At the risk of alerting those investigators tasked with detecting even a hint of financial risk-taking on Planet Tennis, Andy Murray is looking a good bet to do very well again at this Australian Open after an uncomplicated win over the German teenager Alexander Zverev on the second day.
Murray has lost four finals here – but did splendidly to reach them – and has always reckoned Melbourne brings out the best in him. Certainly in many of the several long exchanges against Zverev on Tuesday, he hit a zone of calm and assurance, playing the sort of disciplined attacking tennis that lifted him to an end-of-season ranking of No2 in the world for the first time.
He seems to have carried that confidence and form with him to the first slam of the year, and there was little Zverev could do to stop him settling their first-round match 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 in a touch over two hours. If the score-line suggests it got increasingly difficult for Murray to subdue the young prospect, that is a fair assessment, as he agreed courtside afterwards.
“It got tough at the end, a lot of long rallies,” he said. “Alex fought all the way to the end. It was hot, with the clouds not arriving. I had to get it done in straight sets. It seemed like all the games were going to deuce on his serve. He hung in. He’s young, one of the best young best players in the world, gogin to be around for a very long time.”
“I remember when I was 18 and I played a lot of tough matches against the best players and you learn every time. He will have learned about himself in the third set. He played great at the end. I’ve been close [HERE]before, played well in a number of the finals, was up a break in the third set last year. Can’t afford to do that against the best players in the word.”
There are two obvious reasons Murray is content: the return of his coach Amelie Mauresmo, and the pending arrival of his first child, due two weeks after the final.
“Amelie gave birth five months ago,” Murray said, “but she is back travelling with me again, which is great to get back that continuity. As for Kim and the baby, I’m more excited than nervous. A few weeks ago I was nervous. I’m hoping my phone hasn’t been buzzing in my bag. Kim will be messaging my team during my matches.”
Murray's serve functioned adequately from a 58 per cent efficiency rate, and he struck 28 clean winners. But most pleasing for the player and his team was his apparent comfort in difficult conditions, the humidity hitting 60 per cent – and earlier claiming a victim in Diego Schwartzman, who collapsed in agony from cramp and retired when 0-5 in the fourth set of his match against the Australian John Millman.
Murray next plays the Australian Sam Groth, whom he beat in the doubles alongside Lleyton Hewitt, when he partnered his brother, Jamie, to secure Davis Cup semi-final victory for Great Britain in front of their Scottish fans.
Groth, who impressed beating the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 7-6 (6), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, said afterwards, "I'll be trying to come up with a game plan, get a bit of revenge for what happened in Glasgow. This time I'll have the crowd on my side. I hope they make a lot of noise."
The British No2 Aljaz Bedene bowed out to the Steve Johnson of the US, the No31 seed, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3). Dan Evans, meanwhile, admitted he found the class and power of Feliciano López too hot to handle and could not stop the Spaniard romping to an easy 6-1, 6-0, 6-4 win.