Australian Open: Andy Murray sets up clash with 'nutty' Frenchman
It is said that the modern game can be one-dimensional, but Andy Murray could hardly have had more contrasting opponents in his first three matches here at the Australian Open.
Having disposed of a racket-throwing American (Ryan Harrison) and an Anglophile Frenchman (Edouard Roger-Vasselin), the world No 4 tomorrow meets Michael Llodra, who in Murray's words is "up there with the most nuts guys on tour".
Ivan Ljubicic would no doubt agree. Ljubicic once opened his locker at the Miami Masters to find a naked Llodra crouching inside. "I'm trying to get positive energy from you," the Frenchman told him. "You're winning a lot of matches this year."
Murray said yesterday: "I've been around [Michael] enough to know that he's nuts. You don't see the half of it. He's like a young kid with so much energy, always making noise, winding people up, slapping you on the back. He's like a younger version of Henri Leconte."
Most importantly for Murray, 31-year-old Llodra is a French left-handed serve-volley specialist, which would probably be the Scot's description of the perfect opponent. Murray's emphatic 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory yesterday over Roger-Vasselin, in which he struck the ball with more confidence than he had against Harrison, was his 37th win in 38 matches against French players.
Taking Rafael Nadal out of the equation (the Spaniard having won 13 of their 18 encounters), Murray has lost only three times in 40 matches against left-handers. The only explanation he can give is the fact that as a boy he played so many matches against his left-handed brother, Jamie. "I played with him all the time so I never minded the spin of the serve," Murray said.
Llodra, currently world No 46 in singles and No 5 in doubles, is one of the few players who takes both disciplines equally seriously. Yesterday he beat Alex Bogomolov Jnr in five sets before partnering Nenad Zimonjic to a two-set victory in the doubles. "Of course it's difficult, but you have to enjoy being on the court and when you win it's much better," Llodra said.
Llodra has lost both his previous meetings with Murray, the most recent at the US Open four years ago. "I have nothing to lose – everybody thinks he's going to destroy me," Llodra said. "I have to attack and put pressure on him."
Murray, serving well, made 41 winners and just 19 unforced errors in his victory over Roger-Vasselin, who failed to take his only break point. Enjoying the cooler conditions (at around 25C the temperature was 10 degrees down on the day he played Harrison) and consequently less lively balls, Murray played further up the court, denying Roger-Vasselin time.
The Scot looked more relaxed than he has in the past. "I feel more in control of things," he said. "That's where you need to be focusing most of your energy and not letting things distract you. When it's not going well, like against Harrison, I am able to try and work it out."
Lleyton Hewitt, playing in his 16th and possibly last Australian Open, is through to the third round after Andy Roddick retired with a hamstring injury when trailing by two sets to one. Novak Djokovic beat Santiago Giraldo in straight sets, while the three favourites in the bottom half of the women's draw all progressed. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova had few problems against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Jamie Hampton respectively, but Petra Kvitova was a break down in the deciding set before recovering to beat Carla Suarez Navarro.
Against French opposition, Andy Murray is ruthless. In 38 matches, he has only tasted defeat once: against Gaël Monfils in 2010 Paris Masters.