ANDY MURRAY scrapped his way to victory in a tough workout against Germany's Florian Mayer that lasted more than two hours yesterday afternoon but Novak Djokovic, the world No.1, was unable to match him in a dramatic night game against Grigor Dimitrov.
The emerging Bulgarian finally secured the first really significant win of his burgeoning career when he shrugged off the disappointment of losing a second-set tiebreaker in which he had match points to record a 7-6 (8-6), 6-7 (8-10), 6-3 victory over the Serb who had won his last tournament, the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters with a final victory over Rafael Nadal. Dimitrov had threatened the world No.1 in the last 32 of the Indian Wells Masters in March and has also run Murray close in recent months.
Murray, having worked himself to a physical standstill on the practice courts of Monte Carlo under the fierce gaze of Sergeant Major Ivan Lendl, was not going to go without a win or two once he got back to work in Madrid this week. The world No.3 scrambled and chased, he huffed and he puffed, to notch up a 7-6 (13-11), 7-6 (7-3) win over Florian Mayer.
It was far from the finest match he has played but, for a man who is still getting used to the slow, red clay beneath his feet, it ticked most of the right boxes as he moved into the third round in the Spanish capital and set up an appointment with Gilles Simon. It also earned him a 400th career win on the ATP tour.
Compared to his limp performance against Stanislas Wawrinka in Monte Carlo last month – that was his last competitive outing – this was a massive improvement. Murray served well (he dropped only six points on serve in the first set), he moved very well and he clobbered his forehand. The only slight problem was that Mayer was doing much the same at the other end of the court.
Had the German world No.26 taken one of the five set points he held in the rollercoaster tie-break at the end of that first set, it might have been a different story. But, slowly feeling more secure on the slower surface, the Scot gritted his teeth – and winced more than once with the effort required – and got the job done. Even when he lost three games in a row at the start of the second set, he was not disheartened. Gathering his thoughts and sharpening his focus, he fought back to secure the win.
"I just didn't read his serve well," said a very satisfied Murray. "He aced me a lot of times the first set. I had chances in almost every service game in the first set; I had 15-30s, 30-all points and he aced me or I didn't read the serve and maybe missed the return. That was the only thing I would have liked to have done better. I moved way, way better than in Monte Carlo and when I had the opportunity to, I felt like I was able to dictate the points well with my forehand."
There were times when Murray appeared to be out on his feet as Mayer pulled him from one corner of the court to the other but it was still not enough to get the better of the Scot. He is one of the fittest men on the tour and, no matter how tired he looks, he will not give in without a fight.
"I got sick after the little training block I did in Monte Carlo and I didn't hit for four or five days," Murray said. "I was probably doing a little too much on the court; I worked extremely hard and was very tired after that. That's just what I needed; I needed to play a lot of sets. I played really well in practice this week. I played a lot of good players – I practised with [Tomas] Berdych, Rafa [Nadal], Dimitrov and played very well. I just need to get used to playing the matches again."
Roger Federer looked as sharp as ever in his first match after a two-month lay-off as he began the defence of his title by beating the Czech Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6-3.Federer has yet to win a tournament this year but, if he defends his Madrid crown, he will join John McEnroe on 77 career titles, third on the all-time ranking behind Jimmy Connors on 109 and Ivan Lendl with 94.