Wimbledon champion Andy Murray surprised himself as he showed no signs of rustiness in confidently dispatching Japan’s Go Soeda 6-1 6-1 6-3 in his Australian Open first round match on Tuesday.
Four months after having back surgery, the three-times Australian Open runner-up cruised to victory over his 112 ranked opponent in 85 dominant minutes on Hisense Arena.
Having played only two competitive matches in the build-up, Murray was worried that he might be under-cooked but in temperatures that hit 42.2 Celsius at one stage he was rarely troubled.
“I played well today,” fourth seed Murray told reporters, in typically understated manner.
“Maybe didn’t expect to play as well as I did today, but the signs have been good in practice. I started the match off very well and did everything solid.”
Murray decided to have surgery on his back after 18 months of playing through pain and said he felt much freer on court against Soeda.
“Not every shot hurt my back before but on certain shots I’m a lot freer in the movement just now,” he said. “I hope that continues.
“That was the whole point of having the surgery. So if I was still in pain and stiff and sore then I’d be a bit worried about the next few years.
“But I’m hoping it was the right decision. I felt freer today than I did for the last 18 months.
Murray was relieved that his match – the second of the day on the show court at Melbourne Park – was played largely out of the sunlight.
“I was a bit nervous before the match but obviously when the shadow comes across the court it cooled down a little bit,” he said.
“Still, the air is extremely warm. I was glad to get off quickly.”
Murray now plays Frenchman Vincent Millot after the world number 267 beat American Wayne Odesnik in five sets.
Odesnik was banned for two years after pleading guilty to importing human growth hormone (HGH) into Australia in 2010.
The ban was halved to a year after Odesnik reportedly gave “substantial assistance” to anti-doping authorities, since which he has been largely shunned in the locker-room.
Murray refused to be drawn on whether Odesnik should be allowed to play on the Tour but made his feelings known.
“I haven’t played or practised against him before and I haven’t seen any of his matches. So I’ll try and watch a bit of video of his match from today to see how he plays.
“But I’m glad he won.”
FED AND ED UP AND RUNNING
Roger Federer’s partnership with Stefan Edberg got off to a winning start as the Swiss made light of brutally hot conditions to reach the second round of the Australian Open.
Edberg took part in his first training session at Melbourne Park on Monday after agreeing to coach Federer for 10 weeks this year.
And there was nothing to worry about for the watching Swede, who somehow managed to look cool in the 40C heat, as Federer eased to a 6-4 6-4 6-2 victory over Australian wild card James Duckworth.
Edberg, who won six grand slam titles, was Federer’s idol when he was growing up, but there were not too many glances from the sixth seed towards his support box during the match.
He said: “I realised after a set that I hadn’t looked up once. I thought, ‘I better check if he’s actually sitting there’. He was wearing sunglasses. ‘Okay, he is there’.
“I don’t look up too much. I stopped doing that way back when because you just can’t be dependent on these looks all the time. Being coached from the sidelines, that’s not how I grew up.
“Clearly when I did look up, it’s nice seeing him sitting there. Even if he wasn’t my coach, it would be nice. Plus he’s in my corner. It’s great.”
Federer thinks dealing with the heat is more of a mental challenge than physical.
He said: “If you’ve trained hard enough your entire life, or just the last few weeks, and you believe you can come through it, there’s no reason (you can’t). If you can’t deal with it, you throw in the towel.”
Thirteenth seed John Isner did retire from his match but it was an ankle injury rather than the heat that put paid to the American’s chances.
Isner surprised himself by winning the ATP Tour title in Auckland last week despite the problem but called it day trailing qualifier Martin Klizan 6-2 7-6 (8/6).
That section of the draw is now wide open after 21st seed Philipp Kohlschreiber pulled out before the start of play because of a hamstring problem.
One of those two had been expected to reach the fourth round, where they were seeded to meet world number four Andy Murray.
Isner is, though, expecting to be fit to take on Murray’s Great Britain side in Davis Cup the week after the Australian Open.
Tenth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was a comfortable 7-5 6-3 6-3 winner over Italy’s Filippo Volandri while Japanese 16th seed Kei Nishikori needed a punishing three hours and 41 minutes to defeat Australian Marinko Matosevic in five sets.
Canadian Frank Dancevic was one of the worst victims of the heat, the qualifier collapsing on the court during his match against 27th seed Benoit Paire.
Remarkably, Dancevic carried on but unsurprisingly lost in straight sets.
Eleventh seed Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov, seeded 22nd, both came through in four sets.
NADAL THROUGH AS TOMIC PULLS OUT
Bernard Tomic was jeered by the crowd at his home Australian Open when he retired hurt after losing the opening set of his first round match against world number one Rafa Nadal on Tuesday.
Tomic, who has been criticised in the past for “tanking” – or deliberately not playing to his full ability during matches – had appeared uncomfortable from the outset under the lights at Rod Laver Arena, and took a medical time-out at the change of ends when leading 2-1.
The 21-year-old later ripped a bandage off his high left thigh at the urging off his camp and played out the set restricted and grimacing after points.
With the set lost at 6-4, 57th-ranked Tomic returned to his chair and shook his head at medical staff. After walking over to Nadal to tell him he would no longer go on, sections of the crowd booed, underlining local fans’ frustration with a talent long criticised for lacking wholehearted commitment.
“It was sad. It’s unfortunate. This opportunity I had to play against Rafa was huge for me,” Tomic told reporters.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t compete. It was very difficult for me to say sorry to the crowd. I don’t think they quite knew what was wrong with me.
“After, when he got that break (at 4-4), he was serving for the set, hit one ball, and I felt it even more. I thought, ‘Am I really going to do this, spend a few more hours on court hurting my body?’
“I feel sorry because the crowd came and it was difficult for me. I did what’s best for me. The crowd have to understand that.”
Top seed Nadal, who will play 17-year-old Australian wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round, had sympathy for Tomic, who was kicked off Australia’s Davis Cup team in 2012 for attitude problems.
The Spaniard retired hurt during the 2010 quarter-finals when two sets down against Briton Andy Murray.
“I felt really sorry for Bernard. I was in that situation a few years ago and I know how tough is to take that decision,” Nadal told reporters.
“But if you feel bad, there is no reason why you have to continue. You put in risk the next tournaments for nothing.”
Spaniard Nadal, the 2009 winner at Melbourne Park, missed last year’s tournament with a stomach flu which delayed his comeback from a knee injury, but could take little from his opening match barring the fact that he conserved energy on a stifling evening.