Andy Murray cannot stop winning on the red stuff.
His confidence and poise were too much for the erratic Frenchman Jérémy Chardy on Wednesday, lending strength to the view that the Scot is playing the best clay-court tennis of his life less than a fortnight before the French Open.
Afterwards, Murray readjusted the assessment of his chances of winning in Paris – where he has reached two semi-finals – upward to: “It’s not impossible.” He paused, adding: “Maybe this year will be different, I’ll go in there thinking there’s a chance.”
Murray’s dilemma when he arrived at the Foro Italico for his 10th Rome Masters after an unprecedented run of nine wins in two clay tournaments over 10 days, including a two-set thumping of Rafael Nadal in the final of the Madrid Open last Sunday, was to fine-tune his game in conditions more akin to Roland Garros or rest and prepare as he had planned to before this burst of exquisite clay form. He was concerned that playing three clay tournaments back to back for the first time before a slam might drain him for the gruelling fortnight to come in Paris, with the best of five sets ramping up the challenge.
He will have his French mentor, the pregnant Amélie Mauresmo, by his side there, and expanded on how he and his new assistant coach, Jonas Bjorkman, will plan their schedule around her pregnancy.
“Amélie is going to do Paris and, during the grass, Jonas will do the start, the first couple of weeks,” he said. “Both of them will be at Wimbledon, providing Amélie’s OK to do that, which she will decide. That’s why both of them will be there, just in case.
“After Wimbledon, Jonas will be with me until the US Open, and probably through until Paris. I don’t know exactly what my schedule is going to be after the US Open but after Wimbledon I’m not planning on seeing Amélie until she’s ready – which she thinks will be around the time of the Paris Masters in November.”
Murray took only an hour and 24 minutes to account for Mauresmo’s compatriot Chardy, 6-4, 6-3, and could run into Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals; recent demons lurk there for Murray, whose last encounter with the world No1 ended in a lightning third-set bagel in the semi-finals in Miami. The tinkering has gone well but the Roman holiday is over.
In testing rather than killing heat, Murray – with a split right thumb lightly taped – took every opportunity to shorten the exchanges with Chardy, his drop-shot lethal and his backhand the steady machine gun needed to keep his opponent pinned deep. Chardy was trapped for 20 minutes in his hotel lift earlier in the week and, after an hour longer than that here, he had hit the button for the basement.
About the time his brother Jamie was going on Court No3 with his Australian doubles partner John Peers – they beat the fourth seeds Marcin Matkowski and Nenad Zimonjic 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 – Murray brought a decent workout to a pleasing conclusion.
Marsel Ilhan, meanwhile, could do little more than swat at top-spun howitzers for an hour and a quarter as Nadal took his frustrations out on the Turkish qualifier, winning 6-2, 6-0. It is unlikely the Spaniard, chasing an eighth title here, will enjoy his next match so much: against the American John Isner, who beat the Argentinian Leonardo Mayer 7-6 (8-6), 6-4.
Italy’s Fabio Fognini, owner of the best strut in sport, bageled the infuriatingly inconsistent Grigor Dimitrov at the end of a fascinating three-setter, and plays the sixth seed, Tomas Berdych, in the third round.
Britain’s Heather Watson, who defeated Italy’s Roberta Vinci convincingly in her first match, lasted only another hour and seven minutes on Wednesday, the 10th seed, Carla Suárez Navarro, rarely troubled in winning 6-1, 6-1.
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