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Murray beats underdog Stepanek, Williams advances

It took nearly four hours over two days, but the world's No. 2 player, Andy Murray, finally advanced out of the first round at the French Open.Down two sets to love, the mentally drained two-time Grand Slam champ found a way to rally and beat 37-...

It took nearly four hours over two days, but the world’s No. 2 player, Andy Murray, finally advanced out of the first round at the French Open.
Down two sets to love, the mentally drained two-time Grand Slam champ found a way to rally and beat 37-year-old qualifier Radek Stepanek, 3-6, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5.
While Murray lived to play another day, it was Stepanek who stole the show. The fans showed their appreciation and Murray tipped his cap to the veteran Czech, who just last year missed eight months because of a serious sciatic nerve injury.
“I did need all my fighting spirit out there, both (Tuesday) and (Monday) night,” Murray said. “I know, playing a fifth set, anything could happen.”
Monday was dark and damp and Murray was on the cusp of being part of history. Stepanek would have been the oldest player to win a Grand Slam match.
But Murray survived and held a break at 4-2 up in the fourth set when play resumed on Tuesday.
Stepanek would not go quietly. He was relentless, placing shots with precision and attacking the net judiciously. He was just two points from the win when Murray served at 5-4 in the final set.
But Murray held serve and then broke Stepanek. Murray could breathe a sigh of relief when Stepanek’s volley landed in the net.
“It’s unbelievable what he’s been doing,” Murray said after the 3 hour, 41 minute match. “I don’t expect to be doing that at his age,” he admitted.
The telling stat: Stepanek hit more winners - 57 to 39 - but also committed 74 unforced errors to Murray’s 35. Murray also recorded 14 aces.
Stepanek was forced to qualify for the French because the world’s former No. 8 missed so much time last year.
Murray doesn’t get much time to rest. He takes on the Mathias Bourgue in the second round today. The 22-year-old Bourgue is ranked No. 164.
Top-seeded Novak Djokovic advanced in easier fashion as he defeated Taiwan’s Yen-hsun Lu 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.
The Serbian has never won the French Open. He has lost in the finals in three of the past four years.
“These two weeks might be the most important in the whole season (for me),” Djokovic said after the match.
Djokovic faces Belgian qualifier Steve Darcis in the second round.
Spain’s Rafael Nadal, seeded fourth, defeated Australian Sam Groth, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1; sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France swept Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, and seventh-seeded Thomas Berdych of the Czech Republic knocked off Canada’s Vasek Pospisil 6-3, 6-2, 6-1.
In women’s play, top-seeded Serena Williams had no trouble in her first match, dispatching Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2, 6-0.
The American needed just 42 minutes to finish off Rybarikova.
“Everybody who knows me knows I love to win,” Williams said afterward. “Especially when I play on the big stages and the Grand Slams, that’s what we always practice for and we always try to do well at.”
Serena’s ninth-seeded sister, Venus Williams, was challenged by Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) in her first match of the tournament.
Venus Williams needed close to two hours to hold off the 82nd-ranked Kontaveit.
Williams lost in the opening round in last year’s French Open.
Third-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany was ousted in the first round by Kiki Bertens of The Netherlands 2-6, 6-3, 3-6.
“I’m disappointed that I lost here in the first round,” Kerber told reporters. “But that’s the sport. . . . That wasn’t my best tennis today.”
Fifth-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus had her French Open end in disappointing fashion when she had to retire due to a knee injury.
Italy’s Karin Knapp was the benefactor while posting the 6-3, 6-7, 4-0 victory.
Azarenka was injured during the second set and took an injury break before continuing. She won the tiebreaker to stave off elimination but was unable to compete in the third set before retiring from the match.
Eighth-seeded Timea Baczinszky of Switzerland sailed to a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Spain’s Silvia Soler Espinosa, while 12th-seeded Carla Suarez-Navarro of Spain defeated the Czech Republic’s Katerina Siniakova 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.
No. 14 seeded Ana Ivanovic, of Serbia and Montenegro, was a 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 victor over France’s Oceane Dodin. American Madison Keys, seeded 15th, knocked off Croatia’s Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2.
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina (18) defeated Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-1, 6-3, while Germany’s Julia Georges rolled to a 6-2, 6-3 upset of 20th-ranked Johanna Konta of Great Britain.

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