Andy Murray vs Pierre-Hugues Herbert: Murray shows signs of rust but comes through Monte Carlo opener unscathed

Andy Murray beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-2, 4-6, 6-3

Andy Murray beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the Monte Carlo Masters second round
Andy Murray beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the Monte Carlo Masters second round

The switch from hard courts to clay has often provided Andy Murray with his biggest challenge of the year but the Scot made a winning start to his campaign on terre battue here at the Monte Carlo Masters. Although the world No 2 was sometimes in erratic form in his 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory over France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert, the result is what counts at this stage of the clay-court season.

With the start of the French Open less than six weeks away the key for all players here is to get as many matches under their belt as possible. If victory over the world No 95 was no less than Murray should have expected, there was inevitably some rustiness in the 28-year-old Scot’s game.

This was his first outing on clay this year – like all the top players Murray had a first-round bye here - while Herbert was playing his fourth match of this tournament, having had to come through two rounds of qualifying. Murray will next play the winner of Wednesday’s second-round meeting between Joao Sousa and Benoît Paire.

Murray is looking to lift his form after a moderate campaign on hard courts last month in the United States, where he lost in the third round at both Indian Wells and Miami. Those performances had nevertheless followed a fine start to the year, when he reached the final of the Australian Open and led Britain to a resounding Davis Cup victory over Japan.

Hugues managed to win the second set against Murray

Clay has not always been Murray’s most productive surface, but he enjoyed an excellent season on it last year. After claiming his first titles on clay in Munich and Madrid, the Scot went on to reach the semi-finals of the French Open.

Herbert has yet to make a significant mark in singles but has enjoyed great success in doubles in partnership with Nicolas Mahut. The French pair beat Jamie Murray and John Peers in last year’s US Open final and have just won successive Masters Series titles in Indian Wells and Miami. Herbert is the world No 8 in doubles but has never been higher than No 92 in singles.

With his assured volleys, bold returns and willingness to follow his serve into the net – even on second serve - it was easy to see why Herbert has been so successful in doubles. The Frenchman can be erratic with his ground strokes, but the variations in his game make him a tricky opponent. Here he played some particularly telling drop shots.

Murray did not always serve at his best and made a number of mistakes, but there were times when his quality shone through. He hit some thumping backhands, built some well-constructed rallies and played sound tennis in the critical moments in the deciding set. “I knew it was going to be a tough match and I just managed to turn it round in the end,” he said afterwards.

Murray showed signs of rust after early exits at Indian Wells and Miami

The conditions could hardly have been better. The Monte Carlo Country Club, built into the hillside barely a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean, was a magnificent sight. The court was bathed in glorious sunshine and the breeze was barely strong enough to disturb the flags at the back of the stands.

Murray needed only 37 minutes to take the first set. Herbert struggled to find his range and three unforced errors helped Murray break serve at the first attempt. Although Herbert immediately replied in kind, Murray quickly resumed control as his opponent failed to find any rhythm on his serve.

In the sixth game Murray broke with a thumping backhand cross-court pass as Herbert attacked the net. Two games later Herbert saved two set points before missing a forehand on the third.

Nevertheless the Frenchman responded well in the second set, breaking Murray in three of the Scot’s first four service games before serving out to level the match. With Murray making plenty of mistakes, Herbert was quick to capitalise.

As his confidence rose, Herbert looked the stronger player at the start of the deciding set and played an increasingly attacking game. Murray held firm, however, and when Herbert served at 1-2 the Frenchman played his worst game of the match, dropping his serve to love.

Murray hit an ace on break point at 4-2, which proved to be Herbert’s last chance as the Scot went on to serve out for victory. On his first match point, which came after two hours and six minutes, Murray hit a serve which Herbert returned into the net.

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