Day two at the 2016 French Open promises plenty, as several top players begin their quests to capture the second Grand Slam of the year. Of those major contenders, Britain’s Andy Murray features on the order of play as he takes on the experienced Radek Stepanek, who secured his place in the main draw by progressing through qualifying. The pair meet for the ninth time on Monday.
Murray in superb form on clay
Murray arrives in Paris in stunning form, after recently securing the Rome Masters title. The triumph in the Italian capital, was his third on clay, and second at the Masters 1000 level, with a title in Madrid in 2015.
His success in Rome was no surprise, due to his recent form on the clay swing, where he reached the semifinal in Monte Carlo before just failing to defend his title in Madrid after Novak Djokovic proved just too much in three sets. The world number one was defeated the following week however, as Murray put in a superb performance to overcome his rival for the first time in five previous meetings.
The 29 year-old has never reached the final at Roland Garros, but boasts three appearances in the last four, including last year where he ran into Djokovic yet again. A run to the semifinals would be his third consecutive at the French Open.
Stepanek progresses through the qualifying draw
Murray’s first round opponent, Stepanek, had to qualify to secure a place in the main draw for the sixth consecutive year. He defeated Yoshihito Nishioka 6-3, 6-2 in the final round, to earn an encounter with the world number two on Philippe Chatrier.
These days, the veteran plays the majority of his tennis on the doubles circuit, but features occasionally in the singles, and reached the second round at the Australian Open earlier this year where he was defeated by Stan Wawrinka in straight sets.
The Czech has never progressed past the fourth round in the singles event at the French Open, reaching the semifinals in the doubles back in 2007 with Mahesh Bhupathi. Last year in the singles, Tomas Berdych edged past Stepanek in the second round, winning in four sets.
The pair have met eight times previously, with Murray holding the advantage 6-2. They most recently met at the Madrid masters, where the Brit proved too much for Stepanek despite the match requiring a deciding third set. This was only their second ever meeting on clay, and the world number 128 only holds victories against Murray on the hard courts of the Paris masters and the grass of the Aegon Championships at Queens Club.
Despite their most recent meeting going three sets, it’s highly unlikely that Stepanek will pull off the shock victory, with alot of his focus on doubles at the tail-end of his career. He’ll cause problems throughout, with his superb volleys and doubles tactics, but over a best of five format it’s hard to imagine him outlasting Murray. The Brit occasionally suffers lapses of concentration at early rounds of Grand Slams, another in this encounter and he could find himself playing for longer than the expected three sets.
Prediction: Andy Murray in straight sets