fans with renewed belief that he can win a first French slam. Oh how the landscape can change over the course of 24 hours. Shortly after Murray and Karlovic had come off court, there was an announcement that sent shock-waves through the tournament and changed the landscape of the men’s draw to a much greater degree.
Nine-time champion Rafael Nadal hastily arranged a press conference to announce he was pulling out of the tournament with a left wrist injury, a day before he was scheduled to play his third-round match against Marcel Granollers. After defeating Facundo Bagnis in style on Thursday, the left-handed Spaniard said he required an anaesthetic injection to numb the wrist and it had not recovered. This morning he wasn’t able to move it.
“I arrive here with a little bit of pain but something that I was able to manage. We tried to manage it. I hand an injection in the wrist yesterday but this morning I could not move the wrist. It is not broken but if I continue to play it will be broken. We tried our best, we took risks. Roland Garros is an important tournament for me. To win the tournament I need five more matches. The doctor says it is not 100% possible because it will be broken. There is no chance I can even practise today. It’s a very bad decision for me but that’s part of life. I will try to be back as soon as possible.”
Incredibly sad news, particularly given how Nadal had looked in the opening two rounds, and with the retirement the chances of him winning a 10th title at Roland Garros have immediately gone from realistic to slim.
Another year older in 2017, Nadal will be 30, and dealing with his many ailments – a product of his ferocious playing style – won’t get any easier. It really seemed as though it would be this year or not at all. Then again, things aren’t always as they seem. As Mrs. Gump once said, “You never know what you’re going to get.”
What Murray now has is the best opportunity he will likely ever have to win the French major, with a tournament absent of Nadal or Federer before we reach the second week. Djokovic and Wawrinka remain of course, as do many other threats, but it can’t be denied that Nadal’s withdrawal indirectly benefits the Scotsman’s cause.
Today was a much needed response from Murray after his struggles in the opening two rounds, breaking one of the best servers in the game several times in the first two sets, and he holding his nerve in the inevitable tie-break.
Next up? Another big server in American John Isner.
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