Andy Murray recovered from a sluggish start to mark his eagerly awaited return from a five-week injury absence with a hard-fought victory on Wednesday (19 April).
Making his first competitive appearance since last month's shock second-round defeat to Vasek Pospisil at Indian Wells, the reigning world number one, forced to miss both the Miami Masters and Great Britain's Davis Cup quarter-final humbling by France due to a lingering elbow issue, began his preparations for the French Open by defeating Gilles Muller in straight sets 7-5, 7-5 to advance through to the last 16 of the Monte-Carlo Masters.
Given a bye through the initial phase of the season's first Masters event played on clay, Murray, who previously claimed that the elbow issue was preventing him from serving properly, produced three ugly double faults during the opening game of the match and was quickly broken by his 28th-ranked opponent.
That deficit remained intact until the improving three-time Grand Slam champion saved two set points and took the first of three break opportunities before breaking to love and claiming the first set after a rogue backhand from Muller that went wide.
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Muller's decimated racket bore the brunt of that disappointing collapse and the Luxembourgian was left feeling yet more frustration when Murray responded to another shoddy early service game by breaking straight back. A seventh double fault then handed the 2008 US Open quarter-finalist two more break points, but he could not take advantage.
The second set remained on serve until two superb winners from the Scot brought up match point at 6-5. An unforced error from Muller sealed his sixth career defeat at the hands of Murray and a first since the 2015 Rogers Cup in Montreal.
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Speaking to Sky Sports after an understandably rusty display, Murray, who will face Albert Ramos-Vinolas next following the Spaniard's 6-2, 6-2 defeat of Argentina's Carlos Berlocq, admitted he had been surprised by his poor opening.
"It was a tough first match," he said. "I started slow and wasn't serving well at the start. I only started serving properly four, five days ago, so I knew it was going to take time but I didn't expect to start the match serving like like that."
Murray's fellow Briton Kyle Edmund was also in action on Court Rainier III in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The Johannesburg-born right-hander failed to win a single game in the opening set of his two-hour contest against clay king Rafael Nadal, but battled back to level an enthralling match at 1-1 before eventually succumbing to a spirited 0-6, 7-5, 3-6 defeat.
Nadal, a nine-time winner of the Monte-Carlo Masters who boats a formidable 59-4 record at the event over the last 14 years, will face Alexander Zverev for a place in the quarter-finals. "Sascha" beat Feliciano Lopez 6-0, 6-4 earlier on Wednesday.
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