French Open 2012: Andy Murray Prepares to Walk the Green Mile
"Murderer's row on clay." That is how former French Open champion Jim Courier, now working for British television, describes Andy Murray's route to this year's final.
Standing in his way are Richard Gasquet, local hero; David Ferrerr, whose best surface is the clay of Roland Garros; and Rafael Nadal, possibly the best clay court player ever. Even if he negotiates these three obstacles, he would probably then meet either Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic in the final, all with a persistent back problem. Easy!
This season's French Open has gone much the same way as last year's. There remains the odd scare, this time against Jarkko Nieminen in the second round.
Injury is also a persistent problem: last year an ankle problem, this year his back.
We cannot forget the occasional spat. Murray reacted angrily to former Wimbledon Ladies Champion Virginia Wade, who described him as "a drama queen" for, in her opinion, exaggerating his injury problems against Nieminen.
So far, so Andy! But all in all, Murray has progressed without too much calamity.
Now starting Monday, it gets serious, starting with his fourth-round match against Gasquet.
The great lost hope of French tennis has never quite fulfilled his undoubted potential, but he will have the partisan home crowd at Roland Garros firmly behind him. If Murray's back is troubling him, the Frenchman's speed around the court and ability to make winning shots will cause him problems.
Gasquet eliminated the Scot from the Italian Open two weeks ago, suggesting he is better suited to the European clay court surfaces. However, Murray beat him in the first round of this competition in 2010 and recovered from two sets down to win an epic Wimbledon encounter that same year.
Another plus for Andy is the presence of Ivan Lendl as his coach. His guidance could be crucial in the next six days and is something Murry has lacked in the last few years: a proper full-time coach.
It is no bad omen that Lendl won his first Grand Slam tournament here in Paris against all the odds in 1984. Murray is still waiting to emulate his mentor and in so doing, end Britain's seventy-six-year wait for a male Grand Slam champion.
While he is unlikely do so in Paris, if he can repeat his showing last year when he made the semi-finals, that will be a creditable result which will set him up nicely for the three big summer competitions that he will hope to win: Wimbledon, the Olympic tournament and the US Open.
But either Gasquet or Ferrer are capable of halting him in his tracks, and Nadal will almost certainly be too good to beat.
One thing is for sure: following Andy Murray in the latter stages of a Grand Slam is never easy, and this time it could be absolute murder.
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