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Let's be optimistic yet realistic

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Jonathan Overend | 18:27 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2012

At Roland Garros

A photographer in the media conference room, disregarding common courtesy and unwritten media protocol, stops Andy Murray on his way out.

"Picture, Andy?" he grunts, attractively.

Clearly insufficient to this sweaty irritant are the millions of available photos of the world number four. Murray must feel like kicking him in the tripod. Instead he pauses and poses.

Sometimes silly things like this help assess Murray's mood and state of mind ahead of big tournaments. He was in a grump in Rome, by all accounts, but here he is chatty, obliging and as upbeat as we can ever expect.

Andy Murray

Murray is in a good mental state as he faces his least favourite surface. Photo: Getty

"It's about feeling comfortable on the court and mentally [being] in the right place and I feel much, much better than a few weeks ago in that respect," he tells me.

He was fresh from a fun hit on Court Philippe Chatrier with occasional advisor Darren Cahill, pounding his forehand at every opportunity and rewarding the scattering of spectators with used tennis balls. When presented with a free hit at Cahill's backside (a common forfeit seen on the practice court) he hit straight into the net and laughed in embarrassment.

Having recovered from the back problem which ruled him out of Madrid and still bugged him in Rome, Murray's preparation for this second major of the year has gone well on the paprika-red clay of Roland Garros.

Eyebrows were raised by coach Ivan Lendl's absence from the practice session - he's playing an exhibition event in Frankfurt - but Murray is unconcerned by the brief separation. Lendl has been at his side for just under a week in Paris and the prep is complete.

"Physically, and in terms of the way I'm hitting the ball? Yeah - everything's done," he says.

Murray starts against Tatsuma Ito of Japan - the world number 69 who spends most of his time playing challengers - but further down the line his draw illustrates how tough this sporting challenge can be.

If the Scot manages to negotiate the first week, he could face a sequence of matches against Richard Gasquet, who beat him in Rome, clay supremo and fifth seed David Ferrer, and six-time champion Rafa Nadal. And that's just up to the semis.

If anyone doubts how hard it is to win one of these things, just consider that second-week work for a second.

Murray remains in a group of challengers behind the big three - Novak Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer. No more does he lose sleep over the desperate quest for a first major because his job is hard enough clinging onto top spot in the second tier.

Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych and the returning Juan Del Potro are all possible contenders this fortnight and if Murray stays ahead of them for the foreseeable future he's doing a great job.

For him to do that, and after a recent recurrence of a back problem, he needs his body to hold up during this most gruelling of fortnights.

"It got a little bit worse," he says of the nagging pain, "but you kind of play through it until it gets to the stage that you have to take a break."

Last year he twisted an ankle during his third round match in Paris, hobbled into the same press conference room on crutches, and was advised not to walk for a couple of days.

Instead, he came from two sets to love down to win his next match, played over two days, and ultimately reached the semi-finals, only to be denied by a rampant Nadal.

"That was one of the toughest tournaments I played last year mentally and emotionally. I went to hospital... came back from two sets down, bad light stopped play, whatever. I also broke a tooth in the middle and had to go to the dentist. It was a strange tournament but really good for me."

Another semi-final, a sixth in a row at the majors, would be another success for Murray, given his disjointed build-up and the form of the opposition.

He'll give it his best here on the well-to-do Westside of Paris, but expect a more realistic challenge for that debut major to be mounted in London and New York later in the year.

Up top, the Djokovic/Nadal rivalry continues to amaze and it would be a shock if they don't meet in yet another final. After losing to Novak twice in the clay spring of 2011, Nadal has now beaten his rival in Monte Carlo and Rome without dropping a set.

