Tramlines

A day when Murray became the real deal in Paris

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His best record is Down Under in Melbourne, his most vociferous band of supporters can be heard in London and his best surface is said to be across the pond in New York. With all this in mind, it is appropriate to ask: can Andy Murray finally snag his first Grand Slam on his least productive surface? 

Only six out of 51 men's singles Grand Slam winners in the modern era have needed more attempts to reel in their first 'big one' than the Great British hope, but Murray need not fear the past. Not at the age of 24. 

The sight of the Scotsman finally making good on his early promise at the French Open may sound like a far-fetched notion, but stranger things have happened in sport. He is making noises this week about his love of the soil, even if results tend to dictate that clay is his least favourite surface. Certainly, he seems to be in the mood to win against the odds at Roland Garros.

His victory over Viktor Troicki in the fourth round was crammed with all of the ingredients that champions are made of. Murray lost the opening five games of his match against Troiki. Toiling to cope with an ankle problem, he dropped the opening two sets against Troiki. Like all good champions, he found a way to recover.

When all seemed lost in the fifth set, Murray - for so long derided as a figure who lacks aggression in the key moments - found a way to win. He was two points away from defeat, but escaped with a victory. It was heady stuff. 

A 4-6 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5 success belies the theatre of Murray's day. He won the final five games of the match with a belief and gusto that hints at better times ahead on clay. 

The Scot has never been beyond the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, but he suddenly seems to be more sure of himself at an event where it is more about the survival of the fittest, rather than an exhibition of flair. Murray has enough talents in his locker to win the French Open in forthcoming times. He also has staying power. 

This could be his year, but it all depends on how he harnesses the wave of self-belief that coursed through his veins in ousting the tricky Troicki. In years gone by on clay, Murray would have lost such a match in straight sets before being struck by a wave of regrets, even self-pity

It was said that Tomas Muster - the 1995 French Open champion - once ran the distance of a marathon in training such was his addiction to outlasting opponents on clay. Murray may not be at such levels, but he is not lacking reserves of natural energy. 

He cannot afford to lose the first two sets of matches from here on in. He cannot afford to continue fraternising with moody spells against classier men. If his ankle doesn't hinder his movements and if he can rid himself of moody blues and those unwanted fits of pique, the world can be his this week.

He plucked a set from Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo last month before succumbing to the Spaniard in three sets. He was close to usurping Novak Djokovic in Rome. It was a defeat that prompted him to predict brighter times ahead for his own game in Paris, even if the conditions in the French capital have been more akin to his native Scotland.

The unseeded Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina is a sturdy enough assignment for Murray to overcome, but it is one Murray must meet with a degree of hope. A win over Chela in straight sets would be like money in the bank for Murray as he seeks faster progress. 

Incidentally, Murray is priced at 12/1 to win the tournament behind Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. It is the natural order in world tennis these days, but there are worse bets out there. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Talking of having a punt, Austrian player Daniel Koellerer has been banned for life for match-fixing. The world number 385 is the first player to receive the life ban having been found guilty by the Tennis Integrity Unit.

"The life ban applies with immediate effect, and means Mr Koellerer is not eligible to participate in any tournament or competition organised or sanctioned by the governing bodies of professional tennis," the TIU said in a statement.

He was also fined $100,000 for betting-related corruption. He has the right to appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Tramlines wouldn't bet on him returning. 

MATCH TO WATCH ON DAY ELEVEN

Has to be Rafael Nadal against Robin Soderling in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

There are murmurings that Nadal may not be quite the player he was in striding to five French Open titles in years gone by. Certainly, Djokovic has changed the landscape of tennis by winning in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome before this event. 

Having lifted the Australian Open in January, Djokovic is rightly the favourite if not the number one seed in the second Grand Slam of the season. Nadal must revisit the form that made him so untouchable on his favoured surface.  

Soderling will perhaps not provide the type of challenge Nadal could encounter against Djokovic, but the towering Swedish player goes in knowing he accounted for Nadal in four sets in the fourth round in 2009.

He lost the 2009 final to Roger Federer and last year's final to Nadal, but Soderling knows he can scar Nadal on clay. This would seem like a perfect time for Nadal to justify his billing as the 'King of Clay'.

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