Murray Upset In Quest For 499th Career Hard Court Victory At Montpellier

Andy Murray (photo: Open Sud de France)

MONTPELLIER/WASHINGTON, January 29, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Great Britain’s Andy Murray was on track toward winning his 499th career tour-level hard court victory at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier Monday evening. All seemed to be going his way —he was one set to the good — until it all came apart.

Murray’s opponent, 112th-ranked Benoit Paire of France, came alive after a lackluster first set and upset the 49th-ranked Briton, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, in two hours and 39 minutes. It was Paire’s first Top 50 win since 2022 at the Australian Open and the first time he had beaten Murray in four career meetings. He fired eight aces during the win.

The loss by Murray prevented him from moving to within one victory of becoming the fifth player in the Open Era to record 500 tour-level hard court triumphs. Roger Federer is the all-time leader with 783, followed by Novak Djokovic 700, Andre Agassi 592 and Rafael Nadal 518.

Murray, 36, who was seeded fourth, broke Paire twice in the opening set – once on a double fault – during their first-round match in Sud de France Arena. However, Paire turned things around in the final two sets by breaking Murray’s serve three times and putting pressure on his opponent’s second serve. Paire put away the victory on his fifth match point opportunity after Murray netted a forehand return.

It was Murray’s third straight disappointing defeat to start the 2024 season following a pair of first-round losses at Brisbane and the Australian Open against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria and Argentina’s Tomas Martin Etcheverry.

Meanwhile, Paire, who is making his eighth Montpellier appearance, was playing in just his first tour-level match since Roland Garros last June. Until beating Murray, he had not won an ATP Tour match since 2022 at Washington, D.C. and is 19-62 since the Tour resumed play from the Covid-19 suspension in August 2020.

“I’m very happy with my match, very happy with my win,” Paire said in a very abbreviated on-court interview. “It was not easy.”

Next, Paire will face the winner of tomorrow’s all-French wild card tussle between No. 144 Harold Mayot and 315th-ranked Lucas Pouille, who won the 2018 title in the Occitanie.

Earlier, No. 133 Michael Mmoh of the United States, who was appearing in his first tour-level match since reaching the third round of the US Open last September, earned his first ATP Tour win on an indoor hard court after three unsuccessful tries. Mmoh beat No. 126 Benjamin Bonzi of France, 6-3, 7-5, in a tension-filled one hour and 35 minutes behind 10 aces – eight of them in the second set – and two breaks of his opponent’s serve. It was Mmoh’s first tour-level main draw match this season after failing to qualify for the Australian Open and going 1-2 in two ATP Challenger Tour events.

Mmoh, who outpointed Bonzi 67-59, will play either No. 7 seed Alexandre Muller France or French qualifier Antoine Escoffier in the second round. The loss was the Frenchman’s fifth-straight first-round defeat to start the 2024 season.

Later, the final match of day — an all-Spanish affair between No. 75 Jaume Munar and No. 99 Pedro Martinez — extended well past midnight and was finally won by Martinez, 6-4, 7-6 (3), in two hours and 17 minutes.

Martinez, who beat Munar for the third time in his career, broke a six-match tour-level losing streak. His last win was at Indian Wells last year and this was his first tour-level match since the French Open last June. Next, he will face No. 4 seed Borna Coric of Croatia.

Around the Open Sud de France

Four qualifiers – No. 172 Antoine Escoffier of France, No. 156 Pablo Llamas Ruiz of Spain, No. 214 Ugo Blanchet of France and No 194 Dalibor Svrcina of the Czech Republic – advanced to the main draw after winning their second-round qualifying draw matches on Monday.

Top seed Holger Rune will face either No. 130 Richard Gasquet of France or qualifier Llamas Ruiz of Spain in the second round following a first-round bye. The other top 4 seeds in the 28-player draw of this ATP 250 indoor hard-court event – No. 2 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, No. 3 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and No. 4 Borna Coric of Croatia – also received byes into the second round.

With 13 Frenchmen in this year’s main draw singles – one shy of half of the 28-player field – it’s inevitable that there are some all-French match-ups. There’s three on Tuesday’s order of play, including: Harold Mayot versus Lucas Pouille, Antoine Escoffier versus Alexandre Muller and Ugo Blanchet versus Gregoire Barrere.

Monday’s Open Sud de France results

Tuesday’s Open Sud de France order of play

By the numbers

There are 13 Frenchmen in this year’s Open Sud de France main draw singles, including 11 from direct entry and two from qualifying.

Four former Open Sud de France champions are in the singles draw: Alexander Bublik (2022), Gaël Monfils (2010, 2014, 2020), Lucas Pouille (2018) and Richard Gasquet (2013, 2015-16).

Last year’s Open Sud de France title was won by Jannik Sinner of Italy over Maxime Cressy of the United States, 7-6 (3), 6-3.

“Quotable …”

“Both of us are good players and we expected more [and better] results to start 2024. To come here was a great opportunity for both of us. I think we felt that.”

Michael Mmoh of the United States, during his on-court interview, on the importance of trying to do well this week in Montpellier after a slow start to the 2024 season.