Andy Murray's clay-court season has taken time to catch fire but the 22-year-old Scot blazed a trail into the quarter-finals of the Madrid Masters last night with a performance that belied his recent problems. Murray needed just an hour and 10 minutes to claim only his third victory of the year on clay by beating Romania's Victor Hanescu 6-2, 6-1.
Murray's form has picked up with each tournament over the last six weeks. Hanescu, the world No 38, was a potentially dangerous opponent given his prowess on clay – all four of the 28-year-old's appearances in finals have been on his favourite surface – but he had no answers to Murray's all-round excellence.
Consistency was the key. Murray kept making Hanescu play the extra shot, although he also hit plenty of winners. After a tight opening, the world No 4 won 10 of the last 11 games and Hanescu looked a beaten man long before the finish.
"The start of the match was really important," Murray said. "There were a lot of tight games, but I played really well once I got ahead. The conditions were a bit nicer today. They closed the roof, so it was a bit warmer and a bit easier to play."
Today, Murray faces an even tougher task when he takes on David Ferrer for the second time in a fortnight, having lost to the Spaniard in Rome. Ferrer, who reached the last eight by beating Marin Cilic, has won more matches on clay this year than any other player. "He's obviously playing great on the clay just now," Murray said. "He's a tough player, but if I play well I've got a chance."
Ferrer was beaten in the Rome final by Rafael Nadal, who took his clay-court record this season to 12 wins from 12 matches with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over John Isner yesterday. Not even the front-row presence of a host of Real Madrid players, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul, could distract the king of clay from his aim of winning a third successive Masters title. His next opponent is the Frenchman Gaël Monfils.
At 6ft 9in tall and with a serve to match his 17st frame, Isner can trouble anyone. The world No 19 looked comfortable for the best part of a set, but as soon as his serve started to falter the 25-year-old was in trouble. Nadal, who is aiming to win a record 18th Masters title, dropped only eight points on his own serve.
Federer was in equally impressive form, beating his fellow Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka 6-3, 6-1 to earn a quarter-final rematch with Ernests Gulbis, who beat Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 7-6. Gulbis beat Federer in the second round in Rome a fortnight ago. In the other quarter-final Nicolas Almagro will take on Jurgen Melzer, who surprised Fernando Verdasco in straight sets.
In the women's tournament Shahar Peer maintained her recent good form, beating Arantxa Parra Santonja 7-5, 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals. The Israeli will play China's Li Na, who beat Alona Bondarenko 7-5, 6-2, the winner to face Venus Williams or Sam Stosur.