Murray and Soderling stumble through to last 16 in Rome
Rome: Andy Murray lost his serve five times but still overcame Xavier Malisse 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 to reach the third round of the Rome Masters.
Swede Robin Soderling also found the going tough before staging a remarkable fightback to beat Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Fourth seed Murray, knocked out in the third round of the Madrid Open last week by unseeded Thomaz Bellucci, struggled for rhythm on his serve and was made to sweat by his aggressive Belgian opponent before winning in just under two hours.
"It was a good win but it could have been better," Murray told reporters. "I need to keep improving. It`s about getting into the right frame of mind not just for every game but for every point.”
After saving two break points in the third game of the first set, Murray broke Malisse`s serve in the next game and another two times to take the first set.
"I started well but then began rushing through my service games," he said. "On clay I feel you always have time to get back into a game. Even when I was losing games I felt I was hitting the ball well."
But with the Rome crowd rooting for underdog Malisse, Murray dropped the first two games of the second set and was then broken twice more as the Belgian pounced on the Scot`s short second serve and poorly executed drop-shots to square the match.
In the darkening skies in the Italian capital, Murray cut an anxious figure, slamming his racket on the ground, gesticulating and admonishing himself without a coach to look up to.
But the Briton, who has never lost to Malisse, took the first two games of the decider and then held his composure to improve his first serve average to 50 percent.
After breaking Malisse, ranked 41st in the world, yet again, the Briton finished with an ace to set up a meeting with either Victor Troicki of Serbia or Italy`s Potito Starace.
"I hit three aces in the last game because I focussed right from the beginning," said Murray. "It makes life much easier for myself."
Fifth seed Soderling was on the verge of being knocked out when Verdasco served for the match at 5-4 but the Spaniard appeared to freeze and the Swede seized his opportunity to break back with an array of flashing strokes that hit the lines.
There was an eventful opening to the decider as Soderling needed treatment to his toe before a brief floodlight failure but at 5-4 he completed his recovery by breaking Verdasco to book a third-round meeting with Sam Querrey or Nicolas Almagro.
Earlier in the heat of the day, seventh seed Tomas Berdych made the third round by beating Argentine Juan Monaco 6-2, 6-2.
The Czech was joined in the last 16 by 16th seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who crushed Igor Andreev 6-1, 6-2 to set up a tie against third seed Roger Federer or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
There was initial disappointment for local fans who had brought along umbrellas to brave the temperatures as three Italian hopefuls exited in the first round.
Simone Bolelli lost to Spain`s ninth seed Nicolas Almagro, Flavio Cipolla to Croat Ivan Ljubicic before Fabio Fognini bowed out on centre court to 14th-seeded Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka.
But later in the afternoon Paolo Lorenzi stirred the crowds with a convincing 7-6, 6-3 upset win over Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci, who last week reached the Madrid Open semi-finals.
The gutsy Italian qualifier`s reward is a meeting with top seed and champion Rafa Nadal for a place in the last 16.
Croat Marin Cilic and American Sam Querrey came through first round matches after their respective opponents Ivo Karlovic and Kevin Anderson retired injured having both lost the first set and first game of the second set.