Murray 'feeling confident' as host of big names tumble in Madrid

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The Independent Online

There is less than a fortnight to go before the start of the French Open but some of the sport's biggest names are struggling for form or fitness.

Nearly all the leading men and women are playing in Madrid this week, but even before the first weekend was over there were a number of high-profile casualties.

Maria Sharapova, playing her first match for two months following a shoulder injury, was beaten yesterday by the Czech Republic's Lucie Safarova, Justine Henin fell at the first hurdle to France's Aravane Rezai, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, the French Open champion, continued her poor run when she was beaten by Israel's Shahar Peer.

The leading men have first-round byes in Madrid, which could be just as well given Roger Federer's form on clay this year. Having been beaten by Ernests Gulbis in his first match in Rome a fortnight ago, the world No 1 gave another error-strewn display when he lost in Saturday's semi-finals of the Estoril Open to Spain's Albert Montanes.

Federer faces either Carlos Moya or Benjamin Becker in his first match in Madrid. The Swiss is the top seed ahead of Rafael Nadal and is scheduled to meet Andy Murray in the semi-finals.

Murray is the No 3 seed in the absence of Novak Djokovic, who has withdrawn due to illness and allergies. Murray has won only once on clay this year, but was pleased with his improved form in the Rome Masters and should be confident of making more progress this week.

His first match will be against Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas or a qualifier. In the third round, he could meet Sam Querrey, who beat his fellow American, John Isner, in yesterday's final of the Serbia Open. Murray's scheduled quarter-final opponent is Croatia's Marin Cilic, who was beaten by Mikhail Youzhny in yesterday's final of the BMW Open in Munich.

Murray said the conditions in Madrid, which is one of Europe's highest capitals, made the tournament different from other clay-court events, with the ball flying faster through the air.

"Mentally I feel good," Murray added. "I feel confident, and I'm back to training hard and getting in the best shape possible. That's all I can do, and then put everything on the line in the matches. If I do that, I'm happy."