French Open: Andy Murray leads three-way British charge

By Piers NewberyBBC Sport at Roland Garros
Murray into second round in straight sets

British tennis fans will enjoy the unfamiliar experience of following three players in the second round of the French Open on Thursday, when Andy Murray, Elena Baltacha and Heather Watson attempt to reach the last 32.

It is the first time since 1984 that three Britons - then it was John Lloyd, Jo Durie and Anne Hobbs - have still been in the singles come round two.

A place in the third round barely scratches the surface of Murray's ambitions at Roland Garros, and he will be a strong favourite against Italy's Simone Bolelli. The pair will meet in the second match on Court Philippe Chatrier at around 1130BST.

It is the form of the British women, however, that has been such a revelation, with number one Baltacha taking on American Vania King at a similar time to Murray in the second match on Court Six, and the fast-improving Heather Watson up against Kaia Kanepi in the third match on Court Three.

Baltacha, 27, had never won a main-draw match at Roland Garros before she saw off American teenager Sloane Stephens in straight sets on Tuesday, but she faces a more experienced opponent next in the 22-year-old King, the reigning Wimbledon and US Open doubles champion.

Baltacha savours 'most satisfying win'

"She had a big win against seeded player Dominika Cibulkova in the first round and she will be feeling good about her game," said Baltacha.

"I never take opponents for granted and I need to be ready to deliver the best I can against her."

And there is now a secondary battle for Baltacha to consider, after the 19-year-old Watson joined her in round two with her first-ever victory in a Grand Slam main draw, beating France's Stephanie Foretz Gacon in straight sets.

That ensured Watson will break the world's top 100 for the first time, when the new rankings are released, and means Baltacha's status as Britain's number one is under threat.

"Rivalry is great for the British game but for me personally it is also something I really relish because, as you can imagine, I am an incredibly competitive person," said Baltacha.

"I am more than happy to battle Heather for the right to be called Britain's number one."

Watson has been wearing a permanent smile - she described it as "happy land" - over the last week in Paris after battling through three qualifying matches and then wearing down the experienced Foretz Gacon through sheer force of will.

Watson delighted with victory

Her prize was a match against 16th seed Kanepi of Estonia, a quarter-finalist at both the French Open and Wimbledon last year.

"Nothing to lose, no pressure on me," is how Watson described the contest. "But I still put a little bit of pressure on myself to win because that's what I'm here for.

"I don't know that much about her, I've never played her before, but I watched her match on television last week against Yanina [Wickmayer] so I know a little bit."

The teenager from Guernsey admitted that she is having to set new targets for herself after her impressive rise up the rankings this year.

"My goal for the end of the year was top 100 and to have my ranking high enough that I could get into the main draw of the US Open, but I've already achieved my top-100 goal," she said. "I've just got to maintain it now and keep climbing the ladder."

Murray might not be able to match Watson in terms of the wattage, or frequency, of his smile but he has very serious designs on a long run at Roland Garros, and is comfortable in saying his only aim at Grand Slams these days is to win the tournament.

The draw has been kind to the Scot and, after a straight-sets win against qualifier Eric Prodon in round one, he now faces Bolelli, currently ranked 126th in the world after a career high of 36 two years ago.

Murray has beaten the 25-year-old Italian in both of their previous meetings, the last of which came on clay during the Italian's peak in 2009.

"He's tough," insisted Murray. "I've played him a couple of times and had a close match with him on clay a couple of years ago in Madrid.

"He hasn't been so playing well the last year-and-a-half or so but he's a very talented guy and similar to Prodon."

Jamie Murray completes the British interest on Thursday, as he looks to follow up his first-round win in the men's doubles when he pairs up with Nadia Petrova in the mixed. They take on Meghann Shaughnessy and Andy Ram in the fourth and final match on Court 10.

The other leading singles contenders in action on day five include Rafael Nadal, Robin Soderling, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.