The death of Elena Baltacha has cast a pall over everything and last night, after he squeaked out a three-set win over Nicolas Almagro at the Mutua Madrid Open, Andy Murray dedicated it to his late friend and compatriot.
As he left the court, he signed the TV camera lens, as is the custom, and then added the name "Bally" and a heart. "It's been a tough 10 days or so," Murray said. "I heard what was going on because my mum was very close to Bally and her husband, so I knew."
It was a tough couple of hours on court, too, as Murray looked on course to win in double-quick time then almost lost from a winning position and finally held on to stumble over the winning line 6-1, 1-6, 6-4. It was not pretty and it was not a match for the faint-hearted but he got the job done. After almost a month without playing a competitive match, winning was all that mattered.
For a set, Murray could do no wrong. Almagro was limping with a foot injury and, unable to run or move, he could only wallop any ball that happened to land near his racket. But after 40 minutes of one-way traffic, suddenly the momentum changed. Murray lost his rhythm, Almagro began to feel a little better and all at once it was the Scot who was taking a hiding.
"If I got ahead two-love at the start of that second set, then I think it could have been a bit more comfortable," Murray said. "But when I got broken there, he started playing much better."
He managed to put the brakes on Almagro in the third set. As the pair traded blows, it was a case of who would make the first mistake, and two errors from the Spaniard sealed it. One brought up match point and the next one handed victory to the world No.8, which will bring him back today to face Columbia's Santiago Giraldo, a 6-4, 6-3 winner over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. "He's playing some good tennis," Murray said of Giraldo. "He likes the clay. I played him before at the French Open a couple years ago. I played a good match against him, but he's gotten a new coach. He's working with Fernando González, so it's exciting for him."
Meanwhile, reports of Rafael Nadal's demise appear to have been exaggerated. He may not have won a tournament on European clay this year but he is getting back into his stride and yesterday made mincemeat of Juan Monaco, one of his best friends on tour.
Nadal gave Monaco a 69-minute hiding to win 6-1, 6-0, a victory so one-sided that the Argentine thought he ought to pay his pal a few pesos for the master class. Nadal is back in action today against Jarkko Nieminen.