Andy Murray used mind over matter to advance at tennis’s Paris Open today as he overcame a back spasm that left him barely able to move and close to giving up.
Murray beat 48th-ranked Jarkko Nieminen 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 on the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros to reach the third round and keep alive his chances of a first major win.
The Briton, 25, appeared finished in the first set as he was unable to push off on the red clay and struggled to bend his legs as he served. He grimaced, frequently bent over after points and had trouble running to his forehand side. The crowd grew silent as Murray at one stage sliced a serve at a speed of 71 mph, about 60 percent of his normal pace.
“Just kind of gritting my teeth and trying to find a way of turning the match around, because I was a few points probably from stopping,” Murray said in a news conference.
He’d dropped the first set in 37 minutes as he made 16 errors and won the point on his first serve just 36 percent of the time. Murray seemed on the way to a quick defeat.
“He looked like he couldn’t walk,” Nieminen said. “It looked really bad what he had.”
Murray, who received treatment in the first set and the start of the second, trailed 4-2 in the second when the match turned around. He won the next four games and leveled the match as the Finn double-faulted on set point. The Scot went on to clinch victory as Nieminen hit a forehand long, his 51st error.
“The combination of him getting a little bit nervous and me moving a little bit better at the end of the second set changed the match,” said Murray, who made 42 mistakes.
Nieminen has now lost all four matches against Murray.
“He made some mistakes at the end of the second set, and it was his fault for letting me back into the match, because I didn’t do anything special,” Murray said. “I just tried to put some balls back in.”
Murray said he’d talked to his team about retiring before the match after he’d woken up with the muscle spasm in his back. He said today’s problem was “completely different” from the one that kept him out of the Madrid Masters before the French Open.
“It’s one of those things, you can wake up sometimes with a cricked neck or sleeping in the wrong position or whatever,” Murray said. “I was absolutely perfect yesterday. I had no problems at all.”
The right-hander had one of his most consistent seasons in 2011, making the semifinals at each of the four majors. He was beaten last year in Paris by eventual champion Rafael Nadal of Spain.
First Grand Slam
Still seeking his first Grand Slam title after three losses in finals, Murray hired eight-time major champion Ivan Lendl at the start of the year. Lendl, who watched from the stands today, won 28 clay titles including three French Opens.
Murray said he wasn’t worried about the summer, when he’ll play Wimbledon and the Olympic tennis tournament, also held at the All England Club.
“If it is just a muscle spasm, then that’s nothing to be overly concerned by,” said Murray, who next plays Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo. “But they are, when they happen, very difficult to shake off, especially when it’s early morning. It takes a bit of time for your body to warm up and stuff. I’m not doing any permanent damage by finishing a match like I did today.”