When Andy Murray took 32 minutes to win his first two games it seemed that the world No 4 might be in for a long opening day at the Barclays Dubai Championships here last night. To the Scot's relief, however, Russia's Igor Kunitsyn failed to build on his promising start and after another 69 minutes Murray had booked his place in the second round by winning 6-2, 6-3.
Murray, who now meets Andreas Seppi or Janko Tipsarevic, was playing his first match since losing to Roger Federer in the final of the Australian Open three weeks ago. Having spent 10 days resting after the year's first Grand Slam tournament, Murray says he has not come here with any great expectations.
Kunitsyn, the world No 111, failed to take two break points in the opening game, but that was nothing compared with what was to follow. The second featured 14 deuces and lasted nearly 25 minutes before Murray converted his ninth break point when Kunitsyn hit a forehand long.
Murray appeared to hurt his knee early in the game and frequently bent over in discomfort between points during it, but he soon started moving more freely and eventually took control. The Scot broke again at 5-2 to take the first set in 58 minutes.
Kunitsyn, who has slid down the rankings from a career-high position of No 35 last July after suffering shoulder problems, briefly raised hopes by breaking in the opening game of the second set, Murray serving a double-fault at 30-40. Murray broke back immediately, however, and did so again in the sixth game before serving out for victory.
Murray is seeded to meet Novak Djokovic in the final. It has been a quiet start to the year for the 22-year-old Serb, though the world No 2 is hoping to make a noise here this week. Djokovic has won 16 titles but has yet to make a successful defence of a crown. He hopes to do so here and got his campaign off to a decent start with a workmanlike first-round victory over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Djokovic, who beat the 26-year-old Spaniard 6-4, 6-4, did not play a warm-up event before last month's Australian Open, where he was knocked out by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals, and reached the semi-finals on his only other tournament appearance this year, losing to Mikhail Youzhny in Rotterdam earlier this month.
Given that he finished the 2009 season exhausted after playing 97 matches, more than anyone else on the men's tour, it is no surprise that Djokovic wants to pace himself this time around and he is ready for a busy period. Having played indoors in Rotterdam, Djokovic has switched to outdoors here, will play on an indoor clay court in the Davis Cup the weekend after next and then returns to outdoor hard courts for the Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami in March.
Although Djokovic made a slow start, Garcia-Lopez rarely looked capable of troubling the Serb for long. The world No 47, who needed treatment on his left knee midway through the second set, is more at home on clay and has now lost all five matches he has played this year. Djokovic now plays his fellow countryman, Viktor Troicki.
Meanwhile, the Association of Tennis Professionals has announced a five-and-a-half-year sponsorship deal with Corona Extra, a Mexican beer, believed to be worth around $70m (about £45.2m). The men's tennis tour has been looking for a major sponsor since its deal with Mercedes-Benz ended two years ago.
*Ana Ivanovic has appointed a new coach. Heinz Gunthardt, who used to work with Steffi Graf, will start his new job next week.