Andy Murray tonight survived an all-out onslaught from 37-year-old Radek Stepanek to begin the defence of his Madrid Masters crown and move into round three with a 7-6 3-6 6-1 victory.
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Murray was broken in the very first game. This was a taste of things to come, with the Czech veteran pounding the world number two’s serve at will, feeding off the Scot’s defensive slices and knocking off volleys for fun.
Stepanek was relishing the extra pace provided by the altitude and bringing plenty of attitude to boot, with his old-school tennis and OTT celebrations. But at 3-2, Murray’s greater variety of shot began to tell and he broke back to level the set.
The Scot clung on to take the set to a tiebreak and some mentally focused tennis and relentless groundstroke driving took him over the line.
But the Czech player upped the ante in set two, charging the net on the Scot’s serve with reckless abandon to carve out sweetly angled volleys. Stepanek, like the itch you can’t quite reach, raced to a 4-1 lead.
When Murray held in the next game and briefly threatened to break for 3-4, things looked promising for the defending champion. But a welter of early backhands and ghostly forays to the net wrapped up the set for Stepanek.
The final set was a different matter altogether. Murray’s focus and discipline stood in stark contrast to his veteran opponent, who looked physically and mentally spent. Four-love became 5-1 and the Scot served out to end an ultimately satisfying workout.
Murray now moves on to play the winner of the Gilles Simon-Pablo Carreno encounter in round three.