As Andy Murray said on the eve of this tournament, some people like Dubai and some do not. Murray says he enjoys visiting the emirate's sights, but yesterday the 24-year-old Scot struggled once again at the Dubai Duty Free Championships. Having been unwell on two of his previous appearances, Murray again felt under the weather but he gritted his teeth to close out a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 first-round victory over Germany's Michael Berrer.
There were times when the world No 4's negative body language was like the Murray of old rather than the highly focused player we saw at last month's Australian Open, but he explained afterwards that he had felt sick, particularly in the early stages. Murray, playing his first match since Melbourne, thought it might have been because he had drunk too much before the match. After limiting his intake of fluids at the changeovers, he said he felt much better by the end.
For the second time in the last nine months, nevertheless, Murray had reason to be grateful that Berrer was on the other side of the net. In the third round of last year's French Open the Scot suffered a nasty injury to his ankle early in the second set but beat the 31-year-old comfortably. Berrer said at the time that he had felt sorry for Murray and should have shown less mercy.
The world No 116 had his chances again yesterday but once more failed to finish off a below-par Murray. At 6ft 4in and nearly 16st, Berrer looks more like a lock forward than a tennis player, but he is a gentle giant.
"He's one of the nicest guys on the tour," Murray said. "Sometimes you need more of a ruthless streak."
Murray ought to enjoy playing here – the conditions, with the balls flying through the dry air off a fast hard court, are to his liking – but he has never gone beyond the quarter-finals. "Most of the years I've come here I've never felt that well," he said.
Three years ago the Scot had to pull out after the second round because of food poisoning and was so unwell that he was unable to play in a Davis Cup tie against Ukraine the following week. At the time there were fears that he had glandular fever.
Murray played his best tennis yesterday in the first set and a half, when he was feeling at his worst. Despite being broken in the opening game, the Scot was soon leading 4-2 and served out for the first set in 38 minutes. When he broke to lead 3-2 in the second, having dropped one point in his previous four service games, he seemed to be coasting, but Berrer broke twice to level.
There were four successive breaks of serve at the start of the decider. With Murray looking worn out after some of the longer points and Berrer attacking purposefully, there were times when the Scot looked on the brink. However, he showed typical determination to see out the win.
Murray, who last week invited Berrer to play doubles with him here, said: "I think he's better than maybe he thinks he is. A lot of times when I've spoken to him in practice he'll kind of apologise for something. He's a very, very good player. He's been in the top 50 in the world and he likes the quick conditions."
Switzerland's Marco Chiudinelli, who sprang a surprise by beating Nikolay Davydenko 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, will be Murray's next opponent. Chiudinelli is probably best known for being one of Roger Federer's closest friends, having been one of 39 guests at the former world No 1's wedding three years ago. Currently No 185 in the world, he has never been in the top 50 and has never won a title on the main tour.
Ivan Lendl, Murray's coach, is playing in a Champions Tour event in Florida this week – he was due to meet Carlos Moya in last night's final ("I don't have high hopes for him," Murray said) – but the two men have been in regular contact.
"I'll let him know that there are things I was concerned about, things I want to improve on," Murray said. "You can't look at the first match in four weeks and over-analyse it. You've just got to take it for what it is. There was some good stuff in there. There was some not so good stuff. I'll need to get better."
Federer got his tournament off to a good start, crushing France's Michael Llodra 6-0, 7-6. Llodra, who had lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the final in Marseilles 48 hours earlier, won just seven points in losing the first set in only 17 minutes.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who lost to Del Potro in Saturday's semi-finals in France, had similarly little time to prepare for his match against Marcos Baghdatis. Having arrived the previous evening, the Frenchman had one 30-minute practice session but still beat the Cypriot 7-6, 6-4.