Monday, 16 May 2016 15:51 PM BST
Eye on the Tour: Murray enjoys perfect birthday as Serena re-enters the frame

Qualifying has now begun in earnest for Roland Garros, and the time for warm-ups is over.

The culmination of the Rome Masters has done little to clarify the identity of the favourites for this year's Paris showpiece, and it promises to be one of the most intriguing French Opens in recent years, with a host of players on both the men's and the women's tours looking capable of winning. rounds up the latest action as the second Grand Slam of the year gets underway.

Murray’s happy returns

‘Great, great job. You were just too good’.

In all but one of their previous 13 meetings, it had been Murray delivering those kinds of plaudits, forced to concede that his opponent had simply been better.

But on the occasion of Murray’s 29th birthday, it was Djokovic who found himself in the unfamiliar position of doing the first post-match speech.

Speaking in fluent Italian, the Rome Masters runner-up sang Murray’s praises, but had voiced his concerns throughout the match about the on-court conditions, with the British No.1 agreeing that the rain had made the baselines in particular very wet.

Having come straight off the back of his triumph in Madrid, Rome proved to be an arduous week for Djokovic. He had to endure a first-set bagel from Thomaz Bellucci, outlast Rafael Nadal in an early contender for match of the year and then spend three hours taking out Kei Nishikori.

But while Djokovic’s exertions can arguably be used as a caveat for his defeat, the birthday boy Murray produced a brilliant performance of controlled aggression that was reminiscent of his days under Ivan Lendl, winning his first Rome title with one of the best match points this year.

On paper, Murray - who never got the better of Djokovic while working with Amelie Mauresmo - has now done so on his first attempt since separating from the French Fed Cup captain.

But her legacy runs a lot deeper than that. Under Mauresmo’s stewardship, clay has arguably become Murray’s most consistent surface: the world No.2 has only been beaten by Djokovic or Nadal on the dirt since the 2014 French Open, and has racked up 28 wins to 3 losses in that time.

Having reclaimed his No.2 spot in the rankings, Murray will now head to Paris as a genuine favourite. Rafael Nadal’s place in the draw will likely prove pivotal, but the Brit could well finish off Mauresmo’s work come June 5th.

Serena re-enters the frame

Before the 2015 US Open, if you had suggested that Serena Williams would not win a title until May 2016, the chances are you would have been roundly laughed out of whichever room you happened to be in.

But that was exactly the situation the world No.1 found herself in as she touched down in the Italian capital.

It has been an indifferent start to 2016 for Williams, but like any great champion, the imminent arrival of a Grand Slam has coincided with an upturn in form.

Having revealed that she’d made herself ill on Thursday by sampling the dog food on offer at her hotel, Williams still managed to win the first all-American final on clay since 2002, defeating Madison Keys in two sets.

Keys, who beat the likes of Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza en route to the final, was given the ultimate vote of confidence from Williams, who told her that “you’re soon going to be world No.1” as they met at the net.

Despite her recent troubles, Williams is still the undisputed No.1, and while there will be plenty who fancy their chances in Paris, her Rome title win is an ominous sign for the rest of the field.

Bagels on the menu

When Bellucci bagelling Djokovic isn’t the most surprising bagel at a tournament, then you know something truly bizarre is afoot.

That’s because David Goffin handed Tomas Berdych not one but two bagels in Rome, with the Czech promptly announcing he’d split with coach Dani Vallverdu after the tournament.

Remarkably, it's the first time a top 10 player has lost two sets 6-0 since Roger Federer did it to Gaston Gaudio at the 2005 World Tour Finals.

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