Andy Murray looking for red-hot run after avoiding the blues

 

Rome

Given that he has recovered from the back injury that forced him to pull out of the event, Andy Murray would have had good reason to feel smug about missing the Madrid Masters, which ended yesterday. While the likes of Rafael Nadal were struggling to keep their feet on the controversial blue clay in the Spanish capital, Murray has been practising here since last Wednesday – on what Novak Djokovic calls "real clay courts" – in readiness for this week's Rome Masters.

"It's been good to get here early for a change," Murray said yesterday. "From what the players have been saying to me here, [missing Madrid was] the best decision to make. Everyone's been applauding me for not playing, saying: 'You're much smarter than me'. Obviously the conditions there aren't ideal, so it's good, with the French Open just a couple of weeks away, that I'm not going to have to make adjustments like the guys coming from Madrid."

Most players consider the red-clay courts of the Foro Italico to be the best preparation for the French Open, which starts in 13 days' time. Murray has had a decent clay-court season so far, reaching the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and Barcelona before losing to Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic respectively, but could do with a good run here in his final tournament before Paris.

After a first-round bye, Murray faces David Nalbandian or a qualifier. Thereafter he is seeded to meet Richard Gasquet in the third round, David Ferrer in the quarter-finals and Nadal in the semi-finals. Djokovic and Roger Federer are the top seeds in the other half of the draw.

"Right from the start it's going to be hard," Murray said. "I want to try to get as many matches as possible. The French is two weeks away and everything that you can do to prepare, every practice session, every gym session, is going to help towards that."

The Madrid tournament ended yesterday with Federer beating Berdych 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 in the final, a result that will see the 30-year-old Swiss replace Nadal at No 2 in today's updated world rankings list. It was Federer's first clay-court title since he won the French Open three years ago. Serena Williams won the women's event, crushing Victoria Azarenka, the world No 1, 6-1, 6-3.

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