ROME: Britain’s world number four Andy Murray celebrated his 25th birthday here on Tuesday with a hard fought 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 victory over veteran Argentinian David Nalbandian to reach the third round of the Rome Masters.
The day session match which ended well into the intended start of night play for top-seeded holder Novak Djokovic, was a struggle for survival on the clay between the pair, with Murray recovering from a break down in the third.
Murray, seeded four and a semi-finalist here last year, frequently hung his head to catch his breath after monster points and could be seen gripping at his lower back at the end of rallies.
It took 2 hrs, 37 min for the Scot to prevail, managing 29 winners and converting eight of his 18 break point chances – and he barely looked as if he had the energy to eat a slice of the birthday cake that was brought onto court.
The match was the first for the pair on clay and left 2004 finalist Nalbandian disappointed after Murray edged a torrid final set to advance on his first match point.
Murray, who stands 5-2 in their head to head series, won his first match since losing in the quarter-finals in Barcelona to Milos Raonic and then skipping last week’s Madrid event with back pain.
“I’m very happy to win, considering how the last few weeks have gone,” said Murray.
“When you haven’t hit that much, it’s not so comfortable. Hopefully I can go on from here.”
Djokovic didn’t seem at all disturbed by the delay and breezed through to the third round with a 6-3, 6-3 masterclass dished out to young Australian Bernard Tomic.
Madrid champion Roger Federer will take to the court on Wednesday to open against Argentine Carlos Berlocq.
The world number two had been unsure of his physical status and had waited until the last minute to decide if he could compete this week with only days to go before the French Open gets underway on May 27.
Rome is one of the few big events the Swiss has not won after losing two finals.