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Australian Open: Murray wins first match since 2017

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Melbourne, Jan 18 (IANS) Former World No 1 Andy Murray continued his brilliant run in Australia as he won his opening round match in the Australian Open, beating 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia in a five-set thriller on his return to the first Grand Slam of the year.

The 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4 win in nearly four hours of tennis was Murray’s first win at the Australian Open in five years as the Scot has struggled with injuries since reaching the fourth round as top seed in Melbourne in 2017. Murray had reached the final of the Sydney Tennis Classic last week beating Basilashvili on the way.

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Home favourites Alex de Minaur and Nick Kyrgios advanced with contrasting wins.

Alex de Minaur defeated Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti 3-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-3 coming back after losing the first set while mercurial local star Kyrgios got the better of Liam Broady of the United Kingdom in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

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On Tuesday, Murray, who had lost his first round match in 2019, sat deep behind the baseline against Basilashvili in a physical clash, soaking up the Georgian’s powerful groundstrokes in a performance full of grit and determination to advance after three hours and 52 minutes as he demonstrated his big-match mentality.

“It is amazing (to be back),” Murray said in his on-court interview. “It has been a tough three, four years. I have put in a lot of work to be back here and I have played on this court many times and the atmosphere has been incredible. I have always had fantastic support and this is the court I thought I potentially played my last match on. But it is good to be back, winning a five-set battle like that. I could not ask for any more.”

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The 34-year-old’s last appearance in Melbourne came in 2019, when he lost an emotional match against Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets, with many fearing it would be Murray’s last hurrah at a tournament he has reached the final at five times (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016) due to his hip problem, said a report on the ATP Tour website.

However, following further hip surgery, Murray has built himself back up, reaching tour-level quarter-finals in Metz and Stockholm in 2021 and earning Top 10 wins over Hubert Hurkacz and Jannik Sinner, the report said.

The Scot, who broke Basilashvili nine times on Tuesday, will next face Taro Daniel after the Japanese qualifier defeated Chile qualifier Tomas Barrios Vera 7-6(5), 6-1, 6-1.

“I would love to have a deep run here if possible,” Murray said. “It is something I have not had at one of the slams since I came back from the injury and it is something that motivates me. I have played some of my best tennis here over the years and I feel comfortable here.”

Murray made a fast start against the Georgian, hitting with consistent depth to force Basilashvili into errors from the baseline as he moved ahead.

In a topsy-turvy clash, where the momentum swung one way and then the other, Murray won the first set easily, breaking his rival’s aervice thrice in the process.

Basilashvili raised his level in the second set to level, before there were three consecutive breaks in the third set from 2-2, with Murray earning two of them to lead once again.

Murray, who is playing the Australian Open on a wild card, struggled on serve at the start of the fourth set though as he started to look physically drained. The Scot spent large periods of the clash scampering around the baseline to fend off Basilashvili’s heavy groundstrokes, but worked his way back into the set from 2-4 down as he started to close the net effectively to shorten points.

Murray showed courage to save a set point on serve at 4-5, 30/40, striking a powerful backhand cross court as they moved to a tie-break. However, Basilahvili was too strong in the tie-breaker, hitting through Murray to force a decider. Murray changed up the chess board in the fifth set though, playing more aggressively as he stepped inside the court to dictate.

From 4-1 up and nearly home though, Murray squandered his advantage as Basilashvili levelled. However, the Scot maintained his focus and broke again in the 10th game of the set to seal another classic win.

In other matches, Jannik Sinner of Italy defeated Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-4, 7-5, 6-1 while Alex Molcan of Slovakia beat Roman Safiullin of Russia 6-3, 7-6(9), 7-5, 7-6(6). No. 13 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina beat Filip Krajinovic of Serbia 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.

–IANS

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