IT IS all going well – maybe a little too well – but as Andy Murray settles into the third round of the Australian Open, he could not have asked for anything more.
Even the sun is shining in Melbourne for the first time since the tournament began. Life is looking good.
In a blistering 102 minutes yesterday, Murray wiped the local hero, Marinko Matosevic, off the court 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 with a performance that Matosevic thinks is the best he has ever seen the Scot play against him. For that first set, Murray was untouchable – only one point dropped on serve and only one unforced error recorded – and even if the Australian made more of a match of it in the next two sets, there was no way he was going to hurt his pal and rival.
“I definitely started quite quickly today,” Murray said. “I was timing the ball well on the return and serving well from the beginning of the match, and it helped a lot because obviously the crowd were behind him. I managed to take the crowd out of it a little bit by starting that quickly.
“When I noticed his timing was a bit off I felt like I played quite smart and used a lot of variety; didn’t give him the same ball twice in a row. I felt like I struck the ball a bit better today than I did in my first round. I played a good match today.”
Murray was his usual, serious and factual self. This is only the opening stages of the first Grand Slam event of the year and he is still a long, long way from the final. Standing in his way next week will be the usual contenders so he knows that he has a long road ahead of him. This, then, is not the time to be getting excited. Matosevic, on the other hand, has never been one to mince his words and he thinks that Murray is in better form than he was when he was winning Wimbledon.
“That’s the best Andy’s played against me,” Matosevic said. “He was good at the French when he beat me and went on to the semis and he was good against me at Queen’s when he went on to win there and then Wimbledon, but this was pretty impressive. Andy’s one of the best right now, so it’s hard for anyone to get him.”
The next one to get him will be João Sousa, the 25-year-old world No 55, from Portugal who has not taken a set from Murray in three previous meetings. Sousa’s sole claim to fame is that he is managed by Jorge Mendes, the “super-agent” who also handles the business affairs of Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, but even he admits that he is anything but special.
“I haven’t had the honour of meeting Mourinho – I think he is one of the greatest professionals in his profession in the world,” Sousa said shyly. “I hope to meet him one day. Mendes is a big tennis fan too. But I have never called myself the Special One – not even close.” Sousa was ushered into the third round when Martin Klizan started to melt in the heat. One game into the fourth set, the No 32 seed, who had been whingeing about the on-court temperature from the start (it hit 32 degrees by mid-afternoon), threw in the towel. In Murray’s perfect start to the tournament, this was just another box ticked: Klizan, the first seed who was supposed to test him, had been removed without the world No 6 having to lift a racket.
Murray first played Sousa back in 2013 in Melbourne when the Portuguese was ranked 100 in the world and seemed overwhelmed by the occasion. Since then, he has slowly moved up the pecking order and gained experience and confidence along the way. Murray ought to deal with tomorrow’s challenge comfortably but, even so, he is taking nothing for granted. Sousa works with Francisco Roig in Barcelona – and Roig is Rafael Nadal’s assistant coach. For a man who has never gone beyond the third round of a Grand Slam before, Mr Sousa has some pretty impressive contacts.
“I played him here a few years ago and in Cincinnati last summer,” Murray said. “He’s a good player: quick, he’s got a good attitude, doesn’t have one major weapon, but he fights extremely hard. It will be tricky.”
Tricky, but not too taxing as Murray steers his path towards the second week. His brother, Jamie, is looking in fine fettle, too. Fresh from winning the title in Brisbane with John Peers, he began his Open campaign with a 6-1, 6-7, 6-4 win over Maximo Gonzalez and Juan Monaco. After such a positive start to the season, Jamie is hoping that he will earn his place in Britain’s Davis Cup team to play the United States at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow on 6-8 March. If he is selected and plays with his brother, it will only be the second time they have represented their country together.
“It will be a great tie to play the States in Scotland and great to play with Andy in the doubles against the Bryan brothers,” Jamie said. That’s a pretty cool thing to experience. I would definitely love to play. I haven’t talked to Andy about it at all. Of course if it happens it would be amazing. It would be a pretty unique thing to do. I don’t know when that’s happened before.
“I’m sure it will be a brilliant tie. There will be a lot of noise, lot of crowd support. It’s a World Group match as well, it will be huge. I think everyone will be looking forward to it.”
As perfect starts go, the Murray boys could not have hoped for anything better.