Andy Murray brings momentum to the Rome Masters and has a lucky draw – can he capitalize on it? His first obstacle is tricky second-round opponent Mikhail Kukushkin.
Murray vs Kukushkin Rome Masters tennis is live from Rome on Wednesday at 1.30pm local/12.30pm BST. Watch & bet on tennis live from Rome at 365
Fresh from his runner-up finish at the Madrid Masters, Andy Murray starts his Rome Masters campaign against Mikhail Kukushkin on Wednesday.
The big news so far this week has been the announcement, which came on Monday, that Murray and Amelie Mauresmo have ended their two-year coaching relationship by ‘mutual agreement’. Although it comes in the wake of Murray’s displacement as world no. 2 by Roger Federer after failing to defend his Madrid title, the decision seems to have been based in logistical considerations – Mauresmo, who has a young son and is also the captain of France’s Fed Cup team, is finding it difficult to find the time to devote to the job – rather than a dissatisfaction with results. Murray pointed out that no one batted an eyelid when Stefan Edberg split from Roger Federer to spend more time with home and praised Mauresmo’s contribution.
‘I was not doing well, my confidence was low and I was going the wrong direction. When she came on board my results actually really picked up,’ Murray said.
'The time we spent together was positive. It's just a shame I wasn't able to win one of the major events, because that's what both of us wanted.
'So in my opinion it's nothing to do with Amelie being a woman. I think it's the case with a lot of the ex-players, it takes a lot of time to do the job well and properly. It's not easy to do that for four, five years in a row.'
Murray is under no immediate pressure to find a new coach because he recruited former British player Jamie Delgado as a travelling full-time coach to supplement Mauresmo’s work, and he will be keen not to let ructions in the team disrupt the momentum he built up in Madrid where, after a spate of poor results in March and April, he defeated Tomas Berdych and Rafael Nadal in straight sets and took Novak Djokovic to three sets in the final.
The conditions in Rome are rather different to those in Madrid, however, where the altitude makes the balls fly and the clay is fast. Rome is much more akin to Roland Garros where conditions are concerned and Murray has never flourished at the former, with a career 9-9 record at the Foro Italico and a 2011 semifinal appearance and 2014 quarterfinal finish the highlights of his past appearances there.
Mikhail Kukushkin (Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images)
Murray withdrew from Rome in the third round last year, giving a walkover to David Goffin, but he had played two straight weeks at that point after winning Munich before Madrid and is unlikely to do the same in 2016. Although he has been displaced as world no. 2 by Federer, he is still seeded second in Rome and thus has the boon of avoiding the packed top half of the draw – Djokovic and Nadal are set to meet in the quarterfinals, with Nick Kyrgios, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori Federer also in the mix – for as long as possible.
Indeed, Murray actually has a very good draw in Rome and he has a decent opening opponent in Mikhail Kukushkin, who is 0-3 against the British player.
World no. 87 Kukushkin cracked the top 50 in 2015, largely the result of his surprise run to the Apia International Sydney final as a qualifier in January of that year, but it took him until July – and a drop down to Challenger level – to win back-to-back matches again. Winning the Astana Challenger in late July, Kukushkin went on to reach the third round of the US Open, beating 17th seed Grigor Dimitrov on the way, and the quarterfinals of Kuala Lumpur.
So far in 2016, the oft-injured Kazakh slipped back down to world no. 90 after failing to defend his Sydney title – he qualified for the main draw, but lost in the first round to Jeremy Chardy – but rebounded to reach the quarterfinals in Memphis, losing to eventual champion Nishikori. His best result of the season came at the Miami Masters where he qualified for the main draw before reaching the third round with wins over Brian Baker (playing on a protected ranking) and 30th seed Thomaz Bellucci.
Kukushkin’s clay-court season started inauspiciously with defeat at the hands of Stephane Robert in Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters qualifying and he also failed to qualify for Madrid, but reached the second round in Munich and has done the same in Rome after qualifying for the main draw and beating young Croatian Borna Coric in three sets – an impressive win.
Murray is 3-0 against Kukushkin and has lost just one set in those three matches. They have never met on clay, but the surface is no longer a detractor for Murray and he is very capable of beating Kukushkin to reach the third round in Rome.
Murray vs Kukushkin is scheduled on Centre Court in Rome on Wednesday at 1.30pm local/12.30pm BST