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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sliding near the doubles alley, Andy Murray flicked a sharp backhand pass crosscout freezing Gilles Muller flat-footed for match point.

Even when Muller seemed to have him cornered, Murray summoned creative answers.

Watch: When Love Is Too Loud For Tennis

Playing his first match in five weeks, the world No. 1 battled back from 3-5 down and saved two set points in the opening set stopping Muller, 7-5, 7-5, to reach the Monte Carlo round of 16.

It was Murray’s first match since he fell to Vasek Pospisil in his Indian Wells opener on March 12th and his sixth victory over Muller in as many meetings.

"When you are coming back from not really serving for a few weeks it's normal (to struggle)," Murray told the media afterward. "Maybe technique changed a little bit. You get into the match and it’s tricky.

"I was happy with how I hit the ball from the back. I hit the ball cleanly... It was okay for the first match in a while."

A cranky elbow forced Murray out of Miami last month. After a slow start in both sets, Murray moved more fluidly and struck with greater conviction growing stronger as the match progressed.

The top-seeded Scot will face another left-hander, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, for a place in the last eight. Murray is aiming to advance to his fifth quarterfinal in the Principality.

The 15th-seeded Spaniard won 10 of 19 points played on Carlos Berlocq’s first serve and broke six times in a 6-2, 6-2 sweep of the Argentine qualifier.

Understandably, Murray showed signs of rust at the outset. His second serve was sporadic, he dropped serve to open both sets, spit up eight double faults and lacked consistent depth from his two-handed backhand. Still, the Scot saved seven of nine break points and issued three consecutive love holds in closing out the match.

It was a ragged start for Murray’s first match as a Monte Carlo top seed.

Gifting the break to open the match, Murray nearly went down a double break but swatted an ace to erase break point, working through a tough hold for 1-2.

Whipping his slice serve out wide, the left-handed Muller stretched Murray on return and deployed the drop volley effectively holding for 5-3.

Another drop shot winner from Muller earned him two set points in the ninth game. The Dubai champion was up to the challenge. Moving with urgency, Murray denied both set points, including rapping a mid-court forehand crosscourt to save the second set point. Firing a forehand down the line, Murray navigated a demanding hold.

Playing with control and care to that point, Muller unraveled serving for the set. Ballooning a forehand beyond the baseline he fell into triple break point hole at the 48-minute mark. Cornering Muller on the backhand side, Murray drew a netted slice breaking at love for 5-all.

That break loosened up the Wimbledon champion who began turning his shoulders into his shots swinging more freely. Murray reeled off 11 consecutive points and 14 of the final 15 points of the opening set.

A forehand at Muller’s feet provoked double set point. Attacking net, Muller was in prime position for a routine high volley but pushed his backhand well wide. Dropping the 58-minute set with a horrific transgression, an irate Muller wound up and smashed his racquet against the bottom of his right foot before hurling the mangled stick against his court-side bench.

Murray spun his sixth double fault donating the break to start the second set. Shrugging it off, the three-time semifinalist broke right back to level. Muller is adept attacking net when he approaches on his terms. Murray fought off two more break points dragging his opponent forward with drop shots to hold for 2-1.

Gaining his groove on serve mid-way through the set, Murray slid his first ace of the set out wide stamping his second straight love hold for 4-3.

Credit the veteran Muller, who was getting beat in longer baseline exchanges, for shortening points and hanging tough. Serving to force the tie break, Muller could not close a 40-15 lead. Murray slid into a slick backhand pass for match point. When Muller missed a forehand down the line, Murray was through in one hour, 55 minutes.

No. 3-seeded Stan Wawrinka defeated Jiri Vesely, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, in his opener. The 2014 champion will play Pablo Cuevas for a quarterfinal spot. It will be the first meeting between the 2015 Roland Garros champion and the 16th-seeded Cuevas.

Dominic Thiem served 60 percent and won 25 of 29 first-serve points thrashing Robin Haase, 6-3, 6-2, in 61 minutes setting up a highly-anticipated round of 16 clash with 10th-seeded David Goffin, who rolled past Nicolas Almagro yesterday. Goffin has won five of eight meetings with the sixth-seeded Austrian, including a fiercely-fought round of 16 victory at the Australian Open in January.

Ninth-seeded Tomas Berdych rallied past 39-year-old Tommy Haas, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 a day after the Indian Wells tournament director became the oldest man to win a Masters 1000 match.

The 31-year-old Berdych, who raised his record to 3-2 vs. Haas, will play fifth-seeded Marin Cilic for a trip to his fourth quarterfinal of the season. Former US Open champion Cilic needed just 66 minutes to dismiss French wild card Jeremy Chardy, 6-3, 6-0. Former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, who now coaches Berdych, is Cilic’s former coach, adding some intrigue to this match.


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