Murray confirms fitness by cruising past Cuevas

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The Independent Online

Ask most people to come up with famous Uruguayans and they might struggle to get past Enzo Francescoli, a former footballer who so inspired Zinedine Zidane that the French World Cup winner named his son after him. Pablo Cuevas, a 21-year-old tennis player, is unlikely to make it on to most lists of the South American country's most celebrated individuals, but it is a name that Andy Murray may remember with pleasure in years to come.

On the face of it Murray's 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Cuevas in the first round of the US Open here yesterday was no more than should have been expected of the No 19 seed. Cuevas is ranked No 129 in the world, had to qualify to play here and is not at his most comfortable on fast hard courts.

However, in the context of Murray's year - and perhaps even of his career - the 20-year-old Scot will be hoping his win over the Uruguayan marks a significant turning point. Murray's last six months have been dogged by physical problems and although this was not his first match back after his most serious injury, when he damaged tendons in his racket wrist in May, it was the first time he has played with anything like his normal freedom.

Murray began unleashing his forehands without pain for the first time in practice last week and the benefits of his recent visit to Roberto Forzoni, a sports psychologist, who helped ease the player's concerns about causing further damage to his wrist, were quickly evident on Grandstand Court.

Under the eye of the watching Forzoni, who flew here yesterday, the Scot pounded down a 129mph first serve on the very first point. In the second game his aggressive ground strokes produced an immediate break, which he celebrated with a roar of approval, and in the fifth he fired a running forehand winner which he said later was the first time he had put everything into a shot on that flank. His second win on the tour since Andy Roddick retired during their quarter-final at the Masters series tournament in Miami in March was duly secured after an hour and 43 minutes.

All Murray's usual trademarks were there – subtle drop shots, speed around the court and sudden variations of pace – and if he generally played with caution on his forehand that was understandable. Murray was particularly pleased with his first serve, which he was regularly hitting at 135mph.

Murray's pleasure at converting his second match point, when Cuevas netted a service return, was clear. He raised his arms in the direction of Brad Gilbert, his coach, threw his wristband and cap into the crowd and clenched both fists as he sat in his chair and drank in the significance of the win.

"It was great," Murray said. "When you don't play for such a long time, at an acceptable level, it's quite tough to stay positive. Although this was the first round, against an opponent that a lot of people won't know, that result meant so much to me – more than a lot of the results I had earlier in the year.

"I was nervous. I don't normally get nervous before matches, but I actually like it when I do. I think it's a good thing. It shows that you're up for the match. It shows that you care about it. I didn't know exactly how I was going to play today. There's a huge difference between playing well in practice and then going out in front of the cameras and the fans at a Grand Slam. It was difficult, but I dealt with it pretty well."

While Cuevas did not have the look of a player about to make any sort of breakthrough he had some big ground strokes and provided just the sort of test Murray needed. Nevertheless, his next opponent, Jonas Bjorkman, is likely to provide a bigger challenge on the evidence of the veteran Swede's straight-sets victory over Juan-Pablo Guzman.

Roger Federer made a smooth start to his pursuit of a fourth successive US Open title, beating the American qualifier Scoville Jenkins 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, but two other seeds were among the early fallers. Marcos Baghdatis was beaten 6-3, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 by Max Mirnyi, while Juan Carlos Ferrero went down 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to his fellow Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez.

Justine Henin, the top women's seed, dropped only three games in beating Germany's Julia Goerges, but Jelena Jankovic made a less impressive start. Although the No 3 seed beat Slovakia's Jarmila Gajdosova 6-2, 7-6 she did so with a curiously tentative display against an opponent whose heavily strapped left leg clearly restricted her movement.

"Today I was really nervous for some reason," said Jankovic, who now plays Olga Govortsova, of Belarus. "I wasn't playing well. I was struggling out there. I got tight at the end, but I managed to recuperate and finish the match."

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