Andy Murray would probably have preferred to be asleep than on court here yesterday but the world No 3 was still too good for Ivo Karlovic in his opening match at the Rakuten Japan Open. Murray, who faces Slovakia's Lukas Lacko in the second round today, beat Karlovic 7-6, 6-4 in an hour and 38 minutes in his first match since becoming US Open champion last month.
Murray, who arrived here six days ago, admitted after his late-afternoon victory: "I still haven't got over the jet lag. Every single day I've been sleeping at the time I went on the court today."
Compared with the intense atmosphere at Flushing Meadows in Murray's previous appearance on court 22 days earlier, this was a comparatively low-key affair. The steep-sided centre court at the Ariake Colosseum, an imposing concrete structure situated in the city's business district, holds 10,000 people, but it was no more than a third full.
There was polite applause throughout and appreciation for the excellence of some of Murray's passing shots, but the greatest show of passion came at the end as hordes of autograph hunters rushed to the front of the stands the moment Murray won.
Karlovic was a late replacement for France's Gaël Monfils, who pulled out with a recurrence of a knee problem. A 6ft 10in Croatian, Karlovic is not quite the force he was, but his massive serve, particularly on a fast outdoor court like the one here, always makes him a danger.
Murray, who dropped only nine points on his own serve in the whole match, had break points in the first and seventh games in the first set only for Karlovic to serve his way out of trouble. The world No 79 went 5-3 up in the tie-break but then let Murray off the hook with a double fault. Murray still had to save a set point before taking the tie-break 9-7 with a forehand pass down the line.
When Karlovic served at 4-5 in the second set, Murray appeared to decide it was time to draw matters to a close. A superb running forehand cross-court pass followed by a rasping return of serve to the Croatian's feet forced three match points. The first two were saved with thunderbolt serves, but on the third Karlovic put a volley wide under pressure from a big Murray backhand down the line.
"I played well when I needed to," Murray said. "It's always hard, the first match after a few weeks of not playing. Because of the opponent as well that makes it a bit tougher again."