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Murray Survives Scare; French Wild Card Tops Safin In Thriller

Paris, France

Andy Murray© Getty ImagesAndy Murray is playing in his first Grand Slam event as the World No. 3.

Third-seeded Scot Andy Murray reached the Roland Garros third round for the second consecutive year after surviving a mid-match meltdown to beat Potito Starace of Italy 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 on Wednesday. The pair’s first meeting lasted two hours and 40 minutes.

Murray wrapped up the first set in 31 minutes, courtesy of a service break in the fifth game, but World No. 104 Starace capitalised on a number of unforced errors from Murray’s racquet to clinch the second set and take a 5-1 lead. Starace squandered set point opportunities at 5-2 and 5-4, as Murray reeled off six straight games to win the third set.

The 22-year-old Murray recorded his 33rd win on the 2009 ATP World Tour season (33-5 overall) with a forehand winner down the line on his third match point. The Dunblane native hit eight aces and 54 winners in total, with six of 11 break point opportunities converted and 37 unforced errors. Starace, 27, could only convert four of 13 break point opportunities, while he was passed 14 times out of 34 points at the net.

“Momentum makes a huge difference,” explained Murray. “I made him work hard at the end of the third set. I didn't make as many mistakes, and just focused on every point. I wasn't worrying whether it was set point or not for him. I just tried to serve well and play aggressive, and I did that.

“Today I started well and let my opponent back into the match, but found a way to win. I obviously would like to play at the same level all the time like I did against Chela, but sometimes it doesn't happen. I normally find ways to win when I'm not necessarily playing my best. I hope I can start to do that more on clay.”

Murray has received his highest Grand Slam seeding of No. 3, equalling the highest seeding for a British player at a Grand Slam championship in the Open Era. Roger Taylor was also No. 3 seed at 1973 Wimbledon. He will next meet Serbian Janko Tipsarevic, who beat No. 28 seed Feliciano Lopez of Spain 6-7(9), 6-4 7-6(4), 6-3 in almost four hours.

In a second-round thriller, French wild card Josselin Ouanna prevailed against former World No. 1 Marat Safin 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 4-6, 3-6, 10-8 backed by the rousing support of home country fans. Safin, who has stated he will retire at the conclusion of 2009 ATP World Tour season, rallied from two sets down to level the match and broke early in the fifth set, but then saw Ouanna even the score at 3-all.

Safin, a 2002 Roland Garros semi-finalist and two-time Grand Slam champion, staved off elimination with an ace on Ouanna’s first match point at 4-5 and again with a forehand winner down the line at 5-6, but could not repeat his heroic effort with Ouanna holding two more match points at 8-9. Ouanna secured his best career victory in four hours and 34 minutes when Safin’s return sailed wide on the fourth match point.

The 134th-ranked Ouanna is playing in his sixth tour-level tournament, and earned his first Grand Slam victory when he defeated Marcel Granollers in five sets in his opening match. Safin, at No. 22 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings, is the highest-ranked player the 23 year old has defeated.

Chilean No. 12 seed Fernando Gonzalez cruised past his second qualifier at the clay-court Grand Slam championship, after defeated Portugal’s No. 2 Rui Machado, currently No. 130 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings, by a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 score line in just 88 minutes. Gonzalez hit four aces and 34 winners in the pair’s first meeting. The 28 year old has won 11 ATP World Tour singles titles, including a fourth at Vina del Mar (d. Acasuso) in February. The World No. 12 has also made semi-final exits at Barcelona (l. to Ferrer) and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Rome (l. to Nadal) this year. He has a 19-5 season mark.

Seventh seed Gilles Simon delighted Parisians Wednesday by booking a spot in the Roland Garros third round for the first time, after defeating American Robert Kendrick 7-5, 6-0, 6-1. Simon improved to 3-4 at the second Grand Slam championship of the year with victory in just one hour and 33 minutes. It is only the second time this year that the 24 year old has won back-to-back matches on a clay court (also Estoril). Earlier this year the World No. 7 advanced to his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open (l. to Nadal). He improved to a 20-16 season record.

Simon will next meet No. 30 seed Victor Hanescu of Romania for the second time. Hanescu advanced to the Roland Garros third round for the first time since reaching the quarter-finals in 2005 (l. to Federer) with a 7-5, 7-5, 7-5 win over Russian Mikhail Youzhny in just over three hours. Hanescu won 21 of 31 net approaches, hit three aces and 41 winners for his 11th win of the year (11-15 overall). 

Marin Cilic, the Croatian No. 13 seed and a winner of two ATP World Tour titles this year, booked his place in the Roland Garros third round for the first time with a comprehensive 6-0, 6-3, 6-1 win over World No. 55 Dudi Sela of Israel in 83 minutes. World No. 13 Cilic, who clinched the first set in just 19 minutes, hit seven aces and 23 winners. The 20 year old won 34 of 40 points on first serve, but also committed 27 unforced errors in the pair’s first meeting. He has played four clay-court tournaments in the build-up to the Grand Slam championship in Paris. Both players were competing at a career-high South African Airways ATP Ranking.

Cilic will next meet No. 18 seed Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, who hit 48 winners to defeat French lucky loser Mathieu Montcourt 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in three hours and seven minutes. The 30 year old is appearing in his 26th Grand Slam championship, with his best showing a quarter-final exit at 2006 Wimbledon. Stepanek has won two ATP World Tour titles this year at Brisbane (l. to Verdasco) and San Jose (l. to Fish). He has a 26-10 season record.

In a first round clash Belgian Christophe Rochus required just eight minute to complete a 6-3, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 win over Fabrice Santoro of France. Rochus had led 5-3 in the fourth set on Tuesday evening, when play was suspended due to bad light. Santoro was contesting his 20th Roland Garros campaign.

“I wanted to have played a tight match,” said Santoro. “I wanted emotions. I think I served well. It's true that losing in three sets yesterday night late with 10 Celsius, that would have been bad. Being back on the Susan Lenglen Court, that was perfect. Well, almost perfect, because I wish I had won the fourth set to be able to play the fifth set.”

French favourite Arnaud Clement caused an upset when he beat No. 21 seed Dmitry Tursunov of Russia 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 55 minutes. The pair has resumed the first-round match at one-set apiece.

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