Andy Murray had to endure jeers from the French crowd as he failed to bounce back from his poor Australian Open by losing to Benoit Paire in the first round at the Open Sud de France. In his first match since losing to Tomas Etcheverry in Melbourne, the three-time Grand Slam champion took the first set but then let things slip, eventually being beaten 2-6 7-6 6-3.
Murray had the perfect start on the Court Patrice Dominguez, opening up with a solid service game before breaking in dramatic fashion. Three times Paire failed to take game point on his own serve, but when the Scot forced advantage, Paire had a fault overturned by Hawkeye – and when Murray complained to the umpire the Montpellier crowd roundly booed him.
The 36-year-old responded by taking the game, though, and then rapidly held again to take early control at 3-0. Paire’s trademark drop shot helped him get on the board in the next game, but he was clearly rattled as he regularly gestured to the umpire between points.
Murray continued to look at ease on his own serve as his opponent’s frustration grew, and a second ace took him within a game of the opening set. Paire, whose last tour win came in Washington in 2022, then handed the ex-world No.1 two set-points by netting with an open court gaping and duly served a double fault to finish matters.
Murray went into the clash having won all of his previous three matches with Paire, but as a fourth straight defeat looked inevitable, the Frenchman came out aggressively in the opening game of the next set and forced his first break point. He couldn’t take it and failed to convert a second chance before finally fashioning a third opportunity and executing a crisp volley.
Suddenly, Paire had his tail up and two aces helped him take the next game to love. And now it was Murray looking flustered, slicing a backhand wide before regaining his composure and avoiding a double break.
But just when the home favourite looked odds-on to level that match at 4-3 up, the inconsistent play that has so often plagued his career was apparent again. An error-strewn service game saw him gift Murray a 0-40 lead before a double fault restored parity in the second-set.
Murray then survived a nervy moment on serve when at 30-30, Paire’s skilful lob was narrowly long, and the fifth seed held. It forced Paire to serve to stay in the match and he too held firm before the pair exchanged further service games to force a tie-break.
As the crowd noise ramped up, Paire stormed into a 5-1 lead following a sublime backhand pass and then fashioned two set points at 6-4. He couldn’t take the first one, but a cross-court forehand levelled the match.
And in the decider, Murray soon found himself staring down the barrel. At 1-0 down and facing three break points, he saved two of them before a loose forehand put Paire firmly in the driving seat.
The pendulum swung again though as Murray broke to love but at 2-2, blew a further three break points. And then as the Scot served to try and get back to 4-4, the seemingly decisive moment came.
At 40-30 up, a misjudged leave gave Paire an opening and he won the next two points to give himself a chance to serve for the match. An ace brought up three match points but with Murray seemingly dead and buried, he dug deep to force deuce. Another chance came and went for Paire but at the fifth time of asking, Murray netted a return and an elated Paire was able to celebrate a long-awaited win.