Many will have though that Andy Murray could have been an early casualty in this tournament. His form coming into the tournament had been stilted, to say the least. Despite a couple of bumps in the road with two four-setters to start before his straight sets win over Juan Martin Del Potro, Murray has looked a little more like his old self, if you excuse the chuntering at his box and the coughing from another recent bout of illness.
He faces one of the faces of the ATPs #NextGen campaign, Karen Khachanov, for which the watchword is… aggressive. He has a big serve not surprisingly at 6’6” and slams booming groundies off both wings. He moved to Barcelona at 18, and in October last year, he picked up his first title at the Chengdu Open and is looking forward to the chance to play the World No. 1, after beating John Isner to earn his spot in the fourth round.
Murray, who finished before the rain cut short play gets the benefit of a full day’s rest as Isner and Khachanov made good use of the better conditions to get their match completed after playing just one set on Saturday. Although it will be his first meeting with the young Russian, Murray has hit with him before, as he explained in his post-match press conference after beating Del Potro.
“I practiced with him before he got onto the tour when he was like 350, and he was really good. Big, strong guy. Generates a lot of power. He’s also got a big serve. But obviously not quite as experienced as John [Isner].”
Murray knows what it takes to play himself into form at a Grand Slam. He has been in the main draw of the US Open last year, the Australian Open this year, and makes his main draw debut at Roland Garros, after failing to make it out of qualifying last year.
Khachenov’s recollections of his time on a practice court are a bit more shady, as he admitted that his coach had been watching Murray’s opener against Andrey Kuznetsov.
He continued: “I think that is what we are looking for, to play on the big arenas like here, Center court, and to play against world No. 1. Really looking forward for it.
“I think we practice like three or four times. First time it was like two years ago, and, yeah, we had like some practice games. I don’t remember actually what we were doing.”
The heavy serve and hard hitting means that Murray’s returning will have to be at its best. The internal demons he has battled with his movement, such a key element to his game, will have to be conquered tout de suite to be able to put the Russian under pressure.
Can he out-lob him? He could well try, but if his confidence is coming back, expect him to have a fight on his hands but to ultimately prevail.
Prediction: Murray in four sets.
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