Dubai 2017: Andy Murray gets quick win over Jaziri, Dan Evans an even quicker one over Brown
Both Andy Murray and Dan Evans are through to the round of 16 at the Dubai Duty Free Championships after straight-sets wins
As 2017 got under way, Andy Murray was undoubtedly the form man of the tour.
Last season, he won more matches, 78, and more titles from more finals, nine from 13, than anyone else. From a career-best run on clay, and a first Roland Garros final, he was unbeaten on grass, won a second Olympic gold, and was unbeaten again through Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna, Paris and the World Tour Finals to claim the No1 ranking.
At the start of this year, he did come off second best to Novak Djokovic in the Doha final, but even his weary fourth-round loss at the Australian Open extended his points lead at the top of the ranks as the defending champion Novak Djokovic fell earlier than Murray.
Now, the Briton has a mere 90 points to defend until the clay season following his post-parenthood dip this time last year. And as Djokovic made the quarters in Dubai last year and won both Indian Wells and Miami, there is every prospect that Murray will extend the lead he has as the top.
And judging from his relaxed and healthy demeanour in Dubai this week, where was about to attempt to win his first title, he had not only recovered from the shingles that he contracted on his return from Australia but had thrived from the necessary down-time both mentally and physically.
He remained, therefore, the form man—though the style of seven-time Dubai titlist Roger Federer’s win in his opener will have alerted the Briton anew to the dangers of one of his most challenging rivals should he make the semis.
Murray had already got some running into his legs in a doubles match with veteran Nenad Zimonjic, and although it was a loss, a healthy Murray is a man who thrives on court-time. That should have sharpened his preparation for a first-time meeting with Malek Jaziri
Murray said of Jaziri, “He is very talented. He hits those sliced backhands and he is also quite aggressive on the forehand. He has played here a number of years and he quite likes the conditions here, so I am concentrating on that match.”
Murray was right to be wary. Jaziri may be ranked a lowly 51 but in Dubai, he took the first set from Federer in 2013, made the quarters the next year, and beat Mikhail Youzhny before facing Djokovic last year. Indeed, the man from Tunisia must wonder what he has done to deserve such tough draws at one of the closest he has to a home tournament: Federer, Djokovic and now Murray.
Murray, in truth, looked a little tight at the start while Jaziri was playing uninhibited tennis. Murray faced deuces, but held the first five-minute game, Jaziri held with ease, and then Murray was broken when a net cord dribbled over the net on break point.
The Briton, though, broke straight back, but he continued to look distracted by calls and movement in the crowd. However, when push came to shove, he broke at the key moment to take the set, 6-4, with an aggressive return of serve.
Now Murray went up a gear, feeling the pace of the court and the tactics of his opponent much better. He held to love comfortably, 2-1, and then broke after a brief stop for a physio to attend Jaziri. A love hold from Murray and he had break point again. He pulled off some remarkable returning from the backhand wing to keep up the pressure, broke, and never really looked back, serving it out in an hour and 20 minutes, 6-1.
He still looked relaxed and healthy immediately afterwards in press, fending off plenty of interest in his bout of shingles. He is, he assured everyone, feeling totally fine:
“The first few days when I got here when I was playing points, I felt a bit more out of breath maybe than usual. I don’t think that was anything to do with the illness. I think that was just more because I had been practising in cold conditions and not playing at that intensity. But tonight I didn’t feel out of breath. I felt good.”
He also took a moment to recall his last match against his next opponent, 33-year-old Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: He was beaten soundly at Indian Wells, but that was five years ago and a lot of water has gone under Murray’s bridge since then, while the Spaniard is ranked at an almost identical 97.
Elsewhere in the draw, the No7 seed Lucas Pouille, one of the biggest improvers in the last year, sailed in some style past Adam Pavlasek, 6-2, 6-2, in 55 minutes. He is lined up to meet Federer and then Murray if the seedings continue to hold. Immediately, he will take on qualifier Marius Copil.
Even faster into the second round was Briton Dan Evans, who took only 51 minutes to beat Dustin Brown, 6-2, 6-3. The Briton stands at a career high ranking of 43 after reaching the final in Sydney and backing it up with a fourth-round run at the Australian Open, his best-ever Grand Slam finish. His next task is the rather more formidable No4 seed, Gael Monfils.
The winner of that match will take on either Roberto Bautista Agut or Fernando Verdasco, who today beat Andreas Seppi, 6-2, 7-5. The young riser Daniil Medvedev, who beat wild card Omar Alawadhi, will take on Philipp Kohlschreiber, a man 12 years his senior. And the winner of that will meet either Murray or Garcia-Lopez come Thursday.
Footnote: In the final match of the day, No5 seed Tomas Berdych beat Lukas Rosol by retirement, 6-3, 2-1, and will next play Robin Haase.