A disastrous 20-minute period mid-match put paid to Andy Murray’s hopes of extending his Parisian stay into a second week. The Scottish No10 seed lost 6-3 6-7 6-3 7-5 to Spanish No19 seed Nicolas Almagro, who will now go on to face the winner of Jérémy Chardy and Dmitry Tursunov in the Round of 16.
Murray came to Roland Garros having never won a match on the Parisian clay but put that right early in the week with an epic five-setter over French wild-card Jonathan Eysseric. He was criticized in the press for his over-reliance on the drop-shot which got him into trouble but this was his trump card in the second round when he cruised past Jose Acasuso. On Friday, the drop neither saved nor condemned him, but a critical lapse in concentration around the two-hour mark proved to be the difference between the two players in their first ever meeting.
The Scotsman was in trouble from the off, dropping his first service game which is always fatal against a clay-court specialist like Almagro, who won tournaments on this, the slowest of surfaces, in Acapulco and Costa do Sauipe this year. Almagro calmly served out the remainder of his games to win the opener and did likewise in the second set. Try as Murray might, he could not find a way to break but managed to turn the tide in the second set tie-break. Until then, his first service had been good but inconsistent and his second effort generally weak, but he boomed down a pair of unreturnable services then wrong-footed Almagro on a service return to level the match.
Murray’s returns improved and he broke straight away in the third set and a second week in Paris beckoned. And then, in the space of 20 minutes, it all went wrong for the No10 seed. His concentration deserted him and Almagro was allowed to break back, hold and break up before Murray had even drawn breath. The tide had definitively turned, and the Spaniard was soon a break up in the fourth.
The match was not over, however, and Murray again gave his fans – a good number of whom were with him on Court No7 – a glimpse of his infuriating consistent inconsistency. With Almagro serving for the set, the Scot broke back amid a flurry of lobs, drops, passing shots and fist-pumps. He then served badly to hand the advantage right back and Almagro required no second bidding to serve out and seal the match.
Despite the defeat, the British No1 was incredibly upbeat after the match. "I think I proved I'm a good clay court player," he said. "You saw by the way that he reacted at the end of the match that it was a tough match. To win against me on clay is a very good result. I'm not someone that's going to be taken lightly on this surface in the future I don't think. I believe that I'm going to be one of the top players on clay in a couple years - I just need a bit more experience, a bit more strength and understanding of how to play. And I'll be up there with the best players."
Murray had previously described clay as his “favourite surface but not the best one to win on”. Perhaps his least favourite surface but the best for results – England's green and pleasant lawns – will bring a change in fortunes.