By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Andy Murray looks like he has solved the puzzle of claycourt tennis and is a serious title challenger at the French Open, according to twice Roland Garros champion Jim Courier.
World number three Murray is in the same half of the draw as favorite Novak Djokovic and nine-times champion Rafa Nadal and could play gritty Spaniard David Ferrer in the quarter-finals.
Yet with back-to-back titles on the slippery red dust in the build-up, the first of his career on the surface, those obstacles will not feel insurmountable for the in-form Scot who is unbeaten since getting married in April.
Courier, who will be commentating for British channel ITV Sport on what promises to be an intriguing fortnight, believes Murray's title runs in Munich and in Madrid, where he outplayed Nadal, would have been an eye-opener.
"I do think that in Madrid he was more offensive in the semi-finals and finals than we are used to seeing him," the American told Reuters from Florida before jetting off to Paris.
"I loved his tactics in those matches and seeing him go on the attack. He is such a skilled tennis player that I've found it disappointing not to see him use all his assets.
"He's a very good defensive player but sometimes relies on that too much and maybe underestimates his offense. Maybe he trusts his defense more than his offense but it was an eye-opener to see him utilize that.
"He's standing closer to the baseline, taking time away from his opponents and is beating people with ball speed. He's always been a player who likes to solve puzzles, but he's now hit on the formula that works for him on clay."
Murray has won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and appeared in numerous Australian Open finals whereas the French, despite two semi-final runs, has been his least favorite grand slam.
"Twice he's had to play Nadal in the semis which is no fun for anybody," Courier, who won the title in 1991 and 1992, said.
"Last year he got whacked pretty good but I don't think his physical state was as good as now and confidence-wise he's at a peak right now."
Murray sounded confident on Friday after being drawn against a qualifier in the first round, saying he was trying not to over-complicate himself these days.
"The less you think is better on the tennis court," he told reporters. "I think sometimes if you start to overthink, that can be a problem. So that's kind of getting that balance right between thinking at the appropriate times.
"It's probably the best I have played on clay.
"I feel like I'm moving well. I feel a lot more free on the court. Body feels good. That's positive."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Toby Davis)