Andy Murray narrowly avoided the wrath of coach Ivan Lendl after labouring to a 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 win over Australian qualifier John Millman in his opening match at the Brisbane International.
The US Open champion ran hot but mostly cold against the 199th-ranked player in a match of wildly fluctuating tennis at Pat Rafter Arena today.
The 2012 Olympic gold medallist said that Lendl, who is due to arrive in Brisbane today, had not even considered the possibility of the Scot (who had a first round bye) losing to Millman.
Before the second-round match, Lendl had sent a text message to the 25-year-old's hitting parter, Danny Vallverdu, asking what time Murray's quarter-final against Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin would be today.
Said the Scot: "December 22nd was the last day we trained in Miami before I went home. He messaged Danny and said, 'Can you send me the score and what time he's playing tomorrow before the match?' He was obviously expecting me to come through, but it was very nearly a different story.
"The depth of the game now is so, so strong," Murray added. "None of the matches are easy. It was a bit different back in Ivan's day where they could kind of cruise a little bit the first couple rounds."
Murray was horribly out of sorts in a tight second set, clutching at his back, thigh and shoulder. His class shone through but it was not one of his finest efforts.
"I had seen John's name before, but I hadn't seen him play," he said. "I think it's important when you don't know how someone plays to find out about their character a little bit. He's very consistent... he can play quite a long way behind the baseline and doesn't take too many risks. And then he was going for absolute bombs and making them."
Murray's five-set thriller against world No 1 Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of last year's Australian Open was a portent of the great achievements to come later in 2012. Despite his stuttering display against Millman that had a sold-out crowd roaring for the Australian, Murray said he was in good shape for his next assignment at Melbourne Park.
"It was great to play in an atmosphere like that for the first match of the year, to get back into the swing of playing in front of large and loud crowds," Murray said. "There is obviously a lot of that at the Australian Open. No matter how much you practice, you can't replicate those sorts of atmospheres. It's important for me to play in them, especially in the beginning of the year. I wasn't too disappointed with the way I played either, so it was a good first match for me."
Second-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic was eliminated 6-3, 6-4 in the biggest shock of the event by 21-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, nicknamed "Baby Federer" for the similarity of his technique to the Swiss. Tomorrow's other quarter-finals are Marcos Baghdatis against Gilles Simon, Alexandr Dolgopolov versus Kei Nishikori and Dimitrov against Jürgen Melzer.
Injury hits Watson's Melbourne preparations
Heather Watson, Britain's top-ranked female tennis player, has been forced to withdraw from next week's Hobart International because of a right elbow injury.
Watson, who said she still hopes to play at the Australian Open in Melbourne beginning on Monday week, suffered the injury during her loss to Kiki Bertens in the second round of the Auckland Classic in New Zealand on Wednesday.
The world No 49 Watson said on Twitter: "I injured my elbow yesterday in my singles match, unfortunately I have to withdraw from Hobart... doing everything I can to get healthy."
Serena Williams will play the world No 1, Victoria Azarenka, in the semi-final of the Brisbane International, after she beat her US compatriot Sloan Stephens in the quarter-finals. Azarenka had no trouble in a 6-1, 6-0 win over the Kazakh qualifier Ksenia Pervak before Williams beat Stephens 6-4, 6-3 in a night match.