Andy Murray and Aljaz Bedene – for the first time in the latter’s career – reached the third round of the French Open on Wednesday and Thursday, as the other remaining British hopefuls, Heather Watson and Kyle Edmund, were both beaten on Days 4 and 5 of the second Grand Slam of the year.
— Aljaz Bedene (@AljazBedene) May 26, 2016
— British Tennis (@BritishTennis) May 25, 2016
Andy Murray once again took the nation through the wringer with yet another comeback victory lasting five sets, appearing to be in control at 6-2 2-0 against French wildcard Mathias Bourgue before completely collapsing and losing eight consecutive games to surrender the second set and go behind in the third, which also went the way of the Frenchman.
But Murray dug deep once more to find the reserves of mental strength that carried him through his match against Radek Stepanek in the first round, and eventually fought back against an inspired French youngster, who was buoyed by the home crowd, with the world number two finally finding a way past the 22-year-old 6-2 2-6 4-6 6-2 6-3.
The Brit has now been on court for over seven hours, and it is rare that players go on and win physically gruelling events such as Grand Slams after struggling past their opening opponents in the way Murray has done so far this fortnight. However, Murray has already proven that he has clay court pedigree this season, and the mental fortitude required to get through these two matches may just give him an edge against his bitterest of rivals, a certain Novak Djokovic, should the pair meet in the final as expected, as the Serb has certainly gotten the better of the Scot mentally in the majority of their recent encounters.
First up for Djokovic, though, will be British Number Two Aljaz Bedene, after the Slovenian-born 26-year-old backed up his first ever Roland Garros main draw win with a first ever third round Slam appearance thanks to another five-set victory. Bedene looked comfortable leading by two sets to love against Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, but the world #43 fought back to level the match and take it to a one-set shootout in the decider.
Bedene, aided by 23 aces throughout the match, eventually found a way past the Spaniard 6-2 in the final set, giving him an impressive 7-6(4) 6-3 4-6 5-7 6-2 win after winning 80% of points on the first serve – a very healthy percentage, and one he will need to sustain if he has any chance against the dominant force of Djokovic.
With two Brits going through, however, there were also two Brits going home. Kyle Edmund couldn’t manage a step further from last year’s second round appearance, but put up an excellent fight against 15th seed and huge server John Isner of the United States. With the American smashing down 18 aces and winning 86% of his points on serve, the Brit stood very little chance of breaking, and of the paltry three break point chances he was offered, the Brit failed to pocket any of the opportunities. A 6-4 6-4 6-4 defeat is nothing to get disheartened about for the young Yorkshire lad, especially against the world #17, but the Brit will need to find some answers against players like Isner if he’s to continue his rapid rise up the ATP Rankings.
Meanwhile, British interest in the women’s draw is now over after Heather Watson’s exit at the hands of Svetlana Kuznetsova. The 13th seeded Russian 31-year-old dominated the match against the British Number Two with her tendency to come to the net (almost 40% of the time), winning 6-1 6-3 and reminding the Brit that she still has a way to go to consistently match the elite of the women’s game. Watson’s first serve percentage of 43% is simply not good enough at this level of the game, and she was duly punished for it against the experience Russian veteran.