MELBOURNE: Five years and five long sets later, five-time Australian Open runner-up Andy Murray finally has won another match at the season-opening Grand Slam tournament.
The former top-ranked Murray, playing thanks to a wild-card invitation as he continues his career comeback from hip operations and thoughts of retirement, beat 21st-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 on Tuesday to reach the second round at Melbourne Park.
He lost a five-setter in the first round in 2019 -- a match he, and everyone else, thought might have been his last in Australia after missing the 2018 edition with an injury. He missed the 2020 tournament with a pelvic injury and last year’s event because of Covid-19.
“It’s been a tough three, four years. Put in a lot of work to get back here,” Murray said in his post-match TV interview at John Cain Arena, which was formerly known as Hisense and is parochially referred to as the People’s Court. “I’ve played on this court many times, the atmosphere is incredible. This is the one where I thought I’d played my last. Amazing to be back, winning a five-set battle like that. Couldn’t ask for more.”
Murray beat Basilashvili in a three-hour three-setter last week in Sydney, where he reached the final of the tuneup tournament. This one went almost four hours.
It was Murray’s 49th win in an Australian Open singles match, moving him ahead of Andre Agassi and Ivan Lendl into fifth-place all-time. According to the International Tennis Federation, it’s the most match wins at a Grand Slam tournament without winning the title, surpassing Lendl’s 48 at Wimbledon.
Regardless, match win number 50 in Australia is the immediate priority. He next plays Taro Daniel, a qualifier from Japan.
“I think there’s things in my game I can do better,” said the 34-year-old Murray, who lost the 2010 final to Roger Federer and four others to Novak Djokovic. “Would love to have a deep run here, if possible. It’s something I’ve not had in one of the Slams since I’ve come back from the injury, and its something that’s motivating me.”
Murray’s wasn’t the only dramatic five-setter that finished in the early evening on the second day.
Ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime fended off Emil Ruusuvuori 6-4, 0-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, and Maxime Cressy overcame 20 double-faults to upset fellow American and 22nd-seeded John Isner 7-6 (7-2), 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-7 (4-7), 6-4.
Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev, one of the biggest potential beneficiaries of Djokovic’s deportation, had a much more routine first round.
Nine-time champion Djokovic was already back in Serbia two days after losing his legal challenge to stay in Australia despite being unvaccinated against Covid-19 when Medvedev went into Rod Laver Arena for a 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) win over Henri Laaksonen.
Aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win his second major title in the very next Grand Slam appearance after his first such trophy, Medvedev advanced along with fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, fifth-seeded Andrey Rublev, Jannik Sinner, Diego Schwartzman and Roberto Bautista Agut.
That’s where things could get more tricky: He next faces the mercurial Australian Nick Kyrgios.
Nobody has dominated in Melbourne like Djokovic, who is unbeaten in the 18 combined semi-finals and finals he’s reached at the Australian Open, including last year’s victory over Medvedev for the title.
But Medvedev avenged that with his breakthrough major title at the US Open, where his victory meant Djokovics bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam finished one win short.
“I like pressure,” Medvedev said. “Always want to do better than I did last year, [but] its not going to be easy.”
That’s something Leylah Fernandez has had to confront.
The 19-year-old Canadian lost 6-2, 6-4 to 133rd-ranked wild-card entry Maddison Inglis in her first Grand Slam match since her runner-up finish at the US Open.
The venue and the vibe were a long way from her run to the final against Emma Raducanu at Flushing Meadows last September.
Raducanu fared better in her debut at the Australian Open. The 17th-seeded Briton beating 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 in a seesawing night match that brought the second day programme to a close.
Second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka appeared to be on the way out before she rallied from a set and a break down, winning nine straight games before completing a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 win over 128th-ranked Storm Sanders.
Third-seeded Garbie Muguruza, meanwhile, kept a perfect streak intact when she won her first-round match at the Australian Open for the 10th straight time, beating Clara Burel 6-3, 6-4.
Also advancing were sicth seed Anett Kontaveit, 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek, 2021 French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, two-time major winner Simona Halep and 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur, who rallied to beat Robin Anderson 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-3 to start her 20th and last Australian Open singles campaign.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova lost to Sorana Cirstea for the second straight year, this time 6-2, 6-2 in the first round.
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2022