Frech Open: Andy Murray finding his feet on clay to pose serious threat to Djokovic slam target

Brad Gilbert rates Andy Murray as a more likely winner of the French Open than nine-time champion Rafael Nadal.

READY TO CHALLENGE: Britains Andy Murray, seen in action at Roland Garros last year, is a genuine contender to end his wait for the French Open title.Picture: Christophe Ena/AP

World No 1 Novak Djokovic is a clear front-runner as he resumes his chase of the one grand slam title still to elude him.

But Murray’s form on what was widely-regarded as his worst surface has been super over the last two seasons and beating Djokovic to win the title in Rome last weekend brought him squarely into the Roland Garros reckoning.

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Gilbert, who coached the Scot in 2006 and 2007, always felt he should have done better on clay and now believes it is his strongest surface.

Gilbert said: “In the last two years, Murray has played phenomenal tennis on clay. Murray plays his best tennis now by far on red clay.

“He hasn’t lost before the semis in any event. He’s been very consistent. I’ve got Murray down as the second favourite.”

It was probably not coincidence that one of the more impressive weeks of Murray’s career in Rome came just after he split from coach Amelie Mauresmo.

With the situation resolved, the world No 2 was a calm and focused figure, showing none of the on-court angst that has often affected his performances and which Mauresmo revealed was a major factor in the end of their partnership.

Assistant coach Jamie Delgado, who appears to have made a hugely positive impact since joining the team in February, will be in his corner in Paris.

Murray will consider adding another coach and even spoke of the possibility of reuniting with Ivan Lendl, under whom he won his two slam titles, but Gilbert agrees there should not be any rush.

The American said: “To me he’s playing the best tennis I’ve ever seen him play, and Jamie Delgado is the sole coach.

“I don’t think that he will do anything, certainly not until after the French, and I don’t think he’ll do anything until after Wimbledon.

“If he happens to win one of those two, I doubt he will make any changes. If he doesn’t win either one of those, then he’ll probably start to think about adding somebody to the team because it’s been a while since he’s won a slam, and he wants desperately to win another.

“I think, at 29, whoever he does hire will be his last important hire of his career.

“He’s looking for somebody for the slams to help get him over the hurdle.

“It’s got to be a coach that has at least won multiple slams as a coach or a player that has won multiple slams.”

While Murray was calmness personified in the Italian capital, the same could not be said for Djokovic. It was a strange week for the Serbian, who, as well as losing to Murray for the first time on clay, also lost a set 6-0 to Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci.

The job for his team will be to ensure that the pressure of trying to break his French Open duck does not weigh too heavily.

For the second time in his career, Djokovic has the chance to hold all four slam titles at the same time, but he must put behind him the memory of three final defeats in four years in Paris.

Chris Evert believes the defeat by Murray can be a positive, saying: “I think Djokovic’s loss is a blessing in disguise because this guy has won so much in the last couple of years.

“I think Djokovic’s loss is a blessing in disguise for him because this guy has won so much in the last two years.

“A little bit of the pressure is off after you lose.

“You just almost feel relieved when you’re winning so much, and I think he can just take a deep breath and sort of go back and regroup.”

Murray and Djokovic both begin their campaigns at Roland Garros today. Murray takes on qualifier Radek Stepanek and Djokovic meets Lu Yen-hsun.