French Open: Respect is mutual as old foes Murray and Del Potro go toe-to-toe once more

Great game: Andy Murray, right, and Juan Martin Del Potro congratulate each other after their epic Olympic final in Rio last summer. They meet again in the third round of the French Open at Rolland Garros today. (Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA)
Great game: Andy Murray, right, and Juan Martin Del Potro congratulate each other after their epic Olympic final in Rio last summer. They meet again in the third round of the French Open at Rolland Garros today. (Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA)
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One of the most compelling rivalries of 2016 will be renewed in the third round of the French Open when Andy Murray takes on Juan Martin Del Potro.

The pair only met twice last year but they were two matches that will live long in the memory.

First they played each other virtually to a standstill in a pulsating battle for Olympic gold in Rio.

Murray came out on top of that one to claim his second successive Olympic title but Del Potro got his revenge when they clashed again in the Davis Cup semi-finals a month later.

This time they played for five hours and seven minutes, the longest match of Murray’s career, and it was Del Potro who prevailed to hand the Scot his first home singles loss in the Davis Cup.

Del Potro, who went on to guide Argentina to their first Davis Cup title, was always going to be a danger lurking for one of the top seeds as he continues to work his way back up the rankings after wrist problems almost ended his career.

At his best, the 28-year-old has been one of the few players to consistently challenge the big four and Murray knows Del Potro’s current ranking of 30 is misleading.

The Scot said: “That was obviously a brutal match we played in Rio, but also one of the most memorable that I’ll have in my career regardless of what happens in the final few years. We also played a great match in Davis Cup as well.

“It’s a tough match, not an easy third round. He is, in my opinion, one of the best players in the world when he’s fit and healthy.

“This year he’s had a lot of tough draws. If you look at the matches that he’s lost, he’s played Novak a few times.

“So because of the ranking that he has, he’s in that bracket where he’s met a lot of the top guys early on.”

Del Potro has played a light schedule as he focuses on looking after his body but he was a doubt for the tournament because of back and shoulder injuries and struggled with a groin problem on Thursday.

Indeed, Del Potro might have been in trouble had opponent Nicolas Almagro not retired in tears with a knee injury at one set all.

Del Potro is optimistic he will be fit to face Murray, saying: “I will have two days in order to rest and recover. It’s not new. Last year I had some problems with my groin. It’s not a source of concern.”

He is looking forward to having another crack at the world No 1.

“We played great battles last year, one each,” said Del Potro. “It could be another great battle if I feel good.

“Andy is one of the favourites to win this tournament. And now I know his game a lot, but I need to be in good shape and physically be stronger if we play a long match, long rallies.

“I’m happy with my level at this moment, my forehands and serves are working good.”

Rafael Nadal laid down a marker as he chases his 10th French Open title with his most one-sided ever victory at Roland Garros.

The fourth seed and favourite to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires next Sunday allowed Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili just a single game in a 6-0 6-1 6-0 victory.

It is the first time in a completed match at the tournament that Nadal has only lost one game.

The biggest cheer of the match came when Basilashvili, a little-known 25-year-old ranked 63, finally won a game at 6-0 5-0.

But that proved to be as good as it got for the Georgian, whose final tally of five winners and 34 unforced errors rather told its own story.

Nadal hit 27 winners, most of them off his lasso forehand, which is in ominously good shape.

Novak Djokovic survived the first serious test of his French Open credentials by fighting back from two sets to one down to beat Diego Schwartzman.

The defending champion had reached round three without dropping a set despite not playing his best.

But he was given a real fright by Argentinian Schwartzman before coming through 5-7 7-5 3-6 6-1 6-1.

Schwartzman, ranked 41, has never beaten a top-10 player but he has tested the likes of Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori this season. The 24-year-old is only 5ft 7in tall but his shots pack a real punch and he shocked Djokovic by coming from a break down to take the opening set.

Djokovic, with coach Andre Agassi sat impassively in the stands, looked to have turned things around when he claimed the second set but Schwartzman was not finished.

At times, the second seed resembled the player whose dominance of the game was total only 12 months ago.

But there were too many unforced errors – 55 in total – and costly at times.

But maintaining such intensity over five sets is extremely difficult and one of the reasons the format favours the top players.

Djokovic raced into a 4-0 lead at the start of the fourth set, with his only blip coming when he dropped serve in a fiery fifth game. Umpire Carlos Ramos penalised Djokovic a first serve for a time violation and then gave him another warning for bad language.

Djokovic argued his case while the crowd whistled and jeered, but it did not disrupt his momentum.

Schwartzman had given all he had and the champion lives to fight another day.