Simon Reed

Heat and fans stand in Murray’s way

Simon Reed

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What struck me most about the opening day at the French Open wasn't the quality of play, but the tremendous crowds.

It hasn't been confirmed to me yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was an all-time record at the tournament.

Considering there was no Federer or Nadal on show, the sheer numbers who flocked to Roland Garros was simply phenomenal.

The French are very patriotic, and if they're watching an exciting home player they'll go crazy for them. That's what happened yesterday with the likes of Wilfried Tsonga and Josselin Ouanna playing and it was fantastic to be a part of it.

The tennis wasn't the best ever seen, and I don't think we saw the winner of the French Open in action, but as far as atmosphere goes it was amazing.

The French love to be part of the show, especially when they see one of their own doing well, and home advantage for the French players will be important this year.

But, that said, I can't see any of the home contingent troubling the big guns for the titles on offer.

Certainly Tsonga seems to be too heavy to last the distance. He's a well-built man with extraordinary power in his shot-making, but he is too heavy to last seven matches over two weeks.

The Roland Garros crowd will have higher hopes for Gael Monfils. I think he will play his best tennis here, as he usually does, but I still don't see him as the likely winner.

- - -

Another French favourite, Richard Gasquet, features in the biggest match of the day today against Andy Murray.

What's interesting about this clash is that it is on Suzanne Lenglen. Why?

It's a Frenchman against a major seeded player - one who reached the quarter-finals last year - so why is it not on Chatrier Court?

No official reason has been given but it may be that Gasquet wanted to take the pressure off himself.

On Lenglen, the atmosphere can be good, but it's not the same as on Chatrier. Nor is the weight of expectation.

Gasquet won Nice at the weekend and I know he was anxious not to play today - he wanted an extra day off to recuperate.

Tournament organisers refused to give him that, so maybe he cut a deal with them, saying he was willing to play today, but only on Lenglen to ease the pressure a little.

I'm just speculating of course, but there has to be a reason why this one is not on the centre court.

As for the match itself, I think tiredness will be the decisive factor. But it will be close.

Many of the broadcasters and journalists I have spoken to in Paris believe Gasquet has what it takes to win, but the longer the match goes on the more I will fancy Murray.

The only thing going against Murray is the heat. If he goes on around three o'clock local time, it will be extremely hot down on court. Traditionally he doesn't play well in intense heat, but he's even stronger than he has been before and he's very fit at the moment.

And that could be telling.

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