Andy Murray came through a real scare against 37-year-old qualifier Radek Stepanek to reach the second round of the second Grand Slam of the year in Paris, while Kyle Edmund and Aljaz Bedene both secured more straightforward victories to reach the Men’s Singles second round. Three British women fell in the first round, but Heather Watson’s overnight victories leaves us with some interest left in the ladies’ side of the draw.
Both Murray and Watson had to overcome an overnight break before completing their first round matches, with Watson becoming the first Brit to reach the second round after her match against Nicole Gibbs started on a rainy Sunday in Paris. The Brit dropped the first set 7-5 before surging back into contention in the second, taking it 6-2. As darkness fell, Gibbs edged ahead with an early break in the decider, and the players headed to bed with the Yank leading 2-1 overnight.
Heather Watson beats Roland Garros doubles partner Nicole Gibbs 5-7 6-2 6-2. A win which should be enough to guarantee her Olympic spot.
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) May 23, 2016
Watson was not to be denied though: the Brit stormed back onto court on Monday morning, winning all five of the remaining games played to stun the American 5-7 6-2 6-2 and set up a brutal second round clash with 13th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova. At 30 years of age, the Russian is ailing but is clearly still a threat, and Watson will be hard pushed to get past the Slav, who is one of just three players (Kerber, Azarenka) to have beaten Serena Williams this year.
Murray’s overnight wait was far more dramatic, and could have been far worse had the Brit not responded magnificently to going two sets down against Czech 37-year-old Stepanek. The Brit played an error-strewn opening two sets, with Stepanek playing a highly impressive net game – the Czech finished 34% of service points at the net throughout the match – to go 6-3 6-3 up against the player he had lost to in the first round of the Masters event in Rome the previous week.
Andy Murray has come back from two sets down eight times in his career – going to take a big effort now against Stepanek
— Simon Cambers (@scambers73) May 23, 2016
But Murray’s response to going two sets down was huge, and could well have saved him an embarrassingly early exit. With light failing and Stepanek chuntering, Murray barely put a foot wrong in the third set, clinching it very quickly 6-0, before appearing impatient to get on with the fourth while Stepanek took a bathroom break, clearly believing the Czech would tire if the match was dragged out further that night. Murray made it to 4-2 before it became impossible to play, and the Brit seemed satisfied that he would have a couple of games in the bag to ‘warm up’ with before the crucial fifth set he following day.
While all this was happening, Kyle Edmund reached the second round of Roland Garros for the second consecutive year with an impressive 7-6(4) 6-7(1) 7-5 6-1 victory over Georgian qualifier Nikoloz Basiliashvili. After two tightly fought tiebreaks took the match into the third set level, the Georgian appeared to have the advantage after a break in the seventh game of the set put him 4-3, and latterly 5-3 up. However, with the Georgian serving for the set at 5-4, Edmund broke back and a four-game streak turned the tables in his favour, clinching the set 7-5. Clearly, the Georgian’s resistance was broken, and the fourth set was a formality. Edmund now faces 15th seed John Isner, who came through a ‘battle of the big serves’ against John Millman in the first round. Edmund arguably has a better rally game than the American, but that serve is as big as any and the Brit will be hard pressed to earn a break of serve against the huge American.
— Jamie Murray (@jamie_murray) May 23, 2016
— Aljaz Bedene (@AljazBedene) May 24, 2016
— Greg Sharko (@SharkoTennis) May 24, 2016
Before Murray was back on court, it was Aljaz Bedene’s turn to see if he could became the third Brit through to the second round. Bedene was up against Gerard Melzer, and went into the match with a 3-0 head-to-head record against the Austrian. Despite dropping the first set, Bedene battled through 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-4 in a fairly efficient performance, winning 94% of games after winning the first point, and winning 85% of first service points, including 13 aces. Next up for Bedene is Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain; the pair are tied 1-1 in their head-to-head, with their last meeting coming in 2012.
Back came Murray, then, fresh and raring to go, and he safely took the match to a decider by finishing off the fourth set 6-3. However, the Czech was not going away, and pushed the Brit all the way. At 4-5, Murray was required to serve to stay in the match and, while under pressure, the Brit managed to squeeze out an important hold before creating two break point opportunities on the very next Stepanek service game; the second was duly taken, and the Brit, under more pressure from the persistent veteran, finally managed to wrap the game up with a service hold and a massive roar. Next up for Murray: French wildcard Mathias Bourgue, a hugely winnable and hopefully quick and easy match for the British #1.
There were three British defeats in the women’s draw. Naomi Broady was up against American Coco Vandeweghe on Monday, on a highly unfavoured surface. The Brit put up a very decent fight, taking a set off the American before eventually succumbing 6-4 3-6 6-3. The Brit has shown signs of improvement on clay this year, but will be glad for the chance to re-focus on the grass court season, with Wimbledon just around the corner.
Earlier today, both Laura Robson and Johanna Konta bowed out with relatively little resistance: Robson went down 6-2 6-2 to 28th seed Andrea Petkovic of Germany, converting just two out of 7 break points and holding serve just twice. The Brit has now won just two of her last twelve matches. In a far more surprising result, 20th seed Johanna Konta suffered an early exit at the hands of German Julia Georges, creating zero break points against an inspired Georges, whose net play and consistent serve was just too good for the Brit to handle. Neither player has huge pedigree on clay, but Konta in particular will be disappointed to exit the tournament at such an early stage, especially given her rapid rise up the rankings in recent months.
On Wednesday, Watson, Edmund and Murray are all in action, while Bedene plays his second round match on Thursday.