By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Andy Murray survived a second close shave at the French Open on Wednesday, but his path towards what he hopes will be a maiden title in Paris is getting so circuitous he may soon find himself hacking through trees in the nearby Bois de Boulogne.
While defending champion Stanislas Wawrinka, fifth seed Kei Nishikori, Agnieszka Radwanska, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza, eased into the third round on Wednesday, world number two Murray took the long and winding road again.
The Scot spent Monday and Tuesday figuring a way past an unorthodox Czech, 37-year-old Radek Stepanek, extricating himself from two sets down to scrape through in five.
This time it was little-known 22-year-old French wildcard Mathias Borgue, playing only his second grand slam match, who led the former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion astray.
Initially overwhelmed, Borgue recovered from a 6-2 2-0 deficit to take control in astonishing fashion, reeling off eight games in a row and forging into a two-sets-to-one lead.
When he pummelled a backhand winner down the line to take the third set Murray looked stunned and the partisan Court Philippe Chatrier crowd were in full cry.
Murray was rocking, but saved three break points at the start of the fourth set, one with a sublime half-volley, and gradually seized control again to prevail 6-2 2-6 4-6 6-2 6-3 in three hours 34 minutes.
“I lost my way on the court today, you know, for quite a while,” Murray, who joined the crowd in applauding Borgue, France’s 16th ranked player, told reporters.
“I was struggling to win points at one stage. I couldn’t see where his shots were going.”
“You can’t play too many matches like this if you want to go far in this tournament,” added Murray, who has already spent seven hours and 15 minutes on the clay.
Murray’s opponent in the third round, Ivo Karlovic, was involved in the day’s other compelling drama.
The big-serving Croatian, another 37-year-old defying age, beat Australian wildcard Jordan Thompson 6-7(2) 6-3 7-6(3) 6-7(4) 12-10 to become the oldest man to reach the third round of a slam since Jimmy Connors in 1991.
“It’s the only time when being old is okay,” 27th seed Karlovic, who has boomed down 72 aces in two rounds, said of his milestone victory.
It was the longest match of the tournament for a while, at four hours 31 minutes, before Frenchman Gilles Simon took a minute longer to come back from two sets to beat Guido Pella.
Quite what Karlovic and Murray will cook up on Friday is anyone’s guess, but expect the unexpected.
Like Murray, third seed Wawrinka suffered a first-round fright in a five-setter against Lukas Rosol.
He was still not at his best on Wednesday against Japan’s Taro Daniel, but having saved two set points in the opening tiebreak he won 7-6(7) 6-3 6-4.
“If you look at the first two matches, for sure I’m not playing my best tennis, but I know I have my best tennis in me,” the 31-year-old said. He plays Frenchman Jeremy Chardy next.
Nishikori’s progress has been impressive so far and he was too good for Russian Andrey Kuznetsov, winning 6-3 6-3 6-3.
After a flurry of falling women’s seeds in round one, order was restored as the sun finally appeared in Paris, although two French players proved easy pickings.
Radwanska bested Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-4 and Muguruza, trying to become the first Spanish woman to win the title since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1998, thrashed Myrtille Georges 6-2 6-0.
Romania’s Halep, runner-up to Maria Sharapova in 2014, took a while to tame Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas to win 7-6(5) 6-2 and Czech Lucie Safarova, beaten by Serena Williams in the final last year, beat Swiss Viktorija Golubic 6-2 6-2.
Men’s eighth seed Milos Raonic also made hay in the sun against a French player, crushing Adrian Mannarino 6-1 7-6(0) 6-1, his reward a third-round against lucky loser Andrej Martin.
The standout clash of the third round will be Australia’s Nick Kyrgios against home favourite Richard Gasquet, after both won convincingly on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by John Stonestreet, Larry King)
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