I'm sticking my neck out considerably, I understand that, as I predict a record seventh Roland Garros title for the man from Majorca.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    FACE IT MURRAY DOESN'T HAVE IT IN HIM TO WIN A GRAND SLAM. ITS NOT THE TOP 4, ITS THE TOP 3. MURRAY'S BEEN LUCKING HIS WAY INTO THE SEMI-FINALS OF GRAND SLAMS FOR FAR TOO LONG NOW. MAINLY THANKS TO THE DRAWS, HE'S ALWAYS AVOIDED THE BIG-GUNS OF THE LIKES OF TSONGA, BERDYCH AND DEL POTRO. HAD HE MET ANY OF THEM IN THE QUARTERS, HE WOULD'VE BEEN TOAST.

    THE ONLY DIGNIFIED MOVE NOW FOR A NATIONAL TREASURE LIKE MURRAY, IS TO ANNONUCE HIS RETIREMENT WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT, CITING ''INJURIES'' AS THE CAUSE TO THIS SAD DEPARTURE FROM THE WORLD STAGE.

  • Comment number 2.

    #1 - stop shouting and grow up. Murray vs Del Potro head to head? 5-1 Murray. Murray vs Tsonga head to head? 5-1 Murray. Berdych is the only one of those 3 who has the edge Head to Head, 4-2.

    To suggest he retire is just plain sad.

  • Comment number 3.

    I've not had as big a laugh after reading the comments of ยง1, since watching Tommy Cooper

    Give me three rivals for Murray of Tsonga, Del Potro and Berdych ANY day of the week

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    It seems a bit strange that murray's "new goal" is to reach another semi- it's almost as if the pressure's off because the media are starting to realise that he is a long way off toppling the big 3, especially on clay. Personally I agree that it would be a major upset if he won, especially considering his poor clay form this season. His best chance of winning a major is at one of the other three, with one of the other second-tier challengers taking down at least one of the big 3 en route

  • Comment number 6.

    As great as it would be to see Murray win a major, it's nice that journalists are referring back to the 'Big Three' again. Semis would be great for Murray at the French, Ferrer in the quarters is a slightly frightening prospect though.

    It's obviously great to know that Murray's posing for a picture is firm confirmation that he's mentally on song though!

  • Comment number 7.

    Very sad to see the comments from the opening poster, but I am comforted by the fact he clearly knows nothing about tennis.

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree with the contents of the article but I dont quite see how it is necessary to say Murray has to reappraise his standing in the game right now; I have never seen him as capable of sufficiently upping his game on clay. He is in the same place he always was and we should wait for the grass and more importantly hard court seasons to assess how he really is.

  • Comment number 9.

    Sorry to all the Murray fans, but to be fair, he is well behind the top 3 at the moment. He played great in Australia, reached the final in Dubai, and had his slump (routine for the past two years), post it, and since has been struggling with injury. No doubt, in my mind that Nadal is the overwhelming favorite to win his 7th title at Roland Garros, and he has been handed a very kind draw, as I give Murray no chance against him. That's if he reaches the semi-final in the first place, as I think Berdych, Del Potro, Ferrer are all better players than him on clay. And even at Wimbledon and New York, Murray will always remain the least likely to win, and I would always pick Novak, Rafa, and Rog ahead of him any day. He should really take inspiration from what Novak has been able to achieve, and perhaps even look at Roger for doing what he is doing at 30, which is nothing short of awesome. I think Murray still doesn't have the mental toughness, to match them toe for toe in the big matches, and still feel, he has one of the weaker forehands on tour, and an especially weak second serve, which hasn't improved greatly. Hence, I'm afraid I don't see Murray winning a grand slam for still a further few years, since unluckily he is playing in the greatest and most toughest era ever to have graced the game.

  • Comment number 10.

    Opening your blog with some anecdote about Murray bumping into a photographer and using it as a gauge of his mood is so wearisome, even drearisome. Andy has a reactive personality and if the interviewer has the skill to create the right mood and ask appropriate questions he will always respond positively. Perhaps this interviewer is lacking in that ability and prefers a confrontational approach.

  • Comment number 11.

    it's not a big 4 or 3 and never was.

