Andy Murray shows top form on clay
The captain of the Seabourn Sojourn, a 32,000-ton ship that had dropped anchor in the Mediterranean just a couple of hundred metres from the Monte Carlo Country Club, had obviously decided he would not see any better tennis for the rest of the day. Within minutes of Andy Murray securing an emphatic 6-0, 6-3 victory over Serbia's Viktor Troicki in the Scot's opening match at the Monte Carlo Masters, the luxury cruise liner turned and headed towards the open sea.
Turning your game around on clay after playing on hard courts for more than eight months can be as laborious a process as changing direction in a ship like the 650ft Seabourn Sojourn, but Murray found his stride immediately on what has always been his most challenging surface. The world No 4 completed his first match of the clay-court season in just 67 minutes to earn a meeting tomorrow with Jürgen Melzer or Julien Benneteau. "It's sometimes taken me two or three weeks at tournaments before I started feeling good," Murray said. "This was the first time I felt good [in the first match of a tournament.]"
Murray was 4-0 up within 17 minutes and took the first set – in which he won 14 points in a row – in less than half an hour. Troicki, whose best Grand Slam performances have been on clay at the French Open, held his serve three times in the second set but the world No 30 won just five points on Murray's serve in the whole match.
Sliding into his shots with apparent ease, Murray hit some splendid winners. There were several beautifully judged drop shots but the most spectacular stroke was a backhand down the line when he returned a smash.
"I was sliding pretty well," Murray said. "Normally that's the thing that takes time to get used to, but I did that well. Normally for me that's a good sign on the clay, whether I'm playing well or not. I've been hitting the ball well in practice. It was just whether or not I'd be feeling comfortable with the movement. I was, so I was happy with it."
Murray has felt the benefit of extra practice on clay. Following the Miami Masters he spent several days practising on red-clay courts at Boca Raton and on a green-clay court at a club next to his Florida apartment, although he will not be able to use the latter facility again.
"They're turning it into a car park in about a week," Murray said. "It's a great club. I'm really disappointed they're closing it down because it's always busy when we go there, but I guess there's more money in people parking their cars there than people running around tennis courts. Money talks sometimes, unfortunately."
Murray, who reached the semi-finals at the French Open last year, has felt more comfortable with each clay-court season. "The guys that have the most experience on the surface tend to do well here," he said. "A guy like [David] Ferrer just understands exactly what he needs to do on this surface. There's a lot of guys like him that play their best tennis here. They have a lot of experience from playing here as juniors, from growing up on it and spending more time on it on the tour. I don't play on it that often, so it's taken me more time to gain that experience."
Murray, who went on to partner his brother Jamie to a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Santiago Gonzalez and Christopher Kas in the first round of the doubles, is hoping that his coach, Ivan Lendl, who won his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, will help him improve his clay-court game even more. "He only arrived this morning so he's getting no credit," Murray said, with a smile. "In the build-up to the French Open, the time I spend with him after these two tournaments, the five or six days before Barcelona and the four or five days before the French Open, will be very, very beneficial."
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, returning to the court where he lost against John Isner earlier this month in France's Davis Cup defeat by the United States, celebrated his 27th birthday with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber. The No 4 seed will now meet Spain's Fernando Verdasco, the beaten finalist here two years ago, who beat Croatia's Ivan Dodig 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.