By Ros Satar

  • Andy Murray [2] def. Radek Stepanek [Q] 3-6 3-6 6-0 6-3 7-5
  • Aljaz Bedene def. Gerald Melzer 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-4
  • All three British men in round two

PARIS, FRANCE – Andy Murray survived a scare at the hands of veteran Radek Stepanek to book his place in round two, to complete a British men’s line up to advance.

It is safe to say that preparations were maybe not as Murray would have liked, announcing his split with coach Amelie Mauresmo after two years, just after losing his title defence in Madrid, before defeating World No. 1 Novak Djokovic for the Rome title.

Coming out late on a cold day after the opening Sunday in Paris had been heavily disrupted with rain showers, Stepanek looked indefatigable as he left the World No. 2 reeling, two sets down. There was no way that the whole match would be completed in the Parisian gloom, but Murray was no stranger to five set comebacks, especially on the dirt.

It is actually the ninth time that Murray has come from two sets behind, and his third time at Roland Garros (Richard Gasquet, 2010 R1 and Viktor Troicki in the fourth round 2011).

The break as Murray ripped through the third set, and finished with a break up in the fourth set, would no doubt favour the Czech, who certainly looked to be tiring at the end of day. Murray sounded out the fourth set conformably but the decider was a taut affair, a single break point here, another there but neither player able to strike home.

Nerves were jangling as Murray stepped up to serve to stay in the tournament at 4-5 with Stepanek hanging with him every step of the way but lapsed to hand Murray the break. Even with a rather inconvenient double-fault on his first match point, Murray kept his focus to take the second, and keep his hopes of winning the ultimate clay court title alive.

As reported by ATPWorldTour.com, Murray in his on-court interview acknowledged his opponent, saying:

“It’s unbelievable what he’s doing. He had an extremely bad injury last year and was out for eight or nine months. At 37 years old and coming out and fighting like that, playing that way, is unbelievable. I don’t expect to be doing that myself at that age! I’m just glad I managed to get through.

“He was serving very well and hardly missed any volleys, apart from the one on match point, which almost went over as well. I wasn’t able to dictate many of the points, I wasn’t in a great rhythm and that’s credit to him and the way he played.

“Yesterday I had a bit of momentum when we stopped, but coming out today anything could happen. Both of us had chances in the fifth set and thankfully I managed to grab mine at the end when he made a couple of mistakes. I fought extremely hard today and I get the chance to play again tomorrow.”

 

Murray v Mathias Bourgue [W] – First meeting

His opponent on Wednesday is a clay-court loving French wildcard. Stepanek was always going to be a tricky character, often getting under the skin of his opponents with his on-court antics, and Bourgue has spent a lot of this year playing on the clay. Admittedly his time has mainly been on the Challenger circuit, but he is a player who will be very comfortable on the terre battue. That being said, playing an unknown quantity is always unpredictable. Murray was often punished by Stepanek for balls he dropped short as the Czech loves nothing better than darting in to the net to kill off the point.

Logic says that Murray’s variety and ability will ensure a less stressful encounter, as he joined defending champion in the ‘squeak-through’ stakes while Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal steamed through their opening rounds in straight sets.

Prediction: Murray in three sets.

Aljaz Bedene def. Gerald Melzer 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-4 – Faces Steve Darcis in R2 – First Meeting

It has been a rough time for the British No. 2 after his appeal to the ITF to be allowed to represent Great Britain was rejected. The stress manifested itself in wrist pain in Miami and some early losses on what is actually a solid surface for the Brit – including two losses in a row to latest ATP young gun on the scene, Karen Khachanov.

Facing qualifier Melzer, he got off to a slow start to say the least, broken in the first game, before finally breaking back. Two more chances went begging for a break lead for the Brit, and when he didn’t take them, Melzer capitalised with one more of his own, to edge the first set.

It was a solid performance from Bedene though from that point on, as he broke Melzer just once in each set to book his spot in the second round.

He will face Belgium’s Darcis in the next round, and although it is their first meeting he may well fancy his chances. Darcis’ best surface is clay but this season has been a disaster for him with a wrist injury forcing him to withdraw from Doha and a walkover in Rotterdam. He made his comeback just last week at the Bordeaux Challenger where he reached the quarter-final.

That being said, he fought from a set down in the first round of qualifying, and since then seems to have really blown the cobwebs off. He has a decent serve and forehand and looks to be playing himself into some form. Bedene has a steady forehand and has worked hard on his fitness and stamina over the years, and he may well need it to outlast the Belgian who seems to be picking up in confidence each match he gets under his belt.

Prediction: Bedene in four sets.

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