    Federer's place in the big 2 has been taken by djokovic and he and nadal will be the two favourites for every slam for at least the next two years, fitness permitting.

    murray has reached more slam semi's in the last 18 months than federer, who has been relegated to the tier that murray has occupied for the last 4 years; he can expect to take home a few masters shields and hit the slam semi-finals but won't be going any further.

    federer has only won one slam since 2009 and unless he wins wimbledon (wouldn't discount him on grass, not yet) this year i can't see him getting another.

  • Comment number 12.

    @nikc606

    Actually, I agree that its always been a two-horse race. Djokovic has supplanted Federer in the dominant two, but I think the only person capable of breaking the Nadal-Djokovic duopoly is Federer. Murray unfortunately doesn't come close, his past track record is proof that when it matters most, he is unable to produce his best tennis. Also agree that Wimbledon is Federer's best chance to win a slam, as I personally feel he can still do it at the US Open, but it'll be way tougher, and maybe winning Wimbledon might give him an added belief in New York.

  • Comment number 13.

    As much a Murray fan I am I believe hes just lacked the mental strength to get a grand slam so far. If he had this he wouldve beaten federer in australia, or nadal last year in wimbledon semi (he misses one forehand in the 2nd set and the match is over after). He shouldve beaten Djok in Rome last year. All these 'should haves' are about mental strength. I still believe if he gets the slam once then the flood gates can open as this is about mental strength. And hes certainly in a different class to those below him including del potro.

    For the french- maybe with pressure off him.. it may help... maybe theres a few shocks in store... who knows.. raonic v nadal.. berdych/del potro v federer.. tsonga v djok

  • Comment number 14.

    I always think that the French Open, of all the slams, is the place where Murray is least likely to triumph but if he could reach the semis that would be an achievement. The point made in this article about his mood is important and whilst it's good to hear that he's relaxed mentally and in a good place he should try to achieve that feeling all the time. The three players ranked above Murray - and most other top tenners, for that matter - are pretty even-tempered and that helps them to achieve consistency on the court.

  • Comment number 15.

    @ Federer_legend, I'd agree that Murray is a long way behind the top three at the moment, but to cite his "customary slump" after Australia and Dubai is a little unfair. He was injured for the first part of that period, and frankly he's simply never been as good on clay as the other top three. I'm hoping that he does well at Wimbledon and the US Open, with higher hopes for the US. He's a great hard-court player, and if he could just have a couple of weeks where his second serve doesn't let him down, he's in with a shot. IMO.

  • Comment number 16.

    Absolutely agree with you about the semi-final being a realistic goal.

    If he does that, unless he's very lucky, he'll face Nadal.

    For the idiots who blog relentlessly about how useless Murray is, face this: Rafael Nadal's only realistic challenger as the greatest clay court player of all time is Bjorn Borg, who I'm sure you agree would have been hit off the park by any decent club player every day of the week. I watched Murray go toe-to-toe with Nadal in last year's semis and immediately after his best ever match on clay, losing in three close sets, the ranters said how useless he was. Federer only did slightly better in the final......after having beaten that useless pile of unco-ordinated nonsense, Novak Djokovic, winning arguably the finest match ever seen at Roland Garros.

    The reason the semi-final on clay is Murray's realistic goal is that clay isn't his best surface, it is Nadal's best surface and Djokovic is going for a grand slam spread over two calendar years. That kind of says that you have two extremely strong favourites for this tournament, doesn't it?

    I really don't believe for one second that all these sneerers, deriders and scorners have any remote clue of what it takes to do anything really well, quite what a rare talent Murray has and quite how unbelievably brilliant at tennis Federer, Djokovic and Nadal are and have been over the past 4 -5 years.

    If you did, you wouldn't spout this nonsense.

    You'd have said in 1982 that Connors would never win Wimbledon again, seeing as how he was such a loser against Borg and now McEnroe was champ, he was just a grunting also-ran.

