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Andy Murray, clay-court specialist

   Andy Murray making the French Open quarterfinals in 2009. Photograph by Yann Caradec.

Andy Murray making the French Open quarterfinals in 2009. Photograph by Yann Caradec.

Well, with all the talk of deflated balls and overinflated bladders and tummies, we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture – Andy Murray, married man, has become a superb clay court player.

Remember, folks: It was only a few short months ago that Murray lost to Novak Djokovic in the finals of the Australian Open and the “Whither Andy Murray?” articles began to pour in, mostly from British journalists who can’t bear the thought of any imperfection in the life of the Great Brit Hope. The trouble with that is that the pendulum tends to swing way over in the opposite direction when he wins. He won the Munich Open, his maiden clay-court title, and then at the Madrid Open, beat Rafael Nadal (shocker of shockers but then, maybe not, given Rafa’s current Hamlet-like mental state). Suddenly, it’s adios, Rafa.

Indeed, there are those who think Andy can not only make the finals in Paris but actually win

I like Andy. I like him even when others call him a “whiner” and point to feather-gate. (Forrest Gump-like moment while playing Nole in the final of the Aussie Open one year, don’t ask.) I like him when the fair-weather press goes cloudy on him, which it always does. I like him for reuniting lost dogs with their owners and marrying Kim Sears and then winning and scrawling on a camera lens, “Marriage works.”

But I can’t believe that Rafa’s going to roll over at Roland-Garros in Paris. And then there’s the little matter of Nole, who beat Rafa at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in his hometown for his third consecutive Masters 1000 win, which is huge, but didn’t play in Madrid in order to spend time with wife Jelena and baby Stefan. Now Andy, who won his opener at the Italian Open in Rome where Nole is defending his title, has withdrawn with fatigue.

Look, clearly everyone wants to be fresh for the French Open, which begins May 24 and runs through June 7. Right now it is truly wide open for the men, with Rafa, the nine-time defending champ, at his lowest ranking in years, No. 7. That means that either Andy or Nole – who always makes things hard for himself – or Feddy (remember him?) could meet Rafa as early as the quarterfinals.

And should Andy and Nole make the finals, you would have to figure it would be Nole’s to lose.

As the tournament begins, Andy and Nole will have just celebrated their 28th birthdays (May 15 and 22 respectively) while Rafa will celebrate his 29th mid-tourney (June 3). Question is: Who’ll get the cake?

Oh, to be in Paris in the spring.