Clay has always provided Andy Murray with his biggest challenge, but the world No 4 will not lack any ambition going into this week's Rome Masters. "I want to try to win the tournament," Murray said here yesterday.
With the year's second Grand Slam tournament only 13 days away, this week could determine the frame of mind in which Murray heads for Roland Garros. Although he put his spring-time woes behind him to reach the semi-finals of his first clay-court event last month in Monte Carlo, the Scot injured his right elbow in the process. It was touch-and-go whether the injury would heal for Madrid, where Murray lost to Thomaz Bellucci in the third round.
"I did weights yesterday for the first time, which I hadn't done for three weeks," Murray said. "In practice today I had no problems. It might take a few more days to be 100 per cent, but it's feeling better every day."
Murray has also been encouraged by his work on the practice court with the highly respected Darren Cahill, who is helping him on an interim basis while he looks for a permanent coach following his split with Miles Maclagan and Alex Corretja.
"I didn't know him that well before last week," Murray said. "He spent a few days around all of my team and it's been good. We trained together yesterday, did some hitting with him, and then this morning as well. It's been good.
"He's been around the tour a long time and coached many different people, so it wasn't like he rushed in and was telling me: 'Do this and do this.' He came in and was very relaxed with everyone. He didn't say too much at the beginning. I like him as a person and he's a very good coach."
Murray found the conditions challenging in Madrid, where the altitude means the balls fly faster through the air. Rome is considered better preparation for the French Open, with conditions similar to those experienced during the fortnight at Roland Garros. "Normally when it's warm here the courts are pretty quick, but I've also played in the evening a couple of times when it's been cold and they've been very, very slow,' Murray said.
The weather forecast is good for the week and Murray practised in glorious sunshine yesterday in front of a large and appreciative crowd. The Scot enjoys this tournament and puts his moderate record down to the fact that he has had some difficult draws. In five visits here, he has won only two matches, against Andreas Seppi 12 months ago and against Juan Martin del Potro two years before that, when the Argentine retired injured in the third set.
After a first-round bye, Murray faces either Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who is No 29 in the world rankings, or Belgium's Xavier Malisse, who returned to the world's top 50 earlier this year after a four-year absence. The Scot is seeded to play Serbia's Viktor Troicki in the third round, Austria's Jurgen Melzer in the quarter-finals and Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are scheduled to meet in the last four, as they did in Madrid, though both face potentially tricky opening matches. Nadal plays either a qualifier or Bellucci – who beat Murray and Tomas Berdych in Madrid and was leading Djokovic by a set and a break in the semi-finals on Saturday – while Federer faces either Marcos Baghdatis or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Caroline Wozniacki and Francesca Schiavone are the top seeds in the women's event.