PARIS • Top seed Andy Murray eased into the last 16 of the French Open 7-6 (10-8), 7-5, 6-0 yesterday, against a flagging Juan Martin del Potro. Murray, 30, kept his nose in front throughout, while the giant Argentinian was unable to reprise the heroics that saw the pair produce such magic in last year's Rio Olympics gold medal match.
While Murray won that encounter, his opponent had triumphed in their most recent clash in the Davis Cup.
Del Potro, whose career has been blighted by a recurring wrist injury, needed a good start against the world No. 1, but when he lost a tight first-set tiebreak, the stage was set.
"I expected a tough match and the first set was very, very important," Murray said. "It was tough because he was playing much better than me in the first set.
"Both of us had some chances in the first set and the second set was the same. Both those two sets could have gone either way. Whoever won that first set had big momentum."
Losing that set on a disputed line call cut the 28-year-old del Potro deep. Murray jogged to his seat at the changeover and the Argentinian stood at the net, bent at the waist, his head resting on the net. There he stayed until the umpire called time.
The pair traded blows in the second set with Murray creeping ahead. But a monumental effort by del Potro saw him break back for 5-5, only to instantly drop serve again as Murray yanked him around the court with tight angles, drop shots and lobs.
Del Potro, whose groin caused him trouble in the last match, struggled when stretched wide or in hunting down short balls.
Murray took advantage and made no mistake, crunching it out with his fourth ace of the match.
Del Potro's spirit was broken, and the vocal Paris crowd were quelled. With some exquisite returning and acutely angled groundstrokes, Murray raced through the final set and into the fourth round.
"It's slow and heavy and coming back in these conditions is difficult. But I thought I played some good tennis towards the end," he said.
"I'm starting to feel better. I had struggled the last six or seven weeks. This is one of the most important tournaments of the year. But each day I'm feeling a little bit better."
Weary del Potro, who had already summoned the doctor early in the second set, can leave Paris with his head held high after returning to Roland Garros for the first time in five years, following a series of wrist injuries.
Men's 3rd rd: Andy Murray (Gbr) bt Juan Martin del Potro (Arg) 7-6(10-8) 7-5 6-0, Fernando Verdasco (Esp) bt Pablo Cuevas (Uru) 6-2 6-1 6-3, Stan Wawrinka (Sui) bt Fabio Fognini (Ita) 7-6(7-2) 6-0 6-2, Marin Cilic (Cro) bt Feliciano Lopez (Esp) 6-1 6-3 6-3.
Women's 3rd rd: Caroline Wozniacki (Den) bt Catherine Bellis (USA) 6-2 2-6 6-3, Carla Suarez Navarro (Esp) bt Elena Vesnina (Rus) 6-4 6-4, Simona Halep (Rom) bt Daria Kasatkina (Rus) 6-0 7-5, Caroline Garcia (Fra) bt Hsieh Su-wei (Tpe) 6-4 4-6 9-7, Alize Cornet (Fra) bt Agnieszka Radwanska (Pol) 6-2 6-1.
In the women's competition, Alize Cornet of France reached the last 16 for just the second time with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Polish ninth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who lost all her seven service games.
Romanian third seed and 2014 runner-up Simona Halep sealed her place in the fourth round with a 6-0, 7-5 win over Russia's Daria Kasatkina.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN
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