By Ros Satar, in Madrid

  • Andy Murray [2] v Radek Stepanek [Q] – H2H: Murray leads 5-2

Andy Murray starts his campaign with tricky Radek Stepanek as an opener

MADRID, SPAIN – Andy Murray starts his title defence against a tricky customer in Radek Stepanek.

Britwatch Tennis: Full Draws and Schedules

Although Murray has been quick to lower expectations on his title defence, he has not started the year badly, reaching the semi-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters, where he lost to the eventual champion Rafael Nadal.

As he approaches the defence of his first clay court title though, he might well have expected Vasek Pospisil to have outwitted the wily Czech veteran, but Stepanek has experience in bucket-loads, and it has to be remembered that while he lags behind Murray in their head to head, he does have the most recent win to his name.

Stepanek stunned Murray in 2014 at Queen’s Club after the Brit’s triumphant double header on the way to the Wimbledon title, and in the past they have had some tight three set tangles. Murray does, however have the only win on clay.

On paper this should be a doddle, but the Czech does have the ability to frustrate players to the nines. His on court antics have gotten under the skin of many an opponent, but at the heart of his game he is a dogged counterpuncher who can also be pretty devastating up at the net – a testament to his more recent successes on the doubles court.

We can expect him to suddenly rush the net mid rally and see Murray grunt in indignation as he will need to race in but both men have great feel for the point and if Murray is in top form, then we could have an entertaining night match to look forward to.

Last year Murray flew to Barcelona to prepare against good solid clay courters, and this year he has made a point of practicing against the World’s Top 10, hitting with Milos Raonic and Rafael Nadal in Mallorca, and Novak Djokovic here.

It actually makes a lot of sense to get a feel for how the rest of the top players are moving and more importantly dealing with the ball flying a little quicker at altitude.

Murray’s go-to has also always been counterpunching, but his array of passing shots, and the drop shots that make fans and pundits alike often dove for cover behind the sofa could just mix things up a little for Stepanek, who will enjoy playing to the crowd.

The expectation is that Murray will sweep to an opening round win, but this might well be good preparation for a possible third round encounter with Gilles Simon, which will be gruelling for all concerned, to say the least.

Prediction: Murray in three sets

Murray and Stepanek are scheduled on Court Manolo Santana, not before 8pm (7pm BST).

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