Murray faces fiery battle with local hero Volandri

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The good news for Andy Murray is that he has avoided the big names in the draw for the first round of the Rome Masters tournament, which begins here today. The bad news is that Filippo Volandri will be playing on his favoured clay surface with the vociferous support of his home crowd.

Three weeks after falling at the first hurdle to another local hero in the last Masters series event - Murray lost in Monte Carlo to the Monaco No 1, Jean-René Lisnard - the Scot finds himself in another capital facing the host country's top player. Volandri, 25, is ranked one place below Murray at No 45 in the world and is one of the few players with a positive head-to-head record against Rafael Nadal.

The Spanish teenager, who will equal Guillermo Vilas' record of 53 consecutive wins on clay if he successfully defends his title here, is likely to lie in wait in the second round, although his first opponent, Carlos Moya, won when they met in Miami in March. Nadal is seeded No 2 behind Roger Federer.

Murray will be hoping to put behind him the illness and injury problems which have dogged him since he won his first ATP title three months ago. However, the 18-year-old Scot showed good form when coming close to beating David Ferrer, the world No 12, in his most recent outing in Barcelona last month.

In the absence of a permanent coach following his split with Mark Petchey last month, the advice of Tim Henman, his predecessor as British No 1, has been particularly important to Murray. Henman will no doubt have passed on some guidance about how to play Volandri, especially as the Italian was his practice opponent here yesterday.

Henman, now No 67 in the world, will be hoping to take advantage of his good fortune in winning a place in the main draw here following the withdrawal of several higher-ranked players. The 31-year-old Briton's first opponent is a wild card, Alessio Di Mauro. Greg Rusedski faces Spain's Tommy Robredo.

* Kim Clijsters claimed her first title this season by beating Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-2 to win the Warsaw Cup yesterday.

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