Perhaps the most encouraging sign for longtime Andy Murray fans following the Scot’s crisp, 6-1, 6-4 win over Edouard Roger-Vasselin was that the No. 2 seed in Monte Carlo didn’t go into a funk and blow the second set after he was called for a time violation while leading 4-3, 40-30. At the time, Roger-Vasselin was making his most serious bid to extend the match, and a mental cramp—or meltdown—by Murray could have seriously complicated the plot.
In some ways, Roger-Vasselin—whose father Christophe once upset top-seeded Jimmy Connors at the French Open—was the ideal opponent for Murray. The Frenchman is a journeyman with a fine little game, emphasis on “little.” He’s one of those excellent athletes who doesn’t have any real weapons, speed and stamina now counted as such by wise-heads. But when a solid all-around player is having an excellent week, he can be hard to beat. The ATP No. 81 was in the main draw because he won two qualifying matches, one of them over an excellent player, Robin Haase.
So the mission for Murray was clear: Play a tight, focused match at perhaps 80 or 85 percent efficiency, and you can walk away with a routine, straight-sets win.
At the outset, it looked like Murray would more than fulfill his task, even though a sluggish start forced him to fend off a break point before he held the first game. In the next game, Roger-Vasselin leaped out to a 40-love lead, only to watch helplessly as Murray parlayed a series of backhands—including a thumping, flat service return and a neat, wrist-flick, down-the-line pass—into an unexpected break. Murray was off to the races and left little to report as he outplayed his rival in every department.
As is often the case, Roger-Vasselin rebounded from losing the first set badly by shoring up his game and taking advantage of the inevitable if slight drop in Murray’s game. Murray scored the first break of the second set to go up, 2-1, and went into cruise control. He had just one minor crisis until the eighth game, a break point that he brushed aside with an ace.
But the less likely a win looked for Roger-Vasselin, the better he looked. He held for 3-4, and drilled into Murray’s next service game to the tune of 30-all. Murray won the next point when he ended one of the longest rallies of the match with a crisp, cross-court forehand placement. Then, as he lined up to serve, ATP supervisor Tom Barnes called a time violation on Murray—it was his second of the match, so he automatically was docked his first serve.
Murray won the ensuing one-serve point to go up 5-3 thanks to a Roger-Vasselin error, but he seemed to lose focus in the next game. Roger-Vasselin ripped through it, thanks to a flurry of Murray errors. Murray appeared distracted, and on the changeover he jawed at Barnes, making the case that when he was penalized, he had been ready to serve—and it was his opponent who was not ready to receive.
Uh-oh, some veteran Murray watchers thought. Here we go. He won’t let it go, even though it did him no harm.
But much to their delight, Murray served out the match with great aplomb, making good on one condition that will attend his efforts in the coming weeks. Murray has to avoid the kinds of funks and mental side journeys that allow opponents, many of who will be far more dangerous than Roger-Vasselin, to work their way back into those potentially long matches under the hot Spring sun.
Stat of the match: Roger-Vasselin won just 55 percent of his first-serve points (Murray won 90 percent of his own).