    History would have proven you wrong.......

  • Comment number 17.

    Rather than repeat the comments above, I agree with comment no. 9, 10, 13 whole heartedly. He is as good a tennis player as the top 3 but lacking in metal fortitude that they possess.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think that what has hampered Murray in the past couple of years has been the weight of expectation. Now there is a little less he may just surprise us. I recall when he was about 100 or so in the rankings there were lots of judgementally challenged bloggers like the first one on here spouting their pub opinions.
    There have been times that Djocovic has bottled it, but he only has Serbs to worry about. Murray belongs to a whole nation of people who remind me of my ex-mother-in-law. A woman of 'few thoughts but many opinions'.

  • Comment number 19.

    So yet again the Murray bashers are out in force. I agree that clay is his worst surface so a semi final will be a good achievement and the other 3 slams are more realistic surfaces but as for never winning a Grand Slam? His first final against Federer at the US open he had had to play 3 days running due to rain delays in New York while Federer had 2 days rest before it. His second final he didn't play his best and someone of the class as Federer can make that look a lot worse than it is and his third final he lost against Djokavic at the beginning of a run where NO-ONE beat the man for the first 5 months of the season. If it had not been for injuries at Paris and the Masters finals in London last season Murray would have finished the season 3rd in the rankings and he actually won 2 more titles (5 (including 2 Masters 1000's) to 3 (1 Masters and 1 grand slam)) than Nadal did last year. Included in this was a Masters final win over Nadal (6-0 in the final set) and a Masters final win over Djokovic. So how about giving a guy who has actually achieved a hell of a lot already the same sort of support that we give a national football team who have achieved nothing in nearly 50 years?

  • Comment number 20.

    How typical of the arrogant, cliche spouting Overend - a 4 times a year tennis fan (maybe 5 since London got the masters), to begin his piece by pouring scorn on a jobbing photographer who probably doesn't enjoy the access all areas benefits that Overend's BBC accreditation provides.

    Regarding Murray, his game and mindset are probably best suited to the slow red clay he spent a significant part of his formative years on. Sadly for him and the others we live in the era of Rafa.

    Even if another Soderling type miracle materialises from the ether to slay the great man, Murray is not mentally strong enough to hold it together at the most high pressure moments even though his game may be good enough to beat Roger and Novak on clay.

    It's just a shame that despite the splendid achievements of Murray and Henman over the last 15 years, the average British sports fan still regards being 4th best in the whole wide world at what you do as a failure

  • Comment number 21.

    @nick606

    I still think it is fair enough to call it a big three - remeber Roger was no.2 only last week and he doesn't have many points to defend until US Open so I reckon he should definitely get no.2 back at least. Fed beat Djokovic at last year's RG, and really should have beaten him at US. I know he lost to Nadal at AO but he tore him apart in London and used new tactics to good effect against Rafa in Indian Wells. Having said that Fed might have had a chance here if he could have clung on to no.2 but hard to see him beating Djoko and Rafa in succession.

  • Comment number 22.

    It should be another fascinating week. I love that tennis at the moment is so interesting - either there are more records broken each tournament with the domination of the top 3/4, or we get a massive upset, like with Tsonga over Fed last Wimbledon.

    http://samhopwood.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/roll-on-roland-garros.html

  • Comment number 23.

    Wow, people love to think they know best...Come on Murray, I would love to see you ram it down their throats. I have complete faith that Murray can win a Grand Slam, I think it's perfectly possible. All the doubters make far too many assumptions about the particular circumstances at any given tournament. The reality is that he has been in three finals. If he keeps putting himself in position to win Grans Slams he must be, by any kind of logical analysis, be considered as a potential winner of one. That doesn't mean he will or will not, but talking as if he doesn't have the potential to do so completely contradicts his actual record.

  • Comment number 24.

    Best thing for Murray to do is use this tournament to try out a few things. He aint winning this one.

  • Comment number 25.

