“Tricky” was the word used by a few of us to describe Andy Murray’s opening-round match in Monte Carlo. Was that because it was going to be difficult, or just because it rhymed with Troicki, his opponent’s last name? It depended. In their first three matches, Murray had cruised against the Serb, who had no way to get around his defenses; in Miami in 2009, the score was 6-1, 6-0. But Troicki had pushed Murray to the brink in their last meeting, at Roland Garros in 2011, before losing 7-5 in the fifth.
It turned out to be tricky in name only today for Murray, who came out for his first clay-court match of the season in top form and eventually won 6-0, 6-3. He broke to open the match and won two rallies of over 30 shots to hold for 2-0; by the time Troicki served a second time, he already appeared to be going through the motions. From there Murray went into his own version of Maestro mode. For him, that means hitting any shot from anywhere at any time.
Murray moved Troicki wide with his hook forehand, brought him forward with his slice backhand, and backed him up again with his lob. Murray hit two backhand drop shot winners to break at love for 3-0. By the end of the next game, he had won 14 points in a row and was yanking Troicki around on an invisible string. When Murray broke him again at 1-1 in the second set after another long point, the rest of the match was a formality. Murray tightened up the ship from there, rallied solidly, and held without incident to run it out—though he did come up with one more piece of delicate genius, a slice backhand pass that seemed to hang in the air for an extra second before settling softly on the outside of the sideline. Troicki could only watch, and hang his head, as it touched down. On the day, Murray made 82 percent of first serves, won 93 percent of those points, and was six for six at the net.
Was there anything notably new to his performance? Murray's best shot of the first set may have been the last one. Compared to his drops and lobs and passes, it was an ordinary one, but it was the type of meat-and-potatoes point that he struggles to put together. At set point, Murray pushed Troicki back, the Serb returned the ball to the service line, and Murray, rather than settling for another rally ball and waiting his opponent out, pressed forward with a forehand approach down the line that won him the point.
Being able to execute that simple play effectively would save Murray from having to go to the drop shot so much, from having to grind so much. It’s a play that Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer all base their games around. Murray’s more varied game, by contrast, is built around the fact that he can’t do that one thing often enough.
Next up for Murray is the winner of Benneteau and Melzer. We’ll see if he goes to the meat and potatoes play more often against them, and more often over this clay season; he’ll have time on dirt to set up his forehand. For today, though, there was no need. The tricky stuff, the drop shots and the grinding rallies, was more than enough.