Sluggish Andy Murray beats Illya Marchenko at Australian Open

Andy Murray celebrates after winning a point against Illya Marchenko. Pic: AFP
Andy Murray celebrates after winning a point against Illya Marchenko. Pic: AFP
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It may not have been the most sparkling start to a grand slam campaign but Andy Murray was through to the second round of the Australian Open. His first grand-slam match as the world No 1 had been negotiated safely.

And, even if he had not played particularly well, he had notched up one notable victory: he had persuaded all those in Melbourne Park to call him Andy. No ‘Sir,’ no formality. Just Andy. And plain old Andy had beaten Illya Marchenko 7-5, 7-6, 6-2.

It took two hours and 47 minutes in 30C heat, it involved 27 unforced errors, four double faults (three of them in the opening game) and an awful lot of harrumphing but Murray got the job done. There was never any real fear that he would fail; it was just a case of grinding through the gears until he got the result he wanted. First-round matches can be like that, especially at major tournaments.

“I don’t think it was the best match, to be honest,” Murray said. “The conditions there were pretty different to what we’ve been practising in. Last week’s been pretty cool. When it’s like that, the ball is bouncing a bit lower, a bit easier to control the ball. I was a bit tentative because of that. I didn’t serve that well, either. I didn’t move that well. That’s how it felt anyway. Maybe also nerves as well. It’s maybe normal to feel a little bit slow on your feet or a bit heavy-legged in the first round.”

Nothing seemed to be going Murray’s way. Even his water bottle was bothering him – he did not know how much was in the dratted thing and he likes to keep tabs on his intake, particularly when it is hot. He yelled at himself, he chuntered to his box and his analysis of his performance during the change of ends usually involved the world “shocking”. But it didn’t matter in the end.

“Sometimes in conditions like today you can feel a bit flat energy wise just because it’s draining,” he said. “You are trying to get through it, you need to encourage yourself to have more energy. The more energy you have the better you’ll play and finish the match off quicker. Maybe I could have had more energy, started off more energetic. I’ll try and do that the next match.”

But at least he will have learned from yesterday’s encounter. Now he has reacquainted himself with the Rod Laver Arena in the heat of the day, now he remembers just how the ball can fizz through the dry air and now he feels he is into the tournament.

The next obstacle on his horizon is the tall, slender frame of Andrey Rublev, the 19-year-old Muscovite with a world ranking of No 152. Young, powerful but still wet behind the ears at this level, he came through the qualifying tournament to get into the main draw and his only other grand slam experience is qualifying for the US Open two years ago. Then again, he did take a set from Kevin Anderson, then the world No 14, when he got there.

Murray knows a little bit about Rublev but not much. That is the problem with being 29 years old in a sport populated by younger men: policemen have not started to look younger to the world No 1 yet but his opponents most certainly do. And some of them he has never seen before in his life. That is where YouTube comes in handy for a bit of research. “When I first came on the tour, I literally knew everyone because I watched loads on TV when I was a kid,” he said.

“I knew loads of the top players or I’d grown up with players in Futures or the juniors, seen them around. I knew everyone in qualifying as well. Now there’s a bunch of guys I don’t know because of the generation gap. So I watch and study the guys I’m playing against because I don’t know a lot of them like I knew the 
previous bunch. It’s part of my job.

“I’ve seen Rublev play before and he goes for it. He doesn’t hold back. He hits a big ball. I saw him play a couple of years ago at the US Open. I thought he was very good. Clean 
ball-striker.”

As for Rublev, he was just happy to be in town. His 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 win over Lu Yen-Hsun was his first grand-slam match win and now he isfacing the best player in the world. It is a lot to take in.

“It is going to be a great experience, that is all I can say,” he said. “I cannot say anything about what to expect because I have never played one of the top guys. It is a different level.”

Murray will be working to make sure that his level is befitting a world No 1 come Wednesday. The first-round jitters have been overcome and now the tournament can start in earnest.