Andy Murray might have feared the worst when he learned that his first opponent at the Madrid Masters would be Nicolas Almagro, but the Scot recorded an impressive victory over the Spanish clay-court specialist.
Almagro, who has won all nine of his titles on clay and beat Rafael Nadal in Barcelona last month, was suffering from a foot injury, but the manner of Murray's 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 victory suggested the outcome might not have been any different if the world No 24 had been fully fit.
Murray was making his first tournament appearance on clay since suffering the back injury in Rome last year that forced him to miss the French Open. It could have been a risky strategy given that play at Roland Garros starts in just 17 days' time, but this was the perfect start to his 2014 clay-court campaign. He next meets Santiago Giraldo, who beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 6-3.
The first two sets could hardly have been more contrasting. Murray hit the ball with confidence from the start and chased everything with his customary athleticism, repeatedly forcing his opponent to hit the extra shot. Almagro made a string of errors and had treatment on his left foot after losing the first five games.
When Murray broke in the opening game of the second set an early finish seemed likely, but from out of nowhere Almagro found his form. The Spaniard, moving more freely and finding a great rhythm on his ground strokes, won six games in a row to level the match.
The third set was a tense affair. Almagro held his serve comfortably in the early stages, but tightened up when he needed to hold to stay in the match. Murray quickly seized his chance, completing his victory after an hour and 46 minutes when he forced Almagro into a backhand error.