Andy Murray has become accustomed to having huge battles with Juan Martin del Potro having beaten him in the Olympic finals in Rio and later last year, losing to him in the Davis Cup semi-final in Glasgow. Both matches were spell-binding affairs played over nearly nine hours so their third-round meeting at the French Open provided more than casual interest.
It was a good one for me to get through and each set I played better, I started to figure things out again during the match. Andy Murray
And like in those two previous encounters, the play was intense with the first set taking 84-minutes to complete with Murray coming from behind, to eventually take it on a titanic tie-break which initially deflated his Argentine opponent who hung over the net for some 40-seconds with his head in his hands after he watched his forehand drift just wide of the sideline and confirmed by the umpire.
He managed to shrug off that disappointment in the second set but finally the occasion got to him as Murray romped home 7-6(8) 7-5 6-0 proving that his own game was well on the up after his poor run of form in the build up to Roland Garros.
The world number one acknowledged: “It was obviously an important win for me and a big match because Juan, when he’s playing well, is one of the best players in the world.
“To be playing him this early on in the slam is obviously not easy, but it can be a very positive thing. You play someone that good, maybe you’re a little bit more switched on.
“It was a good one for me to get through and each set I played better, I started to figure things out again during the match.
“Maybe I didn’t start the best, but I made some changes in the match tactically. That’s very positive, because I wasn’t doing that for the last few tournaments and the last couple of matches I have done it, and totally turned the matches around.
“I didn’t come here with the mindset that I’m definitely going to go a long way here. I was going to try and just get through the first round and hopefully feel better each day. That’s been the case so far.
“There were things I did today that, if I can do them consistently well over the next week or so, then I could do really well.
“But I also know where I have come from, even just 10 days or so ago. I was not playing well. So I need to respect that and work hard in practice and concentrate.”
Murray was put on the back foot by losing his serve early as DelPo used his big forehand to great effect, often raising gasps of admiration as he hit winners as if fired from a gun.
He looked in control, but then Murray started his comeback saving a set point at 4-5 and then a second in the tenth game before levelling and forcing a tiebreak where he took a 6-4 lead only to miss the two sets points after Del Potro pulled off a miracle forehand winner off a Murray pass.
An Argentine double fault took the tiebreak to 7-all before Murray finally settled it forcing DelPo’s error when his third opportunity arose a few points later.
Explaining his reaction at losing that opening set, Del Potro said: “Too much frustration. I couldn’t believe that I lost that set, because I had many opportunities to win. I was playing great, great points during the whole first set.”
It took him awhile to regain his composure as Murray broke him immediately on resumption preventing Murray from taking a 3-0 lead in the second, eventually recovering that break in the 10th game but that proved to be his last hurrah.
Murray broke back and held to take a two-set to love lead and then swept through the third to set up a last 16-clash with either John Isner or the fast rising young Russian star, Karen Khachanov.
Meanwhile Kyle Edmund showed his improving form against the big serving Kevin Anderson whose greater experience eventually led him, after nearly four hours, to a 6-7(6) 7-6(4) 5-7 6-1 6-4 victory.
The 22-year-old British No.2 said: “It was a good match. It was a long one. There was so much to take from it positively, stuff I’ve been working on and showing good maturity in my game.
“It was just very small margins. That’s the difference at this level and you learn as you go up. You’re not going to get masses of opportunities. It’s a few points here and there.
“And I think he also played a good match. I played a good match and I’m disappointed to lose. I would love to have won and got to the fourth round of the French, and especially win that type of match in the fifth set. But quality by him.
“So I just have to talk about it, learn from it and keep moving forward. But I think I’m moving in the right direction.”
Anderson now goes on to play Marin Cilic.
Rain eventually stopped play at around 5.00pm with play being called off some two hours later leaving 10 matches on the day’s schedule to be fitted into Sunday’s programme but not before Stan Wawrinka recovered from a tight first set to oust the talented but erratic Italian Fabio Fognini 7-6(2) 6-0 6-2. The Swiss star, the 2015 champion, will face either Gael Monfils or Richard Gasquet in the next round, both Frenchmen being locked in battle with the former leading 6-5 in the first set when the match was brought to a halt by the rain.