Murray hopes to avoid 'rubbish' repeat

Considering that his last three performances have been among the worst of his career, Andy Murray would probably prefer not to recall his last appearance at the Monte Carlo Masters. Twelve months ago, during another post-Australian Open slump, the Scot was beaten 6-2, 6-1 by Philipp Kohlschreiber in his opening match of the clay-court season. At the time he described his display as "just rubbish".

Murray meets Radek Stepanek this afternoon in his first match of the year on clay hoping to end a run of results even worse than he experienced last year. Since the Australian Open semi-finals Murray has played four matches and not won a set.

For the first time since he made his debut on the main tour seven years ago, the world No 4 has suffered two defeats in a row against players ranked outside the world's top 100, Donald Young and Alex Bogomolov junior having beaten him in his most recent matches, in Indian Wells and Miami respectively.

Stepanek, who saved two match points before beating Marcos Baghdatis in his opening match on Monday, lost his first three encounters with Murray but won their most recent meeting, at the Paris Masters 17 months ago. The 32-year-old Czech, a former world No 8, slipped this week to No 70 in the rankings, his lowest position for four years.

Since his defeat to Bogomolov, Murray has been looking for a new coach, having parted company with Alex Corretja, who had been working with him on a part-time basis for the last three years. "I'm not any closer," Murray said when asked how his search had been progressing. "I'm trying to concentrate on playing."

Given Murray's recent form it might not be wise to look beyond his opening match, but the winner will face either France's Gilles Simon or Brazil's Thomaz Belluci. Murray is seeded to meet Gaël Monfils in the quarter-finals and Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. Nadal, who is aiming to win the title for the seventh year in succession, begins his campaign today against Finland's Jarkko Nieminen.

With Novak Djokovic pulling out because of a knee injury, Roger Federer is the No 2 seed behind Nadal. The Swiss beat Kohlschreiber 6-2, 6-1 in his opening match yesterday.

Twelve months ago, Nadal won all three Masters Series tournaments on clay as well as the French Open. Even if he repeats that performance the Spaniard could still lose his world No 1 ranking to Djokovic, who has relatively few points to defend in the coming weeks and has won all four tournaments he has played this year.

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