    The first comment made on this blog, is in my opinion speaking a load of nonsense. Andy keep going and keep fighting, I am sure he can win a major. All true British and Scottish tennis fans will support you, come on Andy!!!

  • Comment number 26.

    Is it just me that doesn't see why Federer is included in this 'big 3' but Murray isn't? Federer ovbiously has the greater history but over the last 2 years their results in the big tournaments have been pretty similiar. Just a few months ago everyone was talking about a 'big 4', but now Murray has had a few bad tournaments, on a surface he has never been great on, people are counting his out. Putting him on the same lever as guys like Berdych, Tsonga, Ferrer etc. is a little insulting to what he has achieved in the game, he is a much greater player than all of them put together. He is not going to win RG, but I have no doubt he will a slam very soon.

  • Comment number 27.

    I agree with quite a few of the comments on here (except for this first one of course!).

    In my opinion I don't think Murray has a chance of winning the French Open, but I do think he can hopefully go deep into the tournament again this year. There were concerns about his back injury and his poor form on clay so far this year, but Murray has already said his back has improved, and this being the second major of the year, his motivation will be stronger than ever, which should hopefully see him get past those early difficult rounds. And whether or not Murray can and will win a grand slam is something that remains to be seen and answered. I think he can do it, and he has the game, however his serve is the main suspect that let's him down, which I have seen in quite a few matches. But win or lose, Murray is one the best players that Great Britain has produced in many years, and its a bit of a disgrace that the cynics label him as being useless for not winning a slam, when there have clearly been so many talented players such as Henman, Rusedski, Nalbandian, Baghdatis, Tsonga, all of whom have reached a slam semi final or a final and have lost out.

    Murray has in the past said that living in the same era as Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, while it has denied him a slam, that it has made him a better player, because it has focused him to work harder. And he has competed well against all three of these guys, whether be in a slam or elsewhere, and that shows how good he is.

    But I'm looking forward to following Murray's progress in Roland Garros. He won't win it, but hopefully he can go deep, and compete with those top guys again, just to show them how good he can be.

  • Comment number 28.

    Interesting first post comment from the Englishman .......
    If we were to believe the tosh idiots like this post, there would be little reason to watch any sport in this country....... cos coming second is failure according to mr troll......... sad.

  • Comment number 29.

    Agree with #24. This tournament would be a good time for Andy to experiment with improvements to his serve, particularly his second serve which too often is a gift to other players. ...... Looking ahead a few years. Any thoughts on who is going to be heir to Nadal's throne?

  • Comment number 30.

    Markos@26

    Federer has been resurgent the last 6 months, he may not have the stamina to match Nadal/Djokovic in a slam but if he could replicate the sublime tennis of the FO semi final against Djok last year he may have a slim chance.

    I would not bet against Nadal - this is his tournament.

  • Comment number 31.

    It is time that the British public realised that to reach number 4 in the world is fantastic. Encourage Andrew as you should have encouraged Tim who also was number 4 in the world. Play your best Andrew and keep smiling through the games. You are a beautiful player so go out there and enjoy even at the bad moments and you might just surprise yourself.

  • Comment number 32.

    I reckon #1 KNOWS LOADS ABOUT TENNIS....

  • Comment number 33.

    I think it is fair to call it the big four. Murray has been in four semi finals and a final in the last five grand slams - the same number as Federer. He was also fantastic against Djokovic in Australia this year and is definitely close to a grand slam win.

  • Comment number 34.

    Im struggling to remember one great win Murray has had on clay. He just isnt great on this surface and never will be. He hasnt made a career final on clay never mind won a title. That is not the stat of a world number 4 who can play on clay when you consider the amount of titles Federer Djokovic and Nadal win routinely on this surface. Reaching one semi final here last year doesnt mean a jot. The draw opened up for him and he was able to beat Troicki (just) and Chela to make the semis. Put him against someone like a Ferrer, Almagro, Berdych or maybe even the likes of Tsonga, Gasquet or Monfils in this event and he is going home. It will do him good to get beat relatively early because then he can focus on the 2 events at Wimbledon which he does have an outside chance in.

