Andy Murray's ring-rustiness was clear as he laboured to a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Mikhail Kukushkin in his first match of the year yesterday, but the world No 4 admitted afterwards: "I'm hoping I'm not going to play my best tennis this week."
Murray, who will aim to peak at the Australian Open beginning in 12 days' time, was particularly sluggish at the start of his opening match at the Brisbane International. He was broken in his first two service games, trailed 3-0 and appeared to be suffering from a variety of aches and pains. Nevertheless, the Scot was playing much better by the end, while Kukushkin, a 24-year-old from Kazakhstan ranked No 91, was unable to sustain his flying start.
"He started very quickly and I was half a step slow," Murray admitted afterwards. "I wasn't getting to the balls like I would have liked to, but I managed to turn it round well. I started to play better at the end of the second set. I was getting into more long rallies and exchanges and by the third set he was starting to make more mistakes."
As for his physical state, Murray admitted his body had felt sore. "It takes time getting used to playing competitive tennis again," he said. "I've had a few little niggles the last couple of weeks that will be gone by the Australian Open. I just need to play through them just now and hopefully feel better. It's just from the work you do in the off-season. You put your body through quite a pounding."
Murray, who plays Luxembourg's Gilles Muller in the second round today, is the only top 10 player competing in Brisbane. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are playing in the Qatar Open in Doha, while Novak Djokovic will not play before heading for Melbourne. The only event in which the world No 1 appeared was last week's exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi, where he defeated Federer and David Ferrer.
As for Murray, the Scot has changed his preparations despite having reached the Australian Open final for the last two years after playing in the Hopman Cup team event in Perth. After Brisbane he will link up with his new coach, Ivan Lendl, in Melbourne next week.
"If I had lost today it probably wouldn't have been ideal, but you can still play Kooyong or Sydney – there are all sorts of different ways of preparing," Murray said. "I'm hoping I'm not going to play my best tennis this week. That wasn't the plan. But I would like to get through matches like today and play my way into the tournament. Hopefully by the end of the week I will start playing well."
Murray's mother, Judy, is in Auckland in her capacity as Britain's new Fed Cup captain. She has named Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, Heather Watson and Laura Robson in her team for the Europe Africa Zone Group One matches in Israel from 1-4 February.