(Corrects third para to show Federer on course to meet Nishikori)
* Defending champion eases past Stepanek
* Murray comes through test against Mayer
By Iain Rogers
MADRID, May 7 (Reuters) - Roger Federer looked as sharp as ever in his first outing after a two-month layoff as he eased past Radek Stepanek 6-3 6-3 at the Madrid Open on Tuesday before Andy Murray came through a testing encounter against Florian Mayer 7-6 7-6.
Defending champion at the clay Masters event in the Spanish capital, Federer chose an eye-catching mint-green shirt for his first match since losing to Rafa Nadal at the Indian Wells Masters in March.
Moving gracefully over the red dust on centre court in the Magic Box arena, the 31-year-old secured a 12th victory over Stepanek in 14 meetings to set up a third-round clash against Japanese 14th seed Kei Nishikori or unseeded Serbian Viktor Troiki.
Stepanek, 34, produced a late rally to break the Federer serve in the eighth game of the second set but was broken himself the next game when he sliced a forehand wide.
“I didn’t think I played incredible, but that’s not what I was expecting myself to do here, but I didn’t play bad either,” Federer, who was also sporting mint-green flashes on his tennis shoes, told a news conference.
“Overall, I‘m very happy, because he (Stepanek) has caused me difficulties in the past,” added the 31-year-old world number two, a three-times champion in Madrid.
“Today that wasn’t the case and I thought I was pretty much in control.”
Federer is yet to win a tournament this year but if he defends his Madrid crown he will equal John McEnroe’s 77 career titles and join the American in third on the all-time ranking behind Jimmy Connors on 109 and Ivan Lendl with 94.
“Obviously I’ve had a very successful career, which has been amazing already. More than I ever thought I would achieve,” Federer said.
“I would love to tie McEnroe at 77, no doubt about it. He was an amazing player and brought a lot to the game, like some other great champions and legends have done and paved the way for us.”
Briton Murray, the third seed, was generally satisfied with his performance in his second-round match against unseeded German Mayer but said his first outing at altitude -- Madrid is around 600 metres above sea level -- had left him short of breath, especially because of a recent illness.
The first-set tiebreak, when Murray saved five set points before coming through 13-11, had been particularly taxing, the Scot told a news conference.
“I felt like I hit the ball very well today, very few miss hits, I just didn’t return so well. That was the only thing I would have liked to have done better,” he said.
“I was struggling -- I think both of us were -- at the end of the first set. There were so many long points.”
Murray, who won the Madrid title in 2008 when it was played on indoor hard courts, will next play the man he beat in the final that year, Gilles Simon of France.
“Every time you play against him there are a lot of long games and points, so you need to be prepared for that,” Murray said. “I’ve played well against him in the past, so I hope I can do the same again on Thursday.”
World number one and top seed Novak Djokovic, who won his third title of the year at last month’s Monte Carlo Masters, plays his second-round match against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in Tuesday’s evening session.
Fifth-seeded French Open champion Nadal begins his bid to win his home event against France’s Benoit Paire on Wednesday. (Editing by Toby Davis)