Murray warms to his task to claim rare success on clay

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The Independent Online

Andy Murray describes the Monte-Carlo Country Club, perched on a hillside overlooking the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, as the most beautiful venue in tennis. For the last two years Murray has barely had a chance to enjoy the view at the Masters series tournament here – he ended his 2006 campaign on one leg after suffering cramp during a first-round defeat to Jean-Rene Lisnard, the world No 154, and did not even make it to the start line 12 months ago after suffering a back injury – but the British No 1 ensured his latest trip would be more than a flying visit when he made a winning start yesterday.

If a 7-6, 6-4 victory over Feliciano Lopez was no more than Murray should have expected – the world No 20 is 14 places higher in the rankings than the Spaniard and has a game much better suited to clay – it was particularly pleasing given his form on the surface. This was only Murray's third victory in his 11 tour matches on clay since he joined the senior circuit three years ago.

Alex Corretja, the former French Open finalist who has joined Murray's coaching team for the clay-court season, has been emphasising the importance of patience and the 20-year-old Scot played with sensible caution. Sliding into his shots with increasing assurance, Murray struck the ball sweetly and was not afraid to go for winners.

A bleak weather forecast proved pleasingly inaccurate as Murray warmed to his task after saving the only break point against him in the first set with a service winner. Lopez, a serve-and-volley specialist who prefers faster courts, won the first point of the tie-break, courtesy of Murray's failed drop shot, but the 26-year-old Spaniard then lost three of the first four points on his own serve.

After winning the tie-break 7-5 Murray quickly took charge of the second set. Breaks in the first and seventh games gave him the chance to serve out at 5-2, only for the Scot to drop his serve with his only loose game of the match. He made no mistake two games later, securing victory when Lopez put a forehand in the net.

"I'm happy with the way I played," Murray said. "The most important thing on clay is to find the balance between knowing when to go for your shots, when to move back and when to play aggressively on the return. I didn't play all that aggressively today. I was just trying to keep the ball high and deep and not let him come into the court too much."

Today Murray plays Filippo Volandri, a clay-court specialist. The Italian, a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Nicolas Mahut yesterday, beat Murray in their first meeting on clay in 2006 but was trailing 5-1 in the first set in Hamburg 11 months ago when the Scot suffered the wrist injury that so disrupted his summer.