French Open 2017: Gentlemen Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro poised to script another class act

Andy Murray’s conduct on the tennis court doesn’t always befit a knight. The Scot is known for his surly behaviour and is prone to berate himself and those in sitting in his players’ box in times of crisis. But he is usually a good sport. And is increasingly becoming tennis’ voice of sense and sensibility.

On Thursday, his opponent, Martin Klizan, was serving for 5-3. He missed a first serve and then claimed the crowd, jeering a latecomer who took his own sweet time settling in, had distracted him. Murray let him re-take the first serve. It may not have been a grand gesture, but it showed Murray’s preference for a fair fight even down. Klizan won the point and the game and eventually the first set in a tie-break.

Great Britain's Andy Murray (L) and Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro. AFP

Great Britain's Andy Murray (L) and Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro. AFP

Murray was made to dig deep by the mercurial Slovakian southpaw in a contest that lasted three hours and 34 minutes. But the world No 1 eventually prevailed 6-7 (3-7), 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) and with his sporting spirit well intact.

Murray’s perseverance, which was once again on show against Klizan as he battled past physical discomfort, his mental demons and an unpredictable opponent, has seen him rise to No 1 in an age ruled by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But it’s his choices off-court that have made him more than just a tennis player.

Earlier in the week, with controversy brewing over Margaret Court’s anti-gay comments, Murray hit just the right note. “I don’t see why anyone has a problem with two people who love each other getting married. If it’s two men, two women, that’s great,” Murray said. “I don’t see why it should matter. It’s not anyone else’s business. Everyone, in my opinion, should have the same rights.” It was a 21st century matter-of-factness that has become the Scot’s statement style.

He was the first elite male player to hire a female coach – Amelie Mauresmo—and vehemently defended her when she was criticised for his failures. Murray is also one of the few players who has been outspoken on doping. He hasn’t historically always been politically correct (Remember the ‘anyone but England’ football joke that didn’t amuse many?), but he usually seems right.

In the third round, he faces a player who doesn’t quite speak up against burning questions but would rather draw everyone in a warm hug. Juan Martin del Potro is Mr Congeniality of tennis, and on Wednesday, he once again showed why.

With the match level at 6-3, 3-6, 1-1, his opponent Nicolas Almagro had to retire with a knee injury. The big Argentine walked over to Almagro’s side and helped him get back to his bench. Del Potro sat with a tearful Almagro, and was seen comforting and consoling him. "I told him that tennis is important, but health matters more than tennis in this case," del Potro later said. "He was in agony. It was tough."

He probably knows the feeling better than many.

A prodigious talent, who won the 2009 US Open at the age of 20, del Potro’s career has been cruelly interrupted by injuries. Since his Slam win, he has had three wrist surgeries restricting his major count and reducing him to a dangerous floater in the men’s draw rather than a genuine contender. He is playing the French Open for the first time since 2012.

But the 6’6 del Potro has a big serve and a monstrous forehand that can hurt even the best of defenders. He put those two weapons to full effect last year, when he beat Djokovic and Nadal en route a silver medal at the Rio Olympics. But the crowning glory came at the Davis Cup, when he came back from two sets down to beat Marin Cilic in the fifth and final rubber. It was the first time that del Potro had fought back from a two-set deficit and the first time that Argentina won the team trophy in five attempts.

In his various attempts at do-overs and comebacks, del Potro has found a way to just have fun in tennis.

“I remember back in 2009 when I lost against Federer in the semifinal. That year I thought it was my year. I was really thinking I would make it into the finals. I thought I could beat Federer that year. Then I lost,” the 28-year-old said in Paris. “And at that point, I thought I'm never going to have good results again. And then I won the US Open. And then last year I didn't think I would be able to come back to, you know, such a high level. This year, you know what? I don't really think about it too much. I try not to make things too complicated.”

He wants to remain healthy and his game just as vibrant. It’s that joy that resonates with tennis fans, making him one of the most popular – even bridging the gap between the Federer and Nadal superfans—players in the world.

Murray will have to contend with the legions of ‘Delpo’s’ screaming fans when the two meet, somewhat prematurely, in round three. Murray and del Potro duelled in two epic contests last season: while Murray won gold in Rio, the Argentine beat him in a five-set, five-hour thriller. Their third round is likely to be another class act.

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Updated Date: Jun 02, 2017 11:41:34 IST

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