How nervous do top players get playing in Grand Slam tournaments? Very.
So nervous, in fact, that Andy Murray was struggling for breath after a few rallies as he set about staging yet another comeback in his interrupted match with Serbia’s Victor Troicki in the fourth round of the French Open.
Even though Troicki served for the match at 5-3, Murray called on that Scottish fire and determination once again to come through 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 to set up a quarterfinal against Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela.
The match restarted at two sets all on a chilly afternoon with rain threatening and Murray was a bag of nerves.
"I felt very, very nervous," Murray said afterwards. "I was getting out of breath. We were having long rallies but no more than normal on clay. But the last few days have been very stressful with the ankle problem and then having to come out and play just one set to get to the quarters of a Slam."
Once he started to relax a bit, Murray did not seem at all affected by the ankle he had twisted while playing Michael Berrer of Germany in the previous round.
But Darren Cahill, the adidas coach who has been working with Murray during the run-up to the tournament, emphasized that the injury was significant.
"I have a partial tear in one of the three main tendons that go into the ankle," Murray explained. "I was told to stay off my feet totally the day in between the Berrer match. I was given crutches which I didn’t use because I don’t know how to — I had never used them before. But the physios and the guys I work with have really helped."
The match produced some excellent clay-court tennis with Troicki defending furiously around his baseline and even managing to put a weird incident behind him. A ball boy suddenly shot out on court as Troicki was in the process of hitting what would have been a winning smash. The kid had been unsighted and thought the previous shot had ended the point.
"The kid just jumped in and messed up my point," said Troicki. "I cannot blame him but it disturbed me for a couple of points."
As Troicki won the game it hardly mattered. What mattered a great deal more for the Serb, who had won the deciding rubber in his country’s Davis Cup triumph over France last December, was the bad mistake at 30-15 when he was serving for the match and the drop shot that plopped into the net when a crunching Murray service return had taken the Scot to break point. It was sad for Troicki because he had caught Murray with some great drop shots earlier but the break back was all Murray needed. From that moment on, he took control and dominated the last two games just as he had dominated the last two sets the previous evening.
On the other side of the draw, Roger Federer was never seriously troubled by Gael Monfils whom he has now defeated three times at Roland Garros in the last four years. The Frenchman took a 3-1 lead in the first set, but once Federer adjusted to the gusty wind, it was one-way traffic.
The 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 victory takes Federer into a semifinal against Novak Djokovic, who had the day off because Fabio Fognini withdrew with a muscle tear in his thigh that had caused so much discussion as he hobbled to victory against Albert Montanes two days before.
Will Federer be the man to break the Serb’s 42-match win streak? It’s a fascinating prospect, but Djokovic does not seem too worried at the prospect of meeting an in-form Federer.
"Think positive," he joked with Henri Leconte when the former French No. 1 greeted him the players’ lounge. "Life is too short to think otherwise."
The defending women’s champion Francesca Schiavone will play the local favorite Marion Bartoli in the semifinal. Like Murray, Schiavone rarely makes things simple and the effervescent Italian had to claw her way back from a set and 4-1 down before beating the powerful 19-year-old from Russia, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 1-6, 7-5, 7-5.
"From 6-1, 4-1, I say ‘Keep going’," she said. "The key is to hit three, four, five, six balls. Otherwise if I go to net for one shot, no way. So I played two good games and then she went down a little bit."
The Russian admitted that she lost concentration with the winning post in sight. "For sure I lost my concentration. I wasn’t aggressive enough. I didn’t serve well. I didn’t feel the power any more. So she did a great job. She had courage and it was tough to stop her."
Bartoli will find it equally tough. The former Wimbledon finalist came through 7-6, 6-4 against Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 champion here, bounding about court in her usual style, using up as much emotional energy as physical. But the crowd will be right behind her against Schiavone, despite the champion’s popularity, and it could develop into a great battle of wills.