Andy Murray has fallen at the first hurdle at the Australian Open on two occasions in the past, but there was rarely any danger of that happening here today.
Karol Beck, the 23-year-old Scot’s first-round opponent, retired with an injury to his right shoulder midway through the third set, but by that stage Murray was leading 6-3, 6-1, 4-2 and apparently coasting to victory.
Beck, a 28-year-old Slovakian, has won only one match at tour level since October 2009 and on this evidence you could see why. The world No 101 made far too many unforced errors – 43 to Murray’s 17 – and never looked capable of hurting last year’s runner-up. His frequent insistence on attacking Murray’s backhand, which is one of the best strokes in the game, was baffling.
After starting cautiously, Murray looked in decent shape, though the world No 5 was never unduly extended. Whenever he upped his game he had Beck in trouble. Murray now meets Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko, the world No 79, who beat Spain’s Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.
Murray’s opening match was played in the Hisense Arena, which is the second show court here at Melbourne Park, in front of a large crowd, which included a few pockets of vociferous Scottish supporters. Some were wearing kilts, which was a brave effort on another chilly and generally overcast day.
Beck began promisingly enough, winning an entertaining first point with a clever volley after retrieving a drop shot, but Murray held serve and went on to break in the next game after the Slovakian put a backhand long after a lengthy rally. Having made the break, Murray was content to serve out for the set. At 5-3 he created his first set point with a backhand cross-court winner, which he converted when Beck missed another backhand.
Murray had played within himself in the first set, but he started to open his shoulders at the start of the second. A lengthy first game ended with Murray breaking serve after playing an excellent point. Beck had taken the initiative with a big forehand into the corner, but Murray appeared to surprise the world No 101 with the quality of his backhand return.
At 3-1 Murray broke again, winning the game with a splendid forehand winner down the line. Two games later Murray’s confidence was such that he played chip-and-charge on the Beck serve. The Scot broke for a third time to take the set, cracking a big forehand winner after putting his opponent on the back foot with a cracking backhand return.
Beck sent for the trainer after the third game of the third set and took a medical time-out for treatment to his right shoulder. After the next game, ironically enough, he forced his only break points of the match, but was denied by a big forehand and two service winners. Murray then broke to lead 4-2, at which point Beck decided he had taken enough punishment.
Although Murray dropped only six games, that was more than any of the top three seeds have conceded so far. On the first day Roger Federer, the No 2 seed, beat Lukas Lacko 6-1, 6-1, 6-3, while Novak Djokovic, the No 3 seed, beat Marcel Granollers 6-1, 6-3, 6-1.
Rafael Nadal went even better today, although the top seed was helped by the knee injury which forced his opponent, Marcos Daniel, to retire after 11 games. When the Brazilian quit Nadal was leading 6-0, 5-0. He now plays the American Ryan Sweeting, who beat Spain’s Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-4, 6-4, 6-1.
Daniel won just four points in the first set, which took only 19 minutes. A trainer came on court to tape up his left knee at the end of the set, after which the world No 93 lasted only five more games.
When Daniel forced a break point in the second game of the second set he raised both arms in celebration, to big cheers from the crowd. At 0-5, however, the Brazilian quit. While Nadal had 25 winners to his name, Daniel had failed to hit one.
The world No 1, who is aiming to join Don Budge and Rod Laver as the only men to hold all four Grand Slam titles, sympathised with his opponent, having had to retire with a knee injury of his own 12 months ago in losing to Murray in the quarter-finals here.
“It's a terrible feeling, for sure, and I wish him all the best for a fast recovery,” Nadal said after the match. “Last year was a really difficult time when I played this tournament. I came back here playing well, but to go out like that was hard mentally. Finally, I had a very good season in 2010.
“I came back after a difficult situation. Winning Roland Garros was very important. It allowed me to play the rest of the season with a little bit more calm.”
Daniel thinks he may have cartilage damage. “It was a disaster,” he said. “I felt pain two days ago and didn't practise, but I felt it again at the start of the match. If you are not 100 percent against the top guys it's impossible. I was a bit embarrassed and I wanted to fight, but he was just putting the ball left and right and I had no chance. I felt like I was 75 years old.”
Today’s win was Nadal’s 22nd in a row in Grand Slam tournaments following his subsequent triumphs last year at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, where his victory put him among an elite group of seven men who have won all four major titles. Nadal, Federer and Andre Agassi are the only three players who have won Grand Slam titles on three different surfaces, the Australian and US Opens having been played on grass when Budge, Laver, Fred Perry and Roy Emerson completed their clean sweeps.
Bernard Tomic, who is a potential third-round opponent for Nadal, beat France’s Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-2, 7-6. Tomic, 18, is Australia’s best prospect, but he remains a controversial figure, with some critics believing he is given preferential treatment by the authorities here. He did not play in Tennis Australia’s wild card play-offs but was still handed a wild card after his impressive run in Sydney last week, where he won three qualifying matches against higher-ranked opponents to reach the main draw.