x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Murray hits back to go on in Paris

Andy Murray overcame a major scare to stay in the French Open, but his frailties on clay were exposed in doing so.

Britain's Andy Murray returns a ball to Italy's Potito Starace during their second round match on Wednesday. Murray overcame a slump in form in the middle of the match to go through in four sets.
Britain's Andy Murray returns a ball to Italy's Potito Starace during their second round match on Wednesday. Murray overcame a slump in form in the middle of the match to go through in four sets.

Andy Murray overcame a major scare to stay in the French Open, but his frailties on clay were exposed in doing so. The British No 1 and third seed at Roland Garros lost the second set to the unseeded Potito Starace and had to save two set points in the third set before he rallied to triumph 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in their second round tie to set up a clash with the Serbian Janko Tipsarevic tomorrow.

But Murray will know he will have to raise his game if he is to make it into the second week of the tournament after suffering a monumental slump midway through the match that saw him lose 11 out of 13 games to his Italian opponent, who is ranked 104th in the world. But Murray, 22, demonstrated his tenacious spirit as he came from 5-1 down in the third set to fight back and end Starace's challenge and reach the last 32 of the tournament, matching his best performance in Paris.

"I left a lot of balls in the middle of the court. I was playing further behind the baseline," Murray said. "And his big weapon is his forehand, and he managed to make me move a lot with that. "But the most important thing is I found a way to win and I'm very happy to be in the next round." "I managed to turn it around by playing a little bit more aggressive. I just went for my shots," said Murray. "I made him work hard at the end of the third set. I wasn't worrying if it was set point or not for him."

As Murray had predicted, Starace, 27, stuck stubbornly behind his baseline throughout but after a slow start the Italian showed why his opponent had dubbed him a clay-court specialist and a top player on the eve of the match. The first set was all about Murray's nagging consistency. Although he landed just 62 per cent of his first serves, that department was very solid as he dropped just three points on serve.

It meant Starace was always under pressure on his serve, and after Murray squandered two break points in the third game, he earned two more in game five, taking the second of them with a fading backhand down the line. The Scot took the 31-minute set at the first time of asking when Starace netted trying to retrieve a Murray drop shot but the flow of the match suddenly changed. Starace upped both his intensity and aggression, and Murray - whose first-serve percentage slipped to 52 per cent - suffered.

The Briton saved two early break points but was up against it in his next service game, in the third game of the set, as he faced five more. He saved the first four, each time coming to the net, but on the fifth Starace emerged triumphant thanks to a blocked backhand at the end of a wonderful rally. A powerful cross-court backhand on the first of two break points allowed Starace to go 4-1 up and he did not wilt in the face of fierce Murray resistance when serving for the set, taking it at the fourth time of asking.

Murray was just as error-prone at the start of a gripping third set, as he was broken twice to slip 5-1 down. He looked down and out but after saving a set point in the next game, he launched a memorable comeback. Retrieving drop-shots he was not making earlier, Murray won another five games on the spin - one of which contained another Starace set point - as he broke three times to claim a set that looked to have got away from him.

The fourth and final set went with serve until 5-4, when Murray claimed a hard-fought victory on his third match point with a fierce, cross-court forehand. A disappointed Starace said: "I had a lot of opportunities. "I felt good at 6-2 5-1, but he played the set points very well." His next round opponent Tipsarevic knocked out the 28th seed Feliciano Lopez, coming back from losing the first set to triumph 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-3 over his Spanish opponent.

It was a good day for the seventh seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon as he made short work of the American Robert Kendrick. After a close first set, Simon cantered through 7-5, 6-0, 6-1 to set-up a third round clash with the 30th seed Victor Hanescu. The Romanian progressed through his second round tie at the expense of the Russian Mikhail Youzhny, triumphing 7-5, 7-5, 7-5. Australian Open semi-finalist Fernando Verdasco maintained his good form in 2009 as the Spaniard swept past Germany's Philipp Petzschner with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 win to set-up an encounter with his compatriot Nicolas Almagro for a fourth round place.

Another comfortable victor was the Chilean 12th seed Fernando Gonzalez, who had a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 win over Rui Machado of Spain. The Swiss No 17 seed Stanislas Wawrinka also won in straight sets, seeing off the challenge of Chilean Nicolas Massu with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 victory. * PA Sport