ANDY Murray is confident he will be fully fit for his first-round match at the Monte-Carlo Masters.
The Scot has been sidelined for five weeks by an elbow injury and had been unsure about whether it would have sufficiently recovered in time for the first big event of the European clay-court season.
Murray was unable to serve at full speed in an exhibition match against Roger Federer in Zurich last Monday, but has been encouraged by his form in practice since then.
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The world No 1 has a bye in the first round and will not play his first match against either Gilles Muller or Tommy Robredo until Wednesday.
“When I had the injury, I had to take two and a half weeks off serving,” said Murray.
“When I started serving again, I had to progress very slowly, but in the last couple of days I’ve been serving pretty much close to the speed that I would normally. My elbow has reacted well, so I feel good about it.
“I will have had pretty much five days before my match of serving at the right speed, so I think it will be fine.”
Murray has not had the start to the year he would have wanted, with a shock loss to Mischa Zverev at the Australian Open followed by a bout of shingles.
He won a title in Dubai but then lost early in Indian Wells and the elbow injury forced him out of the Miami Open.
Despite his struggles, Murray has increased his lead in the rankings to just over 4000 points ahead of world No 2 Novak Djokovic, who returns from his own elbow injury in Monte Carlo.
But Murray’s success from this stage of the season onwards 12 months ago means he has a huge amount of points to defend over the coming months, while he is more than 3000 points adrift of Roger Federer in the yearly standings.
This clay-court stretch will give him a chance to make up some of that deficit, with Federer not planning to play again until the French Open at the earliest.
Murray said: “I don’t feel more tired than usual. I’m training really well. I’ve got lots of tournaments coming up, so I’m looking forward to it.
“Obviously I have some work to do to push myself back up in the rankings again this year. That starts this week.”
Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund, British No 2 and 3 respectively, play each other for the first time on the ATP Tour in the first round on Monday.
BritishNo 4 Aljaz Bedene is not in Monte Carlo, but celebrated his second title in as many weeks on the second-tier Challenger Tour on Sunday with a 7-6 (7/4) 6-3 victory over Gastao Elias in Barletta, Italy.
Meanwhile, the International Tennis Federation has reiterated that it did not know about Maria Sharapova’s use of meldonium prior to her positive test.
In an interview on Saturday, Sharapova criticised the ITF for not privately informing her meldonium would be banned at the start of 2016.
The ITF said in a statement: “The ITF denies any knowledge of Maria Sharapova’s use of meldonium at any time prior to her positive test for the substance during the 2016 Australian Open.
“Meldonium was part of WADA’s monitoring programme in 2015 prior to its addition to the prohibited list in 2016. However, all samples that were analysed for the purposes of that programme were kept anonymous.
“Any such sample could not be associated with a particular player, and the results of the monitoring programme were not shared with anti-doping organisations until after Ms Sharapova’s positive test.”
Sharapova will make her return from a 15-month ban at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart on April 26.