The Rome Masters has not always been Andy Murray's happiest hunting ground but the world No 4 survived a second-set meltdown against the Belgian Xavier Malisse here last night to record only his third victory in his sixth appearance at the tournament. Murray won 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 to earn a third-round meeting tomorrow with Serbia's Viktor Troicki or Italy's Potito Starace.
After his early exit in Madrid last week Murray needs a good run here in preparation for the French Open, which begins in 11 days' time. Malisse, the world No 41, was a potentially dangerous opponent. The 30-year-old Belgian, a flashy player who can hit some spectacular winners, went for his shots at every opportunity. It was a thoroughly entertaining match, one to warm the crowd on a chilly evening after a gloriously sunny day.
Murray played a solid game in the first and third sets, but, not for the first time, his failure to capitalise on breaks of serve threatened to cost him dear. Four of Malisse's five breaks of serve came immediately after the Belgian himself had been broken. After the match Murray blamed his lapses of concentration on a lack of match practice.
Team Murray were joined at the side of the court by Darren Cahill, who is helping the world No 4 on an interim basis while he seeks a permanent coach. The Australian must have liked much of what he saw. Quickly settling into his stride, Murray found a good rhythm on his backhand and took the first set in 36 minutes with three successive breaks of serve.
However, Malisse came out fighting in the second set and, forcing Murray back on to the ropes, quickly levelled the match. Murray played the deciding set well, despite dropping his serve when leading 2-0. As the Malisse storm blew itself out, the Scot took a grip on the match, securing victory after an hour and 58 minutes with two successive aces.
"I felt like I was hitting the ball great the whole match, but my concentration was very bad, especially in the second set," Murray said. "When I focused I thought I played some really nice stuff. I was hitting the ball clean and I was able to dictate a lot of the long rallies, but I started rushing a lot in the second set. I was trying to end points quickly when I didn't need to."
The world's top three players make their entrance today. Rafael Nadal, who lost his first match on clay for nearly two years when he was beaten by Novak Djokovic in the Madrid final on Sunday, meets Italy's Paolo Lorenzi. Djokovic, unbeaten in 32 matches this year, plays Poland's Lukasz Kubot, while Roger Federer faces France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Djokovic and Nadal have dominated the year so far, but Federer insists his own fires burn as fiercely as ever. "It's important for me to get back to world No 1," Federer said. "I mentioned that clearly after Wimbledon. That's a goal of mine and it's still very real and very possible."
Maria Sharapova got off to a perfect start when she beat her fellow Russian, Ekaterina Makarova, 6-1 6-1 in just 54 minutes. The former world No 1 had sometimes struggled against the same opponent in Madrid last week, when she won in three sets. "I wanted to get the job done faster today," Sharapova said.
* Juan Martin del Potro is likely to miss the French Open because of the hip injury he suffered in Madrid last week. The 2009 US Open champion has been making a comeback this season after missing nearly all of last year with a wrist injury.Reuse content