Andy Murray advanced to the second round of the 2014 French Open but not before he received a solid test from Andrey Golubev (6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3).
Murray arrived at Roland Garros with a cloud of questions hovering above his head. He's been unable to find top form after dealing with a back injury at the end of last season. The result was a lackluster record of 17-7, including a 6-3 mark on clay, heading into the second major of 2014.
The talented Scot started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel two weeks ago at the Rome Masters, though. He pushed Rafael Nadal to three sets in the quarterfinals, a definite sign of progress in any clay-court tournament.
Tony Lewing of the Daily Express passed along comments from Murray leading into the French Open, in which he discussed continuing to trend in the right direction:
Rome was a good step forward. I need to build on that, take confidence from it, and I need to try and keep that consistency for the next four or five months if I can.
Right now obviously I've got a big focus on these next couple of weeks, and hopefully I can have a good run.
Although beating Golubev might not seem like a big deal on the surface, it was actually a tough draw for the opening round. The veteran from Kazakhstan is ranked just outside the top 50 and scored a straight-sets win over Fernando Verdasco in Rome.
So it represented a solid early test for Murray.
His play on key points turned the opening set into a rout. The No. 7 seed converted all three of his break-point opportunities while Golubev went just 1-of-4. Add in 11 unforced errors for the underdog and the set was over before either player had a chance to break a sweat.
ESPN Tennis noted the reigning Wimbledon champion grabbed the early edge in just over a half hour:
Annabel Croft of Eurosport praised the effort:
The complexion of the match changed in the second set. Golubev, who's very much a high-risk, high-reward player, started playing more aggressively down a set and it forced Murray to start playing with more of an offensive focus as well.
After 16 combined errors in the first set, the number jumped to 28 in the second, 18 of which came from Golubev. While the style of play shifted, the result remained the same in large part because Murray continued to take advantage of his break chances, going 2-of-2.
Golubev broke once but couldn't secure another to get back level. Mistakes at important moments held him back, including in his final service game of the set. ByTheMin Tennis provided a look at how he let it slip away:
Murray held his serve in the next game to take a more competitive second set, 6-4.
He proceeded to score a break to open the third set and it appeared the match was all but over. Golubev deserves credit for fighting back. He rattled off three straight games when a lot of players would have probably folded.
Murray was able to get back on serve with a break of his own, but he couldn't consolidate it. Golubev broke right back and then was able to hold his own serve to grab a 5-2 lead. The shots that were going wide or long early on were falling in, and even Murray's defense wasn't enough to slow the onslaught.
After a Murray hold, Golubev closed out the set at 6-3. Chris Jones of the Evening Standard noted the approach that allowed the underdog to turn things around:
The biggest disappointment for Murray, and a sign he isn't all the way back quite yet, is that he grabbed a quick lead in the set and couldn't close it. Against a more consistent, accomplished opponent, he can't let a set slip away like that.
He didn't make the same mistake twice. Once again the seventh-seeded Scot scored an early break, this time to make it 2-0. He was then able to hold in the following game to take complete control of the fourth set.
Golubev was able to stay within striking distance. He couldn't get the break back, however, as Murray closed out the match with a 6-3 set. Roland Garros noted he was able to avoid the upset bug that's hit several top players during the first few days:
Looking ahead, Murray will play the winner of Marinko Matosevic and Dustin Brown in the second round. He holds a 1-0 career record against both potential foes, beating Matosevic at Queen's Club last year and Brown at the U.S. Open in 2010.
He didn't play well enough Tuesday to be considered a championship threat quite yet. That said, there were more signs of progress. The hope for Murray is that he'll be able to peak at the right time and at least reach the semifinals.
Anything can happen from there.