Plotting Andy Murray's potential route to the French Open fina
Who must Andy Murray defeat if he claims a maiden French Open title? Sky Sports have plotted his potential route and, of course, it includes Novak Djokovic…
When the draw handed Murray a qualifier he would have hoped for something better than the seasoned Czech veteran who ran him so close in Madrid just a few weeks ago.
The British number one emerged victorious from their second round meeting but only after dropping the first set to the 37-year-old who is ranked at No 127 in the world but a more than capable player on his day which is admittedly few and far between after injury problems.
Murray recovered to win 6-7 6-3 6-1 and will be confident against Stepanek who has only once gone beyond the fourth round of a major and has never had any tangible success at Roland Garros.
The Czech can call on a recent victory of Murray, at Queens in 2014, but while Stepanek will prove awkward anything other than a straightforward Murray win will be a major surprise.
The likeliest candidate to play Murray in the second-round would be the up-and-coming Bourge, although he is yet to qualify for the main draw of a Grand Slam so far.
The 22-year-old from France is the world No 165 and, on paper, looks unlikely to provide Murray with anything other than practice time on the clay courts. Playing at his home Grand Slam, should Bourges even make the second round it would represent a major step in his fledgling career.
The competition will dramatically step up for Murray at the third hurdle and he looks likeliest to face ace-machine Karlovic.
The clay surfaces in Paris do not suit big-serving players so Murray may lick his lips at facing Karlovic, whose most threatening weapon would be somewhat negated.
The 37-year-old Croatian, who owns the all-time record for the most career aces and the fastest serve, is the 27th seed but has lost all six matches against Murray.
Another big serving opponent, Isner, will have the dual problem of a court unsuited to their style coupled with an elite returner, Murray, at the other end of the court.
Isner’s game isn’t as serve-heavy as Karlovic’s but it remains the primary tool of the 6’10” American. The world No 17, like Karlovic before him, hasn’t got much to brag about opposite Murray. In five career meetings, the Brit has beaten Isner every time.
And worryingly, Isner has lost his most recent two clay court matches heading into the French Open so his progression to the fourth round is far from assured.
There will be another major step up for Murray should he reach the last eight, with a top-10 player almost guaranteed to meet him. The likeliest is Japan’s Nishikori, the fifth seed, and perennial dark horse to lift the overall trophy.
Nishikori has prepared for the clay courts of Roland Garros with a Barcelona Open runners-up finish, and a loss in the Madrid semi-finals to Djokovic. Nishikori has a losing 1-6 head-to-head record against Murray but that only includes one clay court match.
The defending champion Wawrinka would be Murray’s semi-final opponent after Roger Federer’s late withdrawal from the competition prompted a reshuffle in the seedings of the top players.
Returning to the scene of last year’s French Open victory, Wawrinka has a crucially close head-to-head record against Murray. While the Brit still edges an 8-7 rivalry, it is close enough to cause concern.
And with Wawrinka having already proved that his powerful ground-strokes translate onto the clay, he might have the ideal style to give Murray problems.
And so to the finale, where Murray’s greatest rival will await assuming he overcomes the French Open’s most successful player Rafael Nadal.
If it’s world No 1 Djokovic, Murray may just enter fancying his chances more so than usual. Djokovic has notoriously never won the French Open and it remains the only Grand Slam missing from his trophy cabinet, so the pressure is on.
Added to that, Murray won their most recent meeting in the final of the Rome Masters, although Djokovic won seven days previously in the final of Madrid. Djokovic leads a 23-10 head-to-head record.