To the relief of Andy Murray's supporters, one Spanish surprise was enough at the Australian Open here last night. Marcel Granollers stepped into the Rod Laver Arena hoping to emulate the performance of his compatriot Carla Suarez Navarro, who had kicked off the evening session by knocking out Venus Williams, but never looked capable of stopping Murray reaching the third round.
The 21-year-old Scot won 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in less than two hours to earn a meeting with a familiar rival, Austria's Jürgen Melzer. Like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the three other players seeded to reach the semi-finals, Murray made the last 32 without dropping a set. Nadal, who took just 97 minutes to beat Croatia's Roko Karanusic 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, and Murray have each conceded only 11 games, though the British No 1 had the advantage of Andrei Pavel's second-set retirement in the first round.
Williams, fancied by many to win her first title here, was expected to enjoy a similarly comfortable passage into the third round but her opponent played the match of her life to win 2-6, 6-3, 7-5. Suarez Navarro, 20, the world No 46, had lost in the second round of her two other tournaments this year to Anne Keothavong and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova but surprised Williams with the boldness of her play.
The American, who had seemed on course for a semi-final showdown with her sister Serena, led 4-1 in the deciding set and had a match point, but made too many errors. "I wasn't in control of the points," she said. "She kept getting the first shot and I was playing defensively. I'm definitely used to dictating the points a little bit more. She played some really good tennis. She was super consistent and aggressive and just went for her shots."
Granollers chose an equally attacking approach against Murray. Unlike many of his fellow countrymen, the Spaniard likes to get into the net, but all too often he was scrambling around the court in a vain attempt to chase down lobs, drop shots and cross-court passes.
Murray rarely looked in trouble. Indeed, it sometimes looked too comfortable for the world No 4, who occasionally lost concentration. He made more unforced errors than Granollers (31 to 27) but cracked twice as many winners (37 to 18).
The world No 51's only spell of success came in the first set after he had been broken to love in the third game. Granollers broke back immediately as Murray played a sloppy sequence of points after leading 40-0, held for 3-2 and won the first two points of the Scot's next service game.
Murray, however, won the next four points and then broke again, acrobatically chasing down an overhead shot to hit a backhand winner down the line on break point. After serving out to take the first set, Murray took command of the second and third with early breaks of serve.
"I felt like I hit the ball much better today," he said. "There were a few too many dips in concentration, but when I got my feet moving and had my mind on the point, I thought I hit the ball well. I got better as the match went on. Apart from the game where I got broken from 40-0 up, I didn't give him too many chances on my serve."
Murray enjoyed the boisterous atmosphere of a night session in which the conditions were very different both to his first match, which was played in searing heat and dazzling sunshine, and to earlier yesterday. In the middle of an oppressively humid day under heavy skies the temperature soared to 36C, yet by the time Murray's match started it was down to a pleasant 19C and the fierce wind had been replaced by a gentle breeze.
Murray's next opponent, Melzer, overcame Andreas Beck 5-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3 in nearly three and a half hours. Murray beat Melzer in their three meetings last year, but each match was tight. At the US Open the world No 32, an aggressive left-hander, won the first two sets and was within two points of victory before Murray launched a remarkable comeback.
"Melzer is very tough if he plays well," Murray said. "He always starts off the matches very aggressively, so I need to make sure that I'm switched on at the beginning."
According to Melzer, Murray's position as pre-tournament favourite is justified. "At the moment he's the best player in the world," he said.
Federer and Djokovic have expressed surprise and irritation at the interest in Murray, who said last night that he found "quite big contradictions" in their views. "They say there's a lot of pressure on them, but when people say they're not the favourites, they want to be the favourites," he said. "And by saying they're the favourites, they're putting more pressure back on themselves. I don't really understand the whole thing.
"I think I've played well enough in the last six or seven months to be in that group of players. Whether I'm the favourite or not, I don't know. Like I said at the start of the tournament, Federer and Nadal have the most experience and probably merit being favourites, but there's a reason why people think I have a chance to win here. I've played very well over the last few months and won against them."