Australian Open 2012: Murray survives amid high emotions
British No1 Andy Murray battled back from a set down to beat American teenager Ryan Harrison 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-2 in Melbourne
Melbourne Park began to swelter before play even began on day two of the “sunshine Grand Slam” – and by the time Novak Djokovic arrived on Rod Laver court at a little after midday, it looked and felt like a cauldron””a generous 90 degrees and rising.
The Serb””a man who, in his previous iteration, suffered in such high temperatures””looked as cool as a cucumber. Forsaking the flame colours adopted by many of the competitors in this centenary year””a nod, perhaps, to the Australian Open’s sky blue and sunshine orange logo””the Serb cut a crisp, white figure.
It took the defending champion but a few minutes to get the measure of his hapless Italian opponent, Paolo Lorenzi and, after conceding a break in the third game, Djokovic won the next 17 on the bounce. It was a scant 92 minutes in which he firmly threw down the gauntlet to his fellow competitors.
One of them was just beginning his campaign in the Hisense Arena: the man who fell to Djokovic in the final here 12 months ago. Andy Murray””one of those clad in logo blue and orange””faced the eager and talented young American, Ryan Harrison, ranked 77 and improving all the time.
This was the teenager’s third Australian Open appearance, and he fell in the first round on both previous occasions, but this year was his first direct entry to the singles draw and he looked ready to cause trouble.
He was given a helping hand in the fifth game as Murray made two double faults and two unforced errors to give the American a 3-2 lead.
Harrison built on his advantage, stepping inside the baseline and firing his big forehand with pinpoint depth. He mixed in heavy 130mph serves, attacked the net for some classy volley winners and continued to pressure the Murray serve, too. The confidence paid off, and Harrison broke again in the seventh game.
It seemed, briefly, as though Harrison looked over-confident when he served for the first set. He rushed the net but overhit a couple of volleys to give Murray a break back.
Harrison very nearly broke the Murray serve again but finally closed out a top-notch set, via one rally of 41 shots, 6-4.
What Murray needed was a change of colour scheme””the white of his chum Djokovic. A new shirt seemed to inspire some different tactics, and he resisted a still-aggressive Harrison by taking the net and injecting some audible volume into his forehand.
Murray failed to convert two break point chances in the fourth game but a backhand winner down the line worthy of Djokovic himself brought up a third, and this time he took it. He held his lead to level the match, 6-3.
It took an hour-and-a-half to reach this point and another hour-and-a-half for Murray to finish the job. He opened the third set with a break of serve but failed to convert more chances in the fifth and the seventh, with Harrison proving to be a tough competitor even when handed a time violation warning. Finally, Murray served out the set, 6-4 and rode his momentum through the fourth and decisive set, 6-2.
Murray’s superior fitness in the sweltering heat and humidity certainly helped him to a gritty win, but if he is to reach his scheduled semi-final encounter with Djokovic, he will need to improve both his serving percentage and his winner-to-error count.
Meanwhile Harrison, to his credit, maintained enormous pressure on the Scot with what is an increasingly impressive style of play: aggressive, clean-hitting and varied.
It’s a style that, for the time being, generates rather too many unforced errors but it also produces some brilliant winners: He outscored Murray in that particular area in three out of the four sets.
In the midst of this intriguing contest on Hisense, a different drama was unfolding in Djokovic’s wake on Rod Laver.
For Sam Stosur, the all-white approach was failing to work its magic. Playing the 59-ranked Romanian, Sorana Cirstea, Stosur carried huge expectation on her shoulders in front of her adoring home crowd. It’s a burden she has often found hard to carry: In her previous nine attempts at her home Slam, she has never got beyond the fourth round.
Despite winning her first Grand Slam at the US Open just months back, there were signs even before Melbourne that Stosur’s nerves were again jangling. She lost in the second round in Brisbane and the first round in Sydney and, for the first time since 2005, she lost in the first round in Melbourne, too, 6-7, 3-6, despite beating Cirstea in both previous meetings.
With a tally of 33 errors, it was a nervy and crowd-subduing result, made all the worse for the Australians by the loss of the 39-ranked Jarmila Gajdosova at the start of the day.
It was left to the 28-year-old Jelena Dokic, a woman who first played in Melbourne as a teenager 11 years ago, to lift the spirits. Her 6-2, 6-1 win took her to Round 2 with two wild card entrants, Olivia Rogowska and Casey Dellacqua””along with James Duckworth in the men’s draw.
By the end of day two, though, the Australian crowd really did have something to cheer about and it came in the familiar shape of 30-year-old Lleyton Hewitt.
Playing in his 16th home Slam, and with a catalogue of injury and surgery peppering recent years, he took out one of the fastest-rising talents on the tour, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe””who jumped almost 300 places to No81 last year””in four sets.
Hewitt now faces an old adversary, Andy Roddick, the man he beat on his way to his only Australian final in 2005. It will be the 14th meeting between the two former No1s, and a gem of a second-round encounter. Fellow Australian, Matthew Ebden, will also face a stern test in Round 2 against No24 seed, Kei Nishikori.
The only men’s seed to fall on day two was Radek Stepanek, though Gilles Simon and Viktor Troicki endured five-set battles to reach the second round and the 35-ranked Mikhail Youzhny was a surprise loser in five sets to qualifier Andrey Golubev.