World number one Andy Murray has had an indifferent start to 2017 but the three-time Grand Slam champion returns to competitive tennis after a month's absence to heal a niggling elbow injury. The 29-year-old begins his quest for his first Monte Carlo Rolex Masters title on Wednesday against Gilles Muller. The Brit has won seven of the nine Masters 1000 events but Monte Carlo and Indian Wells elude Murray from completing his set. Murray failed to capitalize on Novak Djokovic's second round exit at the Australian Open, as the world number one was firmly elevated as the favorite to clinch the title in Melbourne after losing five finals, four of those final losses he suffered were at the hands of the Serbian but he lost to Mischa Zverev in four sets in the fourth round.
The top seed will be competing in his fifth tournament of the year in Monte-Carlo and he has a respectable 12-3 win-loss record in 2017. Suffering defeats to Djokovic in the final in Doha, a loss to Zverev in Melbourne and a surprising second round exit in Indian Wells losing to Vasek Pospisil are his only blemishes this year.
Murray's second round opponent Gilles Muller recorded a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over 34-year-old Tommy Robredo, who is ranked at 300 in the world currently, after a long injury lay-off. The 33-year-old won his first career title in Sydney in January by defeating Murray's compatriot, Dan Evans in the final. The Luxembourg-native failed to build on his triumph in Sydney as he lost to Milos Raonic in the second round of the Australian Open in straight sets, and he suffered losses to Kei Nishikori and Tomas Berdych respectively in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open.
Murray has dominated his rivalry with Muller as the world number one has a commanding 5-0 lead over the leftie. The Brit defeated Muller in their first meeting in straight sets which was a Davis Cup tie between Great Britain and Luxembourg in 2011. The reigning Wimbledon champion had to come back from a set down to defeat Muller in their second meeting in Brisbane in 2012.
They met on three occasions in 2015 with Murray defeating the world number 28, 6-4, 7-5 in Dubai, and he came back from a set down to down the big-serving Luxembourg native, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the quarterfinals in Queen's, and most recently in the third round in Montreal en route to clinching the title in the French-Canadian city.
Murray had a stellar 2016 season which seen him reach the first three Grand Slam finals of the year losing to Djokovic in Melbourne and Paris but defeated Milos Raonic to clinch his second Wimbledon title in four years. The world number one had an exceptional clay court season in 2016 by reaching the semifinals in Monte-Carlo, winning the Masters 1000 title in Rome but he lost to Djokovic in the final of Madrid and Rome. Clay is historically Murray's weakest surface, however, he has improved on it as he reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2011 and he repeated that feat in 2014 and 2015, along with an appearance in the final last year. The 29-year-old will need to serve well against Muller and since the top seed is one of the best returners on tour along with Djokovic, he will be looking to break Muller's serve.
On the other hand, the one-time tour winner is an excellent server and he will need to ensure that he holds onto his service games as he may struggle to break Murray's serve. However, the Brit's movement on clay is absolutely phenomenal and he will employ drop shots and the lob on Muller when he tries to bring Muller to the net. This is the perfect match for Murray on his return to tennis on clay courts as he has performed well against big servers in the past.
This will be the sixth installment between Murray and Muller, and whilst the Brit has hardly struggled against Muller in their previous encounters, he will be wary of the threat on the other side of the net. This second round match between the duo will be on Court Rainier III, following the conclusion of 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka's match with Jiri Vesely. The reward for the winner of this encounter will play Argentine qualifier Carlos Berlocq or 15th seed Albert Ramos Vinolas in the third round.
Prediction: Murray in straight sets