Andy Murray struggled past Xavier Malisse 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 to advance to the third round of the Rome Masters 1000.
Belgian maverick Malisse acquitted himself well against his more decorated opponent. His reckless, attacking tennis in the early part gave Murray a lot to think about. He was the aggressor in the first three games, but Murray snatched the first break after a handful of Malisse errors.
A miraculous overhead and a misjudgement by the ailing Murray then brought Malisse his deserved break – the score now at 3-3. Malisse was playing like a man free of shackles, apparently unaware that his opponent was ranked 37 places above him. But like so often, a cruel net chord changed the complexion of the tie. This brought the score to deuce on Malisse’s serve and Malisse faltered and could only muster a double fault to hand Murray a break back.
For the first time in the match, Murray began to let loose and exploit all corners of the court. He toyed with Malisse, pulling him this way and that with a few majestic angles. His artistry gave him the next two games with little fuss as he won the first set 6-2 – a score which hardly reflected the balance of play. Read more (290 words)
Nonetheless, Malisse was not finished. He kept his head up and Murray’s relaxed attitude saw him lose a break via a long, clipped backhand. Malisse capitalised and held with ease as the score finally began to mirror proceedings. He turned on the style next as the highlight reel shots flowed. A devilish cross-court chip and damning net play saw him race to a 4-2 lead with a second break, leaving him with a 100% break points record in the second set. The angles which Malisse produced were majestic at times, and he coolly took the set 6-2.
Great players are judged on how well they shine in the face of adversity – the skill to win whilst on the back foot. A little luck helps too, and Murray called upon both of these virtues in the decider. A correct overrule by the chair umpire saw Murray break to go 2-0 up. It all happened so quickly though, Murray was basking in the glory of the finish line apparently in sight, when a double fault and a long forehand gave his opponent a break.
Malisse then returned the favour and lost his resulting service game, when Murray then decided to show why he is ranked the fourth best player in the world. He dug deep to escape four deuces as both players raised their games. Murray began to work his rival across the court and stretched to a 5-2 lead with a wicked cross-court forehand.
Malisse passed his test in holding to force Murray to serve out, and the Scot showed nerves of steel. He hit three aces in securing his third round berth, and wrapped up the final set 6-3.