Andy Murray insisted he felt no different going on court today as a Grand Slam champion, but the world No 3 delivered a performance that spoke volumes for the confidence generated by his US Open victory last year. Murray got his Australian Open campaign under way with a crushing 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Robin Haase, the world No 53, to earn a second-round meeting with Portugal’s Joao Sousa.
Playing his first match at a Grand Slam tournament since his victory four months ago over Novak Djokovic in the final in New York, Murray took charge from the start. Haase, a 25-year-old Dutchman whose big-hitting style can trouble the very best, was never allowed to settle into a rhythm as the unshaven Murray came out bristling with aggression.
The Scot’s form was as bright as the sun on a day when the weather improved markedly. It had been distinctly cool in recent days here, but in the blazing sunshine the temperature was soon topping 20C. The conditions, which will become much hotter in the next two days, were ideal for tennis.
“I thought I did a pretty good job from the start of dictating the points and not giving him too many freebies,” Murray said afterwards. “It was very different conditions to what it's been the last four or five days, so the court was playing much different. The ball was bouncing a lot higher. It was much livelier.”
The match opened the day’s programme in Rod Laver Arena. The main show court can be quite deserted at the start of play at 11am, but such is Murray’s pulling power that it was already half full when the Scot walked out. By the end of the first set there were few seats unfilled. Murray has always enjoyed strong backing here and a group of four young cheerleaders who have regularly supported him over the years were in good voice.
Haase had won his first match against Murray five years ago and had taken the Scot to five sets at the 2011 US Open in their only other meeting. On this occasion, however, Murray barely gave the Dutchman a chance to show his ball-striking ability. Murray went on the attack from the start, pushing Haase back and forcing him to defend.
From 1-1 in the first set Murray won four games in a row to take charge of the match. Haase broke back to trail 5-3, Murray netting an attempted drop shot on break point, but the Scot responded in kind, breaking serve for the third time to take the first set in 41 minutes.
The second set followed a similar pattern, but on this occasion Murray kept up the pressure from the moment he broke with the score at 1-1. With Haase looking increasingly dispirited, the Scot won nine of the next 10 games. It was to Haase’s credit that he refused to throw in the towel, but Murray secured victory with his eighth break of serve of the match, the Dutchman hitting a forehand long on the first match point.
Murray said that being a Grand Slam champion had made no difference to him going into the match. “I was still nervous before I went on,” he said.
“I think when I would see the benefits of that is if I get myself deep into a Slam this year and you're playing against the top players. I think that’s when you'll draw on that experience and use it in the right way. But personally I don't think it makes a huge amount of difference to how you feel at the beginning of events.”
Murray has never played against or practised with his next opponent. Sousa, the world No 100, has played mainly on the Challenger circuit. Until today the 23-year-old Portuguese had played only one match in the main draw at a Grand Slam event, losing to Spain’s Marcel Granollers at last year’s French Open.
Having earned his place in the draw of a Grand Slam tournament by dint of his world ranking for the first time, Sousa earned his meeting with Murray in convincing fashion by beating Australia’s John-Patrick Smith, the world No 237, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4. Murray, nevertheless, is sure to provide a challenge of a very different order.