He may be the Olympic and US Open champion, but Andy Murray continues to put his supporters through the wringer. When the 25-year-old Scot went a set down and failed to convert his first 10 break points in his opening match at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals here in London yesterday he was threatening to throw a wet blanket over his own homecoming celebrations, but, Murray being Murray, he quickly turned his fortunes around to beat Tomas Berdych 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Making his first appearance on a home court since his Olympic triumph, Murray lost the first set on a single break of serve and repeatedly failed to take his chances until finally converting a break point of his own at the 11th attempt in the fourth game of the second set. The world No 3 made the running thereafter, even if he left room for improvement in the challenges that lie ahead. Next up for Murray tomorrow will be Novak Djokovic, who got his own campaign under way with a convincing 7-6, 6-3 victory over France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Murray, who was given a standing ovation when he entered the 17,800-capacity arena, in which there were only a few hundred spare seats, said the support of the crowd had played an important part in his victory.
"The noise and the atmosphere at the beginning of the match was great," he said. "At this stage of the year, that does help to give you a little boost, rather than coming out playing flat. I thought I started well. I just didn't quite take my chances early on.'
Although Murray had won his last match against Berdych, a windswept semi-final at the US Open two months ago, the 27-year-old Czech went into the contest leading 4-3 in their head-to-head record. The world No 6, who has recorded more wins in 2012 than he has in any other year, is not the most elegant of players, but he hits the ball as hard as anyone. His ability to take time away from opponents has troubled Murray in particular in the past.
The pattern for the first set was established in the opening game. Murray forced two break points, both of which Berdych saved with unreturned serves. Murray had three more break points in the fifth game, by which time Berdych was confident enough to hit crunching drive volleys behind his booming serves.
For the most part Murray served well, but his level dipped at 2-3, Berdych breaking when the Scot put a lame forehand into the net. Murray's last two chances to break in the first set came when Berdych served at 5-3, but on the first he put an attempted drop shot into the net and on the second he was beaten by a smash.
At 1-1 in the second set Murray had to save three break points, which Berdych said afterwards was the turning point of the match. It was the Czech's turn to save three break points from 0-40 down in the following game, at which moment it seemed this might not be Murray's day. Two points later, however, he finally forced Berdych into a forehand error on a break point. Playing with more of a spring in his step, Murray served out to level the match and quickly took control of the decider by breaking in the third game.
Murray's reputation as an excellent front-runner has been dented in his three tournaments since the US Open – he failed to convert match points in each of his defeats in Tokyo, Shanghai and Paris – and when he served for the match here he seemed all too aware of recent history. Winning points were celebrated with clenched fists and shouts of "Come on!" only for the Scot to double-fault on his first match point. When Berdych put a backhand in the net on the second, Murray's relief was evident.
Although the round-robin format at this season-ending finale means that players can qualify for the semi-finals by winning just one of their three group matches, Murray also recalls that he failed to reach the last four here three years ago despite winning two of his three matches. The number of sets and games won and lost can be decisive when players are level on matches won, so Djokovic will start with a slight advantage when he meets his long-term friend and rival here tomorrow.
"Both of us are very good retrievers, so often the points will go on a lot," Murray said as he looked forward to meeting the Serb. "Sometimes you maybe feel like you need to win the point two or three times, which is tough and can be a little bit tiring. But we've played each other enough to know what to expect."
Roger Federer begins his attempt to win the title for the seventh time this afternoon against Juan Martin del Potro before David Ferrer takes on Janko Tipsarevic.
Today's matches: GROUP B
Roger Federer v Janko Tipsarevic (not before 1.45pm)
David Ferrer v Juan Martin del Potro (not before 7.45pm)