Murray ends skid with win in Monte Carlo
Under a bright Cote d'Azur sun, Andy Murray was just happy to win a match.
After being unable to win a set, let alone a match, since losing to Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open, Murray broke a four-match losing streak by outplaying the veteran Czech Radek Stepanek 6-1, 6-4.
So confidently and expertly did Murray control the match from the backcourt, it was difficult to believe this was the same player who had lost in the opening rounds at Indian Wells and Miami to Donald Young and Alex Bogomolov Jr. — two Americans ranked below 100.
But if his legs were moving better than they had been in America, and his mind was switched onto a mode of greater intensity, then it is likely that Murray, without a coach at the moment, can credit a meeting with world heavyweight boxing champion David Haye at the Londoner's Miami training camp last month.
"Yeah, I like a boxer's mentality, the intensity they have before their big fights," Murray said. "I have tried to take some of that on board, and David and I were texting last night. I also played really well in practice against (Rafael) Nadal yesterday, so I went into the match in a very positive frame of mind."
Stepanek, who had beaten Murray only once in four previous meetings, is not an obvious sort of player and kept Murray on the alert by trying a variety of tactics that included the occasional serve-and-volley sortie and drop shots from all over the court. But the Scot was flying and managed to get most of them back.
There was a moment's hesitation in the second set when Stepanek was able to break back, but otherwise this was a near-flawless performance from a player who needed one badly. Murray can expect a sterner test Thursday when he faces steady Frenchman Gilles Simon, who earlier beat Spaniard Albert Montanes 6-3, 6-4.
Nadal, making his clay-court stats look even more unbelievable after six consecutive titles here, won his opener at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, beating Finn Jaarko Nieminen 6-2, 6-2. That was Nadal's 33rd straight victory here, and his clay-court record since 2005 now stands at 177-6. Ridiculous.
Nadal, meanwhile, had been in a news conference, talking about his practice sessions, which obviously had not been going as well as Murray's. "This was a positive start," Nadal said, referring to his victory over Nieminen. "I didn't practice perfect, and I think I played better than I practiced. But I need a few more days. It was positive the way my serve worked, but I have to play a little more aggressive with the backhand and I have to move better, have a few less mistakes. That's all."
Richard Gasquet, the Frenchman who beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-1 to set up a third-round meeting with Nadal, might take that as an ominous assessment of where Rafa's game stands at the moment. Those clay-court stats are just going to get better and better as the weeks pass by.
Americans, as usual, are not thick on the ground here in Monaco — most feel it is too early to start their European campaign — but there are two of them on view, both tall, both called Bryan. Mike and Bob are flying the flag in the doubles again and came through their first match without alarm, beating Ernests Gulbis and Victor Troicki 6-3, 6-1.