If Andy Murray did not always play with the same fluency he had shown in his first clay-court tournament of the season, the 23-year-old Scot still made a winning start at the Madrid Masters yesterday. Murray, making his first appearance for three weeks after injuring his elbow en route to the semi-finals in Monte Carlo last month, beat France's Gilles Simon 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 to earn a third-round meeting today with Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci.
Murray's cautious start was largely down to the challenging conditions. The balls fly faster through the air in the Spanish capital – 650 metres above sea level – than at any of the other major clay-court events in Europe.
The patient approach by Murray paid off handsomely at 4-4 in the first set as Simon made three successive errors to give the world No 4 his chance to break. The Scot took it in impressive fashion, hitting a smart volley winner after a well judged lob, and went on to serve out for the set.
Murray had his chances in the second set, but when serving at 3-4 and 40-40 he hit a backhand long and then a forehand to let Simon back into the match. However, the Frenchman was comprehensively outplayed in the decider as Murray rediscovered some of his best form. The Scot clinched his sixth victory over Simon when the world No 20 hit a forehand wide.
Bellucci progressed after his opponent, Germany's Florian Mayer, retired hurt when trailing 3-0 in the deciding set. The 23-year-old Brazilian left-hander, ranked No 36 in the world, has never played Murray before.
Novak Djokovic maintained his remarkable unbeaten start to 2011 with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over South Africa's Kevin Anderson, although he also struggled to adjust to the conditions. Having won all 28 matches he has played this year, Djokovic has made the best start to a season since Ivan Lendl recorded 29 victories in succession in 1986. The Open era record is held by John McEnroe, who won 42 matches in a row in the opening months of 1984. Djokovic, who now plays Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, said: "It's a great honour and very flattering to be part of that elite but it's not my priority. I am just taking each match at a time."
Rafael Nadal, aiming to win his third clay-court title in a month, recorded his 35th consecutive victory on clay, beating Marcos Baghdatis 6-1, 6-3 to earn an intriguing third-round encounter with Juan Martin del Potro, who crushed Marin Cilic, the world No 19, 6-3, 6-0. Del Potro lost to Nadal in Indian Wells two months ago, just weeks into his comeback after missing almost a whole year with a wrist injury.
Robin Soderling, who had won only one match in his previous two clay-court tournaments, beat Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 6-3 and now plays France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tomas Berdych, the world No 7, won his opening match against Spain's Marcel Granollers 6-4, 6-0.
Vera Zvonareva, the No 2 seed in the women's event, was beaten 6-1, 6-4 by the Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova. Caroline Wozniacki, the top seed, next faces Germany's Julia Goerges, who beat Dinara Safina 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.