FOR the moment, Ivan Lendl is in charge whenever Andy Murray steps on to a tennis court, but Scotland’s finest is counting off the days to when that will all change. The grim-faced coach has been working his charge harder than ever in the past few months, preparing him for the long, slow journey across Europe’s most famous clay courts to reach their final destination at Roland Garros for the French Open.
And Murray has been following orders to the letter judging by the way he swept past Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-1, 6-4 yesterday to reach the third round of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters. But in June, Murray will be able to get his own back when he and Tim Henman face Lendl and Tomas Berdych to raise money for the Rally Against Cancer charity.
They will play an exhibition doubles match after the finals at the Aegon Championships at London’s Queen’s club. It is billed as a bit of fun between some famous players of the past and the present, but Murray thinks there may be just a little more to it than that. Lendl does not play for fun and Murray hates to lose.
“Obviously, trying to hit each other with the ball is one way of getting my own back,” Murray said with a wry smile, “but the best way of doing that is speaking to his partner to try and get an easy set-up. So, if we do that, we’ll definitely get him back. I’ll be speaking to Tomas, yeah.”
Until then, Murray is more than happy to follow his coach’s orders. The relationship has brought huge dividends for the world No 2 and as he began his first clay court match in ten months, he looked a far more assured and confident clay court player than in seasons past. Normally it takes him time to get used to the movement on the tricky surface and that, in turn, knocks his timing for six. But not this year. Not now that he is the world No 2 with just two losses to his name so far this year.
The scorecard would suggest that the first set was little more than a warm-up but, even so, Murray had to have his wits about him. Roger-Vasselin kept nipping at the Scot’s ankles in every game but stepping in and thumping his forehand and nailing his returns, Murray was always in charge. He fended off a sprinkling of break points before dropping his serve but by then he was already 4-0 up and cruising. And it was the only game the Frenchman was allowed to win in that set.
Life got a little harder after that but, even so, there was never a danger that Roger-Vasselin could cause an upset. The harder the Frenchman tried, the more secure Murray became. He faced just one break point in the second set – and saved it – and he never allowed the his opponent so much as a sniff of a chance. There was barely a suggestion Roger-Vasselin could keep Murray on court for much more than an hour and, sure enough, in 72 minutes it was all over.
“It was a good start,” Murray said. “I went up 4‑0, but he also had a breakpoint in the first game. I broke him from 40‑0. He had quite a few chances at the beginning of the match. But I got up. I won the close games, which was important. I didn’t make too many mistakes. It was solid. I returned well, served well. If you do those two things well on any surface, it gives you a good base to work from.
“It doesn’t matter how much training you do, until you get the matches and the feel of how to play under pressure, it’s completely different. So I think over the next few weeks, the more time I get to spend on the court practising and playing matches, that combined, will help me play better.
“But the first match, you’re just trying to win. You try to play solid. You don’t take too many risks. It was good.”
It will need to be good again today, when he faces Stanislas Wawrinka. The Swiss may not have the best record against the world No 2 (he has lost eight of their 12 matches and six of the last seven), but he knows his way around a clay court. He barely broke a sweat as he swept past Albert Montanes 6-1, 6-1 yesterday, but he will probably work up a decent lather against Murray this afternoon.
“It will be a tough match,” Murray said. “It’s a good test for me. He’s played some good tennis this year. He obviously enjoys the surface, has had some good results on it in the past. I’ll need to play well to win that match.”
Djokovic and Nadal through
NOVAK Djokovic’s gamble to test his injured ankle at the Monte Carlo Masters appeared to be backfiring but he dug his heels in to battle past Russian Mikhail Youzhny 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the second round yesterday.
World No 1 Djokovic, who sprained his ankle while on Davis Cup duty ten days ago, made a late call to participate in the tournament which is held in his adopted home town and, after fighting back from 0-4 down in the opening set, was relieved to have survived his first match on clay this season.
“I’m not 100 per cent because of my physical issue but I’m still in the draw. I live here. Everything’s alright,” Djokovic said afterwards.
Rafa Nadal was all smiles after he launched his bid for a ninth consecutive Monte Carlo crown with a ruthless 6-1, 6-2 win over Australian Marinko Matosevic.
Returning from a month-long break, it was Nadal’s 43rd win in a row at the principality. “I played well, with the right intensity,” said Nadal.