He was exhausted by jetlag and struggled in the hot and humid conditions but Andy Murray still got his year off to a winning start in the Hopman Cup mixed team event in Perth yesterday. Murray overcame Potito Starace 7-5, 6-1 in his first singles, although defeat for Laura Robson against Francesca Schiavone, combined with a loss for the Britons in their mixed doubles, gave Italy victory in the match.
Murray is playing at the Hopman Cup for the second year in succession in the belief that it gives him the best chance to prepare for the Australian Open in Melbourne, which begins in 13 days. Twelve months ago, the world No 4 played some of the best tennis of his life en route to the final of the year's opening Grand Slam event before losing to Roger Federer in the final.
This time Murray was in action within 48 hours of his arrival in Perth from his winter training camp in Miami. The 23-year-old Scot made a slow start in the testing conditions inside the Burswood Dome and had to save a break point in the third game. Yet there was no break of serve until the 12th game, which Murray won to take the first set. Thereafter the Scot took control as Italian Starace, the world No 47, was comprehensively outplayed.
"I was breathing so hard after the first four or five games," Murray said afterwards. "There's not been a whole lot of time to get over jetlag yet. It's going to take some time to get used to the conditions."
Murray's victory levelled the match after Schiavone beat Robson 7-5, 6-3. The 16-year-old Briton has suffered with a cold in recent days but could be proud of her performance against the world No 7 and French Open champion. Robson took a 5-3 lead in the first set before Schiavone changed the course of the match by winning seven games in succession. The 2008 junior Wimbledon champion then staged a spirited fightback in the second set before Schiavone clinched victory.
The Britons made a good start in the mixed doubles, winning the first set tie-break 7-1 and breaking serve to lead 4-3 in the second set, but Murray in particular tired in the closing stages. The Italians edged a second tie-break 8-6 and went on to secure victory in the champions' tie-break by 10-2.
"It was a very long first day of the year," Murray admitted. "It's disappointing we didn't win but hopefully we can come through in the next one."
Murray and Robson are back in action tomorrow against France's Nicolas Mahut and Kristina Mladenovic. They then play Americans John Isner and Bethanie Mattek-Sands on Friday in their last round-robin match. The winners of the two four-team groups contest the final on Saturday.
Two British women playing in the WTA event in Auckland, New Zealand, enjoyed good victories yesterday. Anne Keothavong beat Romania's Edina Gallovits 6-7, 6-4, 6-0 to earn a second-round match against Ukraine's Kateryna Bondarenko, while Heather Watson reached the main draw with her third successive victory in qualifying, beating Italy's Alberta Brianti 6-3, 6-2. The former US Open junior champion was due to play Thailand's Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, who had beaten Britain's Katie O'Brien 6-0, 6-3 in the final round of qualifying, earlier today.
Andy Roddick needed only 72 minutes to beat Marinko Matosevic, an Australian wild card, 6-3, 6-2 in the Brisbane International, where the American is the defending champion.