When Mats Wilander suggested Andy Murray was nearing the end of his career after the former world No 1 equalled the heaviest loss of his grand slam career, he cannot have imagined the row he was creating. Wilander’s old friend, Jim Courier, is the latest to defend the 33-year-old Scot and his replacement hip.
On day two of the French Open – when Rafael Nadal began the defence of his title with a routine win over the unseeded Egor Gerasimov, but No 4 seed Daniil Medvedev went out along with British hopes Cam Norrie and Liam Broady – talk lingered about Murray’s future.
Wilander, who made two unsuccessful comebacks after an excellent career, said on Eurosport at the end of day one: “Is it his right to be out there doing that? Why? I did it [took late-career wildcards at the expense of young contenders] and I shouldn’t have. It was the biggest mistake I [made] in my career.”
Murray’s former training partner Daniel Vallverdú described Wilander’s remarks as “pathetic”. Then Courier, who has two French Opens to Wilander’s three and works for a rival TV network, was adamant the Swede was wrong to be nudging Murray towards the exit door after his straight-sets capitulation to Stan Wawrinka.
Courier replied on ITV: “Mats is a friend of mine and I respect his opinion greatly, [but] … Andy has every right to take wildcards if they are offered, and tournaments have every right to give them to him if they want to. It is up to Andy as to how long he wants to play.
“This is all about him having the power to decide he will end his career on his terms rather than his hip deciding. And it is a remarkable story, that the doctors have given him this chance to come back. He is never going to move the way he did – he knows that.
“He says he doesn’t want to win outside of his game style but, frankly, there are going to be matches like yesterday where, if he wants to be competitive, he is going to have to hit the ball bigger, he is going to have to play differently. But there are other matches where he can use his guile and his hands and his wonderful imagination to win as well.”
Even Murray’s uncle, Keith Erskine, a golf pro in the United States for a long time, entered the debate. He tweeted: “It’s a certain breed of people who probably fear for their jobs [bad ex‑pro commentators, poor journalists and ex-coaches] who seem to know more about the welfare and drive of past champions & are responsible for most of the controversial and stupid comments aimed at them.”
Meanwhile, Nadal’s quest for a 20th major to match Roger Federer’s record began smoothly as he carved up Gerasimov, the world No 83, in just over two hours in the last match on Chatrier, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. The Spaniard looked much better than in his two comeback matches in Rome, and his experience and class crushed Gerasimov (whose cause was not helped when he turned his ankle). Nadal has played six times as many tie-breaks – 398 – as his opponent has played matches on Tour.
“I’m going to practise every single day with the best attitude possible,” Nadal said courtside. “It is a different Roland Garros because of the conditions, very challenging, But I’m here to try my best.”
Medvedev was beaten in four sets by Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, with the combustible Russian given a point penalty for racket abuse on set point to fall two sets down. He rallied to take the third but Fucsovics prevailed 6-4 7-6 (3) 2-6 6-1, leaving Medvedev still without a singles win at Roland Garros.
On court 10, Broady – who won four tie-breaks in three matches to qualify for his first slam main draw – was warned for some lung-busting swearing towards the end of an entertaining encounter with Jiri Vesely, who hung on to win 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2. Norrie completed the British men’s exodus from Paris with a five-set defeat to Daniel Galán, the “lucky loser” who replaced Kyle Edmund in the draw.
Félix Auger-Aliassime, the 19th seed was a shadow of the player who put Murray out of the US Open in the second round this month when he succumbed in three sets to Yoshihito Nishioka – who blew a two-set lead against Murray in the first round at Flushing Meadows, but saw off his opponent on day two here, 7-5, 6-3, 6-3.
The industrious Japanese player with the short back-lift and quick feet was too strong in all departments for Auger-Aliassime, who admitted later:” “There were too many times where I just didn’t step up and play a decent point.” Nishioka next plays the Frenchman Hugo Gaston – a wildcard who beat a wildcard, his compatriot, Maxime Janvier. Wilander will be pleased.
There was late drama on Court 14, where the gifted Corentin Moutet could not deliver for his Parisian fans against the 29-year-old Italian qualifier Lorenzo Giustino, who took six hours and five minutes (the tournament’s second longest match of all time) to win 0-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3), 2-6, 18-16.