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Murray keen to step up his title bid after sluggish start

By Paul Newman

There were times when the standard of tennis was well below what we have come to expect from Andy Murray but the World No.1 cleared his first hurdle on the opening day of the Australian Open by beating Illya Marchenko in straight sets.

Murray, who won 7-5 7-6 6-2 after two hours and 47 minutes, grumbled his way through the opening two sets, during which he repeatedly berated himself and shouted out in frustration in the general direction of his entourage, but the 29-year-old Scot knows that at this stage of a Grand Slam tournament all that matters is the result.

He admitted afterwards that it was "not the best match" but thought the major reason was the big change in the weather after most of the players had spent the last week practising in cool and overcast conditions.

Melbourne is notorious for its wild swings in weather, even though this was not an occasion when it lived up to its reputation for having four seasons in one day. Instead the sun shone constantly out of a cloudless sky as the temperature soared to 32C, which was at least 10 degrees higher than most of last week.

In such conditions the ball tends to fly faster through the air and bounce higher, which Murray said had made him more tentative. However, he also admitted that first-day nerves might have contributed to his uncharacteristically sluggish performance.

"I didn't serve that well either," he said. "You end up having to work really hard on a lot of your service games when it's like that. It was just tough.

"I didn't move that well. That's how it felt anyway. But sometimes that can also be down to the conditions as well. The ball's flying through the air a little bit quicker, so the ball is coming on to you faster than what it was the last few days. Maybe I wasn't reacting as quickly as I would have liked.

"But maybe there were also first-round 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."

Despite his lacklustre display there never appeared to be any serious danger of Marchenko creating an upset. The first set was a catalogue of unforced errors - 24 by the World No.95 and 12 by Murray.

In the opening game Murray dropped serve after making three double faults but then went 4-1 up as Marchenko was broken to love in his first service game and to 15 in his second after two double faults.

At 5-3 Murray served for the set, only to play a poor game during which he repeatedly castigated himself. Successive down-the-line winners gave Marchenko the break, after which Murray sat in his chair at the changeover repeatedly muttering: "Shocking movement, shocking movement."

The Scot's mood was not helped in the first set by his confusion over the size of the water bottles given to the players.

"I know how much I have to drink when it's a certain temperature," he said afterwards. "I couldn't find how big (the water bottle) was, so I didn't know how much I was having to drink.

"I think it can be easy on days like today or tomorrow to get caught out with the conditions. I try to be really professional with my hydration beforehand and during matches just to make sure that I don't get dehydrated or potentially have problems with cramps."

During the changeover at 6-5 Murray complained to himself about something being a "joke", but fortunately for the Scot, Marchenko was continuing to make mistakes.

From 30-15 up the 29-year-old Ukrainian made three successive unforced errors to give Murray the set.

There was not much of an improvement in standards in the second set. Murray was broken in the third game, levelled at 4-4, when he was again grateful for his opponent's mistakes, and went on to win the tie-break 7-5.

Thereafter, things were more straightforward as Murray broke in the third and fifth games of the third set. He went to match point with an ace and converted it, appropriately enough, when Marchenko hit a forehand long.

In tomorrow's second round, Murray will face a qualifier, Andrey Rublev, who beat Yen-Hsun Lu 4-6 6-3 7-6 6-3 to record his first victory at Grand Slam level. The 19-year-old Russian is currently at a career-high No.152 in the world rankings.

"I never hit with him or played against him, but I've seen him play before and he goes for it," Murray said.

"He doesn't hold back. He hits a big ball."

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