January 16, 2017
Andy Murray struggled to find his best form in a wobbly opening match at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
Just as well he could still crack a joke as he warned Kim to mind her language during his matches, now that he has been knighted.
Not that he had taken his own advice during a frustrating first two sets that saw him vent his annoyance at himself and others.
In truth, he looked anything but a world number one and made a meal of beating the 95th-ranked Illya Marchenko of Ukraine.
‘Shocking’ was how Murray himself described his first set, even while it was still in progress. Broken in the very first game, he led 5-3 only to be broken again and pegged back to 5-5. Fortunately for the Scot, his opponent tightened at vital moments in the match.
It was the same story in set two, as Marchenko led 3-1 and 4-2. He then had a break point to go 6-5 and serve for the set, but fluffed his lines and faded in the all-important tie-break.
By then Murray had turned the air blue and shouted at a member of the crowd whose movements appeared to distract him. Andy’s coach, Ivan Lendl, looked less than impressed with what he was seeing.
And no wonder, as Murray’s serve looked almost absurdly vulnerable for a man currently sitting on top of the world. Although he achieved a better level in the third to win the match 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-2, he expended far more energy than should have been necessary against a mediocre adversary.
To take more than two hours to win the first two sets in searing heat with such a gruelling fortnight ahead may yet be a piece of carelessness that could come back to haunt Andy later in the tournament.
A man who has fallen at the final hurdle five times in Melbourne must know the importance of staying as fresh as possible for the biggest test of all, usually against Novak Djokovic.
Neither Djokovic nor any of Murray’s other great rivals will have seen much to worry them in Murray’s opener. As for the Brit, he must tell himself to make this the last time he falls quite so short of his finest tennis this fortnight.
True, he was through in straight sets in the final analysis. But anyone who watched this match will have doubts as to whether Andy has the kind of mindset to see him prevail for the very first time at the Australian Open.
‘The pressure and expectation is still the same, I still haven’t won here, I’ve been in a few finals and hope to go one better this time,’ he said.
Assuring the on-court interviewer that he wants to be called “Andy” rather than “Sir” in tennis circles, he quipped, ‘No more swearing from [my wife] Kim at my matches from now though.’
That reference to the four-letter outburst Kim aimed at Tomas Berdych from the players’ box a few years back lightened the mood.
It’s a long fortnight and Murray has time to come good. But if he wants to retain the energy reserves he needs to win here at last, he’ll need to get ruthless – and quick.