Britain’s world No. 4 Andy Murray celebrated his 25th birthday on Tuesday with a hard-fought 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 victory over veteran Argentine David Nalbandian to reach the third round of the Rome Masters.
The day-session match, which ended well into the intended start of night play for top-seeded holder Novak Djokovic, was a struggle for survival on the clay between the pair, with Murray recovering from a break down in the third.
Murray, seeded four and a semi-finalist here last year, frequently hung his head to catch his breath after monster points and could be seen gripping at his lower back at the end of rallies.
It took 2 hours, 37 minutes for the Scot to prevail, managing 29 winners and converting eight of his 18 break point chances — and he barely looked as if he had the energy to eat a slice of the birthday cake that was brought onto court.
The match was the first for the pair on clay and left 2004 finalist Nalbandian disappointed after Murray edged a torrid final set to advance on his first match point.
Murray, who stands 5-2 in their head-to-head series, won his first match since losing in the quarter-finals in Barcelona to Milos Raonic and then skipping last week’s Madrid event with back pain.
“I’m very happy to win, considering how the last few weeks have gone,” Murray said. “When you haven’t hit that much, it’s not so comfortable. Hopefully I can go on from here.”
Djokovic didn’t seem at all disturbed by the delay and breezed through to the third round with a 6-3, 6-3 masterclass dished out to young Australian Bernard Tomic.
Madrid champion Roger Federer was to take the court yesterday to open against Argentine Carlos Berlocq.
The world No. 2 had been unsure of his physical status and had waited until the last minute to decide if he could compete this week with only days to go before the French Open gets underway on May 27.
Rome is one of the few big events the Swiss has not won after losing two finals.
In other second-round matches, Spaniard David Ferrer, the sixth seed beat Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 7-6 (7/3), while Spanish veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero upset 13th-seeded Frenchman Gael Monfils 7-5, 6-3.
In the first round, 10th seed Juan Martin del Potro overcame French doubles specialist Michael Llodra 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, while the latter’s compatriot Gilles Simon and 11th seed beat American Donald Young 6-2, 7-5.
Juan Monaco, the Argentine 14th seed, won, as did 16th-seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who beat Jurgen Melzer 6-1, 7-6 (8/6).
Past and present Wimbledon champions Maria Sharapova and Czech Petra Kvitova reached the third round with straight sets victories, though the Russian second seed was made to work hard.
Defending Rome champion Sharapova, who won her Wimbledon title aged 17 in 2004, needed nearly two and a quarter hours to get past 36th-ranked American Christina McHale 7-5, 7-5.
Kvitova overcame eight double-faults to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 7-5, 6-4 in her opening match. Kvitova struggled in the bright sunshine at Foro Italico, but still managed to dictate play with her attacking game.
“I didn’t feel very well and so I am happy I won and I know where there is space where I can improve before the next round,” Kvitova said.
In the first round, two seeds went out as Sorana Cirstea of Romania upset former No. 1, 2007-2008 winner and 15th seed Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7/4).