Andy Murray stays on clay with Italian Open entry

Defending Italian Open champion Novak Djokovic hits a return on his way to victory over Nicolas Almagro in Rome yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty
Defending Italian Open champion Novak Djokovic hits a return on his way to victory over Nicolas Almagro in Rome yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Andy Murray will attempt to win a third successive clay-court title after confirming his participation at the Italian Open in Rome this week.

Murray had considered missing the tournament to ensure he was fresh for the French Open later this month but has opted to play on after winning back-to-back titles in Munich and 
Madrid – his first titles on clay –in the last fortnight.

The British No 1 will face Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the second round today and could meet world No 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. Murray has lost all three matches against the Serbian this year.

Murray travelled to Rome after beating Rafael Nadal in straight sets to win the Mutua Madrid Open on Sunday and confirmed his participation in the Italian capital after a double practice session yesterday.

The world No 3, who has not lost a match since marrying his long-term girlfriend, Kim Sears, last month, also confirmed that Jonas Bjorkman will assume coaching duties after Wimbledon while his regular mentor, Amelie Mauresmo, prepares to have her first child.

“Jonas is going to be with me after Wimbledon, just me and him potentially right until the end of the year,” Murray told BBC Sport.

“I think both of us are quite motivated to do that. I didn’t get to spend too much time with Jonas so far but it’s been a good start and I’ll try to keep it up.”

Meanwhile, Djokovic returned from three weeks off and showed some signs of rust in a 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3 win over Spanish opponent Nicolas Almagro yesterday. Djokovic was poised to close the match out in straight sets with a 5-2 lead in the tiebreaker but Almagro won five consecutive points to force a third.

Almagro, whose ranking is down to No 174 after missing the second half of last year for left foot surgery, appeared to injure his left knee at 2-2 in the third set when he came up awkwardly after attempting to retrieve a ball far off the court. The Spaniard went over to his chair briefly during the middle of the game and rubbed his knee but decided to play on.

Djokovic broke to take a 5-3 lead and quickly closed it out in little more than two hours.

The Serb, who improved his winning streak to 18 matches, is looking to defend his title and then win the French Open for the first time.

In other second-round action, eighth-seeded Stan Wawrinka rallied past Juan Monaco of Argentina 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

In the first round, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain beat US Open champion Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3; 11th-seeded Feliciano Lopez ousted rising Australian star Nick Kyrgios 6-4, 7-6 (4) and Ukrainian qualifier Alexandr Dolgopolov eliminated Martin Klizan of Slovakia 6-4, 6-1.

In women’s action, Maria Sharapova opened her bid for a third Rome title with a second-round win over Jarmila Gajdosova.

The third-seeded Sharapova was leading 6-2, 3-1 when her Australian opponent retired with a right shoulder injury.

Sharapova, who was coming off a loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Madrid Open semi-finals, said: “I was happy to hold my serve and look for the small 
opportunities on the return. That was my main focus today.”

In first-round matches, tenth-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro beat Mona Barthel 6-4, 2-6, 6-3; Victoria Azarenka defeated Lucie Hradecka 7-5, 2-6, 6-1 and Elina Svitolina of Ukraine eliminated local favourite Flavia Pennetta of Italy 6-4, 6-2.