Andy Murray showed some rust on his return from injury but recovered to beat Gilles Muller in the second round of the Monte-Carlo Masters.
The world No 1 was playing his first match since 12 March due to an elbow problem that affected his serve. Beforehand, Murray had insisted he was serving normally again, but three double faults in the first four points got him into early trouble. He then had to save a set point before reeling off four games in a row and, despite being some way below his best, battled through the second set to win 7-5, 7-5.
Murray has extended his lead over Novak Djokovic at the top of the rankings despite a slow start to the season but has a huge amount of ranking points to defend from now until the end of the year.
Clay has been very profitable for the Scot over the last two years having previously been by far his weakest surface.
Luxembourg’s Muller, who was previously guided by Murray’s assistant coach Jamie Delgado, is a serve-volleyer and not a typical clay-court opponent. That seemed to be a positive for Murray, who had won all five of their previous meetings, but the 29-year-old made a decidedly ropey start.
Muller, a top-30 player for the first time aged 33, missed a chance to take the set at 5-3, and that gave Murray the spark he needed as he broke back to love. And, two games later, Murray completed the turnaround, taking the set when Muller missed a simple volley.
After an exchange of breaks at the start of the second Murray missed several openings as he struggled to find any consistency. But a bit of the old Murray magic brought up his first match point with a backhand dinked across the court and he took it when Muller blazed a forehand wide.
The top seed next faces Spanish 15th seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
Murray said: “It was a tough first match, I started the match pretty slow, I obviously wasn’t serving that well at the start.
“I haven’t been in the best rhythm on serve because I only started serving at full speed four or five days ago. I knew it would take a bit of time but I wasn’t expecting to start serving like that.
“It got a little bit better, I started to create a lot of chances in the second set. I couldn’t get the breakthrough until right at the end.”
Ahead of today’s clash with Ramos-Vinolas, Murray said: “He’s always a tough guy to play against. I’ve practised with him quite a bit, he obviously likes the clay.
“It’s a completely different match-up and I’ll need to be ready for a big fight because he doesn’t give anything for free.”
Kyle Edmund, meanwhile, gave Rafael Nadal a scare in the second round before the nine-time champion recovered for a 6-0, 5-7, 6-3 victory.
The British No 3 had never faced Nadal before and strugled in the opening set.
He finally got on the board in the first game of the second set but was broken as Nadal took a 2-1 lead. The Spaniard then suddenly played a poor game to allow Edmund to level and the 22-year-old seized his chance by breaking again to lead 4-2, and did not let his head drop when the fourth seed battled back to 4-4.
Edmund kept his nose in front and then pounced when Nadal served to stay in the set for a second time.
In the decider, Nadal saved a break point at 1-2 and, after the Spaniard moved ahead, Edmund played his most spectacular game of the match to make it 3-3. But, ultimately, Nadal’s consistency prevailed.