  • Comment number 35.

    Murray's goals have changed from winning slams to keeping up with the top 3? Sorry, but that is nonsense. We've only had one slam so far this year and Murray was a hairs breath away from knocking out Novak.

    His goals are different on clay, a quarter final will for the rest of his career be a decent result at RG. Simply put, Murray plays well when he moves well and he doesn't move anywhere near as well on clay as on all other surfaces. 1 win against a top 10 player in his entire career and 0 titles (or even finals) says it all about his clay credentials.

    But that doesn't change the rest of the year, and the other slams. Murray is right in the mix to win them. If he plays close to the baseline like in Melbourne, and can somehow get that 1st serve percentage close to the 70 mark then he can beat anyone. I still think he will win at least 1 slam, and as long as his back is ok he'll go close at Wimbledon.

    His expectations have changed for the French open, but not for the other slams.

  • Comment number 36.

    I can't be bothered but I'm sure a stats nerd can lob it on here. Put Rafa,Feds and Joks 1st serve stats up and then Andy's. If that doesn't scream at you, do the same for 2nds and you will see why he is (Great player by the way) nailed to 4th at best atmo.

  • Comment number 37.

    Winning a grand slam is not a 'good' goal as it is out of his control. As is keeping up with the top 3 or keeping ahead of the others if he is talking about rankings. However, it sounds like he's talking more about his game than the results, which will come if his game is right. It doesn't mean that he doesn't want to win a grand slam, I'm sure: just that it isn't the be-all-and-end-all.

  • Comment number 38.

    Wake up all you moaners! Andy Murray is without doubt one of the best sportsmen Britain has ever produced. And without doubt the best tennis player the country has produced including the great Fred Perry!

    Instead of all this doubt lets get behind this great and believe! He will win the French mark my words, its his time. Remember my words1

  • Comment number 39.

    Mr "BBC_NEWS_LADIES_ARE_HOT " clearly has absolutely no idea about sport. Andy Murray is playing in the toughest tennis era ever - had he been playing 10-12 years ago, he would have beaten Federer, Aggasi, Sampras - the level of skill has improved so much it is incredible. So get off Andy's back - he is the best tennis player the UK has produced and doesn't need naive comments from naive people. Stop being so British and get behind your player

  • Comment number 40.

    so true, novak, rafa, roger dont see andy as a threat, they seem him as a kid whos trying to get in the gang.

  • Comment number 41.

    the first comment is too funny, come down he aint that bad, murrays best chance to win a major is the australian and the us no wimbledown and certainly not clay

  • Comment number 42.

    the english never seem to understand how to play sport it seems, last night i was watching the england vs norway match, and it made me angry how can a small country with no quality players or even decent players dominate england half b half a side. spains b team woudlve beaten them 5-0. yes england are a top team and what top team and hold the ball and pass it around. dont let a thrid rate football boss you around.

    same as murray he plays to defensive and has no real killer instinct of a shot.

  • Comment number 43.

    My 4 year old bet of him never winning a majornis looking good. Dontngetnme wrong would like him to win. But alas infearbhe wont

  • Comment number 44.

    badfella0807

    so Novak, Rafa and Roger don't see Murray as a threat???? Murray has a winning 8-7 record against Roger. Novak only holds an 8-5 record against Andy (Murray has actually won 5 out of the last 9 meetings) and Andy has beat Nadal in 2 Grand slam semi's. Also when asked last year what Murray has to do differently to win a Grand Slam, Nadal replied "Nothing. It's all to do with luck, Murray is good enough to win a Slam and in fact better than some who already have" (probably referring to the likes of Del Potro, Andy Roddick and Ivanisavic.

    Be in no doubt that they definitely consider Andy to be a threat even if that threat is lessened during the clay court season

 

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