Nursing a back injury that rendered him virtually immobile in the early stages, Andy Murray today completed an unlikely turnaround to defeat Finland's Jarrko Nieminen 1-6, 6-4 6-1 6-2 in the second round of the French Open.
In the first set, Murray looked about as mobile as a garden gnome. But the stubborn Scot did at least treat his fans to a glittering array of cable-wristed groundshot winners on which no opponent could have laid a racket.
With his back in spasm, Murray called on the trainer three times and inevitably lost an excruciating first set that was as painful for his fans to watch as it was for the Scot to play.
Nieminen did well to hold his focus but, for Murray's admirers, this was like watching a slow-motion train crash. With Wimbledon, the Olympic Games and the US Open looming large on the horizon, fans wondered if the Scot's injury could turn the most sparkling summer of his life into a disheartening washout.
But early in the second set, the British number one began to show some signs of loosening up sufficiently to make a fist of it. While his movement wasn't completely fluid, it was at least less treacle-like and enough to take the set from 2-4 down.Read more (230 words)
The fourth seed took that form into set three, his shot selection benefiting from the legacy of his gung-ho mentality during the opening set. The Scot opened up a 3-0 lead that he defended until he killed off the set, at which point he was shifting like a gazelle across an African plain.
When Murray fired a scorching forehand to wrap up the third set, it seemed his transformation from the orthopaedic to the ballistic was complete. But if Murray was geriatric, the Finn was psychiatric. Throughout the entire French farce, Nieminen looked like a man in a straitjacket with a fly on his face.
The Finn's anguish continued into set four. An early break for Murray killed off any resistance from the left-hander, whose shots repeatedly found the wrong Parisian arrondissement.
As Murray's scorching array of shots bought him a cheap double break, and the Finn's unforced errors pushed 50, the crowd were left to wonder if they'd witnessed a miracle or just another piece of theatre in the repertory that seems part and parcel of the Scot's career.
Murray will take his place in round three against Santiago Giraldo, and spectators will feel that the Scot undoubtedly won a battle here. However, when the adrenalin wears off, the Brit might ponder whether his fortunes in the war – this iconic tennis season and beyond – have been dramatically impaired.