Andy Murray: Back and better
PARIS -- It was a tough first week for Andy Murray here at Roland Garros.
He woke up last Thursday wracked by back spasms, but decided to play his second-round match against Jarkko Nieminen anyway. He appeared to have difficulty walking -- much less running down balls in the corners -- and summoned the trainer twice in the first set. After losing six of the first seven games, Murray said he considered shutting it down. He made quite a show of lurching around and occasionally grabbing his back and left leg -- as he won the next three sets rather easily.
In retrospect, he could be forgiven for secretly wishing he had.
Virginia Wade, the last player from Great Britain to win a Grand Slam singles title (Wimbledon in 1977), did not approve.
"I have sympathy that his back is bad, but I have more for the other guy as you cannot play against someone who is being a drama queen," said Wade, who was analyzing the match for Eurosport. "I don't think it is intentional, but he feels so sorry for himself he has no control over the fact he is not acting in an adult way."
And although England was celebrating the first of a four-day national holiday for the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the queen-for-a-day comment created headline havoc in the London tabloids.
Murray, predictably, begged to differ.
"She has no idea how I was feeling on court," Murray sniffed. "She doesn't know what was happening 20 minutes before when I went out on court. I've known her since I was really young, so that's quite disappointing. I don't see what the point would be in play-acting, going down 6-1, 4-2."
There were no such theatrics in his third-round win over Santiago Giraldo, but when Frenchman Richard Gasquet won the first set against Murray on a raw Monday evening, Murray played the back card again. Twice. This time, though, Murray kept the wincing to a minimum.
It was Gasquet who wore the pained expression when Murray ran away with the match, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.
The No. 4-seeded Murray finds himself in his sixth consecutive Grand Slam singles quarterfinal, where he will play No. 6 seed David Ferrer on Wednesday.
"Yeah, it was not obviously ideal conditions for that," Murray said. "And, yeah, I mean, it's a little bit stiff, but it's much better than it was a few days ago.
"Obviously, you know, I played some good tennis. And again, a bit like when I played against Nieminen and I was moving very well at the end of the match. The same today. So hopefully the conditions will warm up a little bit in the next few days."
Gasquet had a chance to join countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga -- a five-set winner over Stanislas Wawrinka -- in the elite eight. That would have given France two men in the quarters for the first time in 22 years. But Gasquet succumbed to the numbing pressure that has felled so many of his compatriots in the French Open.
There was an awkward moment in the second set when Gasquet and Murray were jawing at each other, and afterward, Gasquet offered him a very tepid handshake. In his news conference, Gasquet said it had nothing to do with Murray's gyrations.
"No, because I lost," Gasquet said. "Not about him. It's OK.
"He was all over the place, always moving on the court. So I had the impression he was not really very much injured. He's run so much on the court. He's everywhere."
Monday was a grim day at Roland Garros. The temperature hovered in the mid-50s, but with a steady breeze that gusted past 20 mph, it felt like the low 40s. The French spectators wore winter jackets and wrapped themselves in blankets. Some of the fair hostesses at Court Philippe Chatrier shivered and looked miserable. Murray's coach, Ivan Lendl, draped a towel around his shoulders for warmth. This is not the sort of weather that is helpful to a dodgy back. Early on, Murray showed no visible signs of distress -- after that verbal spanking from Wade, how could he? -- but he was strangely sluggish in losing six of the first seven games.
Then, at the critical juncture of the second set, Murray twice grabbed his lower back -- after hitting backhands that produced break points against him. He miraculously survived to take a 5-4 lead and, soon, the set. Gasquet gave up the last two sets with little resistance.
For Murray, a strong back and a stronger resolve will be necessary to beat Ferrer and reach the semifinals -- presumably against Rafael Nadal.
"I think he's one of the toughest guys to play on any surface," Murray said. "I've always found it tough against him on clay in matches and in practice. I train with him quite a lot, and I get on very well with him.
"Like I say, we know each other's games very well, and he's one of the best players in the world on any surface, so it's going to be a tough match."
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