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Evans’ losing French Open run continues


Andy Murray
Murray, ranked 111th in the world, was playing on clay for the first time since June 2017

Andy Murray’s return to the clay proved to be a chastening experience as he lost in straight sets to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open first round.

The 33-year-old Scot was well below the level of 2015 champion Wawrinka, who eased to a 6-1 6-3 6-2 victory.

Murray’s exit came after British number one Dan Evans lost to Japan’s Kei Nishikori in a fluctuating five-setter.

Evans has lost on all three appearances in the main draw at Roland Garros after a 1-6 6-1 7-6 (7-3) 1-6 6-4 defeat.

British number three Cameron Norrie and qualifier Liam Broady are left to carry the flag in the men’s singles.

Murray out of sorts on clay return

Excitement and a sense of disbelief greeted the draw which pitted Murray against fellow three-time Grand Slam champion Wawrinka – who the Scot faced in his last match on clay over three years ago.

For Murray, it was a remarkable twist of fate which even left him “amused”. He had not played on the surface since a brutal five-set semi-final against Wawrinka at Roland Garros in June 2017.

That proved to be the start of the hip trouble which left him needing two major surgeries and on the verge of retirement last year.

Wawrinka, 35, has also seen his career stalled by a knee injury in recent years and that led to plenty of intrigue about how a poignant reunion between the two veterans at Roland Garros would pan out.

Ultimately, it did not end up being much of a contest as 16th seed Wawrinka ruthlessly dismissed an out-of-sorts Murray.

The Briton had beaten Wawrinka when they met in the European Open final in Antwerp in October, but a repeat result never looked likely.

The Swiss has climbed back up the rankings after finding form and fitness, showing why in a one-sided first set.

Murray’s first-serve percentage was down at a lowly 21% and that was punished by Wawrinka, whose heavy ball-striking was too much for Murray to handle.

Even though Murray’s service game slightly improved, he continued to look flat and unable to rouse the spirit which has seen him turn matches around so often in the past.

Wawrinka maintained his level as he continued to punch holes in Murray’s defence, ending up with 42 winners as he cruised to victory in one hour and 37 minutes.

Evans still searching for an elusive Roland Garros win

Dan Evans
Evans also lost in the Roland Garros first round in 2017 and 2019

The 30-year-old from Birmingham admitted he could not have been handed much tougher a draw than Nishikori, who is ranked one place below the Briton after injury problems at 35th in the world.

So it proved. Once the obvious disappointment subsides, Evans will be able to take heart from a gritty display where he continued to hang in and show flashes of his quality.

Evans admits clay is not his favourite surface and, with Nishikori not quite in peak condition, it transpired to be an engaging and unpredictable battle between the pair.

Evans initially looked more comfortable in the drizzle, allowing him to make the quicker start in a 29-minute opening set.

With the event taking place in autumn rather than its usual spot in May-June, the vastly different conditions have been a big talking point going into the tournament.

Both Evans and Nishikori were wrapped up in hoodies and long sleeves during the warm-up, with the Japanese player continuing to look cold in an uninspired first-set display where he won just 12 points.

However, the match swung back in Nishikori’s favour in a second set which mirrored the opener and then Evans had to battle to force a tie-breaker in a third lasting almost an hour and a half.

That momentum continued in his favour as Nishikori’s level dropped again in the fourth and it led to a decider that nobody would have dared predict.

Nishikori, though, has a remarkable winning record in five-set matches – standing at 23-6 coming into this one. And, after surviving an Evans fightback from 3-0 down, again showed his steeliness to come through the decisive moments.

Trailing 30-0 at 5-4, Nishikori remained focused and increased the intensity to break Evans’ serve to clinch victory in three hours and 49 minutes.

Kei Nishikori
Nishikori had elbow surgery in December and also tested positive for coronavirus in August

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