By John Stonestreet
PARIS (Reuters) – With intimations of his Roland Garros demise appearing greatly exaggerated, world number one Andy Murray played it straight by the French Open form book on Tuesday with a mostly regulation 6-4 4-6 6-2 6-0 first-round win over Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov.
After a confidence-sapping run-in to the tournament he came within one match of winning last year, the top seed would have been hoping for an easy introduction to settle the nerves.
For the most part, his 73rd-ranked opponent obliged, as the rich run of form that last week took Kuznetsov to the semi-final of the Geneva Open deserted him under the gaze of a packed Philippe Chatrier crowd.
Paris’ main showcourt had already played host to upsets in the day’s first two matches, with Murray’s compatriot, seventh-seeded Johanna Konta, going down in three sets to Taiwan’s unseeded Hsieh Su-Wei in the women’s draw, and Spain’s Fernando Verdasco ousting German ninth seed Alexander Zverev in four.
For a while, some may have sensed the possibility of a third shock as the Scot began tentatively, his tennis underpowered and his manner subdued.
Recovering from illness and injury, his love affair with clay has turned sour this year, with early-round defeats this month to Borna Coric in Madrid and Fabio Fognini in Rome – losses in which Murray said the absence of Ivan Lendl, who tends to coach him only during grand slams, had not played a role.
“If things aren’t going well, people will try and find the reason for why that is,” he told a news conference.
“For me, I don’t think that it’s anything to do with Ivan not being there … I do think that ideally we would have spent more time together (but)… that’s the situation that we were in, and it worked fine last year.”
Murray was broken when serving for the first set at 5-4, but Kuznetsov handed the break right back in the next game. Murray then lost his bearings midway through the second set, dropping four games in a row to allow the Russian to square the match.
Bolstered by the returning presence in his box of Ivan Lendl, his coach in grand slams since 2012 and credited with adding an extra edge of aggression to his game, the Scot then moved through the gears, mixing drop shots with lobs and adding more depth to his groundstrokes.
He breezed through the third and fourth sets with the loss of just two games and ended the match full of smiles that hinted at his relief over a potentially tricky hurdle negotiated.
“He (Kuznetsov) goes for his shots, he plays very aggressively … so he takes your time away. But it was quite windy today … and that can make things difficult,” Murray said in a courtside interview.
“I started to play better as the match went on … I have very good memories of Paris and I will try to have another good run this year.”
(Reporting by John Stonestreet; Editing by Tom Heneghan)