French Open 2011: Andy Murray Is a Legitimate Dark Horse at Roland Garros

AndersCorrespondent IIIMay 17, 2011

ROME, ITALY - MAY 14:  Andy Murray of Great Britain plays a backhand during his semi final match againstNovak Djokovic of Serbia during day seven of the Internazoinali BNL D'Italia at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre  on May 14, 2011 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

On Saturday we witnessed one of the greatest tennis matches this year between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. I would even say it was the greatest.

Murray could and should have closed it out while serving for the match at 5-4 and up 30-0. Instead Djokovic was aided by the net for 30-15 and two Murray double-faults to even at five-all before finally dominating the tie break.

What are we to take with us from this match? Is it that Murray is a choker, who loses the big matches? Is it that Novak is in such a great form that he seems incapable of losing and never believes he will lose even while down, tired and almost out?

The fans and pundits who see the match as yet another piece of evidence that Murray isn’t quite there yet are plain wrong. Admittedly, the Scotsman didn’t take his two Australian Open final defeats in great spirits and a long slump has followed both of those defeats.

But no one who understands tennis can deny that Murray has the game to compete with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. After all, he leads Federer something like 6-1 in their Masters finals meetings.

Saturday was another proof of Murray’s game. He came as close as anyone have been to win against the seemingly unstoppable Serb in the past six months. And he did it without being too defensive for the majority of the match.

Sure, he played further away from the baseline than Novak. But he came to the net, he played drop-shots and serve-and-volley, and he went for his much criticized forehand when he had to.

Add to that, that he did it after being beaten 6-1 in the first set. It was expected he would lose and that he would lose in straights. After that first set, I felt almost certain the match would be decided in straights. Especially because Murray had actually not been that bad, at least not for the first half of the set, and he still managed to lose 6-1!

The fact of the matter is that Andy Murray has been in a slump since the Australian Open and he has been handed some very bad, early round loses. But two of his recent loses should give him every bit of confidence he needs going into the French Open.

One of them is yesterday’s loss to Novak, the other is the Monte Carlo three-setter loss to Rafa. In fact, Murray is the only player to take a set from both Novak and Rafa on clay this year. He put himself into position of winning both of those matches against the two best players and best clay-courters in the world right now.

This is what he should take away from those defeats.

Murray has never produced any significant results on clay and it has been his worst surface by a mile so far. To be fair, losing tight matches do not exactly count as results either, but they do imply that he is having his greatest clay court season so far. If anything, those results should place him as a very legitimate dark horse for the French Open.

He’s not the favourite, Rafa Nadal and Novak are, but he’s now in that field right below them, ready to take out anyone, but also capable of falling early if his game or mind is not on.

If both Juan Martin del Potro and Robin Söderling get ready in time, we are facing one of the most exciting and, relatively speaking, open French Open’s since the Rafa domination started.

That is, if Novak really is capable of losing.