Andy Murray is determined not to rush the recruitment of his new coach but on the evidence of his defeat in the first round of the Rome Masters tournament here last night the appointment of the right man cannot come soon enough. Murray was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by Filippo Volandri to complete a miserable 11-week run in which he has won only two of his eight matches.
Little has gone right for the 18-year-old Scot since he followed up his first tournament victory in San Jose in February by reaching the quarter-finals in Memphis a week later. His subsequent campaign has been interrupted by injury and illness and for the last month he has worked without a coach after dispensing with Mark Petchey.
Murray's performance against the Italian No 1, who is ranked two places beneath him at No 46 in the world, smacked of a player uncertain how to make the best use of his undoubted talents. His game contained the usual beautifully weighted drop shots and booming groundstrokes, but all too often he chose the wrong option in deciding whether to defend or attack.
Volandri, an athletic clay-court specialist who chased every ball, punished anything that was too soft or too short and picked up a number of cheap points when Murray went on the attack. The Italian broke Murray's serve five times and although the Scot broke back to level the scores after going behind early in both sets he never settled into any sort of rhythm.
"I tried to play more aggressively tonight than I have in the last couple of months and I made more mistakes than normal," Murray said. "I'm not used to playing like that. On the important points if you try to play out of your comfort zone you don't have as much confidence and you're going to make more mistakes. I tried it tonight and it didn't work." Sounding like a player badly in need of a coach's guiding hand, he added: "Maybe I'll try it next week. I'll see. Maybe I need to practise a little bit more or just try and play the game that I play best and just play it better with fewer errors."
Murray said that his agent had been talking to a prospective new coach. Although Murray himself has yet to speak to the man in question, he hopes the appointment might be made before the French Open. If not, Murray said the decision might be delayed until after Wimbledon.
In the light of his current form it is no surprise that Murray's 11-week reign at the top of the British rankings will be ended next week by Greg Rusedski, whose victory here over Tommy Robredo will help him return to the top for the first time in seven years.
Rusedski completes part three of a Britain v Italy series today when he plays Stefano Galvani, the world No 206, Tim Henman having started off the sequence yesterday by beating Alessio Di Mauro 7-5, 7-6.
Henman has his own ranking concerns. His world ranking at No 70 is now so low that he has trouble getting into the Masters series events. He needed the withdrawal of several higher-ranked players to secure his place here this week and is "99.9 per certain" not to make the Masters field in Hamburg next week. Moreover, he will probably have to win his second round match against Thomas Johansson simply to retain his current ranking.
A dodgy back has been at the root of Henman's problems, though he is feeling better than he has for many months, thanks largely to a new training regime which he adopted after undergoing a series of tests at the end of last year. While he acknowledged the modest quality of yesterday's opposition Di Mauro is ranked No 78 in the world Henman drew encouragement from the manner of his victory over a player who is as at home on clay as the Briton is on grass.
Henman served with pace and depth, volleyed with his usual assurance and found a good balance between patience and aggression. Although the Briton is always looking to attack, even on clay, he regularly won points by taking pace off the ball and forcing the Italian to go on the offensive. The Briton remains confident in his ability. "The lower I go in the rankings, the better the story will be when I come back up," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that's going to happen."
For the second Masters tournament in a row, Murray's first-round defeat cost him a second-round meeting with Rafael Nadal, who gained his 48th successive victory on clay by beating Carlos Moya, his countryman and closest friend on the tour, 6-1, 2-6, 6-2.
David Nalbandian, the No 4 seed, beat Spain's Fernando Vicente 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, while Andy Roddick, the No 5 seed, dropped only one game in beating Romania's Victor Hanescu.