It has been a hard recovery for Andy Murray, as the former world No. 2 saw his ranking slip to No. 8 over the past six months, through no fault of his own to a certain extent, as he continues to make a gradual return from a back surgery last September.
The British No. 1 has not won a title since his historic run to the Wimbledon Championships title, snapping a 77-year drought for British male singles champions. Murray’s best performances this season have been quarter-final appearances in Melbourne and Miami, as well as the semi-final in Acapulco, where he lost to budding Bulgarian talent Grigor Dimitrov.
Murray made his first clay court appearance of the season quite early on in a Davis Cup tie against the USA, where he won both his matches against Sam Querrey and Donald Young. His most recent appearance was also on clay in a Davis Cup quarter-final tie against Italy, where he defeated Andreas Seppi but lost to Fabio Fognini in straight sets. Since then, he has taken the time to practice more on clay in preparation for the upcoming European clay court season.
“I practiced a bit on the clay courts at Wimbledon, with quite a few of the doubles guys,” said Murray. “Ross [Hutchins] and Colin [Fleming]; practised with my brother (Jamie Murray), Jamie Delgado and John Peers a little bit. I did some drilling there and worked on sliding and the movement.
“Then I headed over to Valencia. I practised with [Pablo] Andujar, [Roberto] Bautista-Agut and [David] Ferrer a little bit. [Evgeny] Donskoy too. Some good guys to practise with there in perfect conditions. I went to Paris for a couple days and practiced at Roland Garros with [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga.”
Murray’s opponent will be Nicolas Almagro, who defeated Andrey Golubev 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 to reach the second round of the event. The Spaniard is riding a significant wave of momentum after vanquishing world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in Barcelona.
This marks the fourth time these two competitors will meet on the professional tour, with Murray leading the head-to-head series 3-1. Almagro won their only clay court encounter, which took place in the 2008 French Open. The Spaniard has been in improved form so it is not impossible for him to upset Murray this time around.
Prediction: Andy Murray in Three Sets