The weather was more Dunblane than Doha, which may explain why Andy Murray looked so at home in the second round of the Qatar Open yesterday. Playing his first tournament of the season, the 19-year-old Scot was much too good for Belgium's Christophe Rochus, winning 6-1, 6-3.
At 5ft 7in, Rochus is one of the tour's smallest players and has to outsmart opponents. The world No 78's game is not dissimilar to Murray's both, for example, are fine exponents of the drop shot but the Briton never looked in danger of being outwitted.
Murray won, moreover, despite his heavy cold. "I'm maybe only 80 to 85 per cent fit and still have a persistent cough," he said. "I haven't been feeling that well for the last four days, though I felt better today."
Nevertheless, the world No 17 looked in good shape as he prepares for the Australian Open, which begins in Melbourne on Monday week. Under overcast and windswept skies and with the temperature dropping to a chilly 14C, Murray broke serve at the first opportunity and won the first set in less than half an hour. He made a similar start to the second set, led 4-1 and then suffered his one blip of the day, playing a poor service game to give Rochus his only break. Normal service was quickly resumed, however, and Murray took the match with his fifth break of serve.
"The first set was easy and I played very well," Murray said. "In the second set the wind started to come a little bit and it was more difficult, but I still played well. I definitely served better today. I still know I must take one match at a time. Everyone is a little rusty because this is the first tournament of the year."
Murray will start boosting his ranking points if he gets beyond today's quarter-finals, although Max Mirnyi, 29, could provide sturdy opposition. "The Beast" is 6ft 5in and weighs more than 14st. His singles ranking is No 59, but he is No 3 in doubles.
Last month Murray trained alongside Mirnyi at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida, where the Belarussian is a long-standing resident. Murray won in straight sets at Nottingham last year in their only meeting.
In the evening yesterday Murray teamed up with his brother, Jamie, against the Poles, Mariusz Frystenberg and Marcin Matkowski, the No 4 seeds. The British pair, who beat Marcos Baghdatis and Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round, saved a match point before winning 6-4, 2-6, 11-9 (champions' tie-break).
Novak Djokovic, the top seed in the Adelaide International, moved into the quarter-finals, dropping only three games against Australia's Alun Jones, while there was more bad news for home fans at the Hopman Cup in Perth. Mark Philippoussis suffered a torn knee cartilage and will miss the Australian Open.
Meanwhile Roger Federer, a short-priced favourite to be one of the last players to leave Melbourne, was one of the first to arrive at the venue. The world No 1, who has been training in Dubai, checked in yesterday and headed straight for the practice court.
Sharapova on £15m a year at 19
The earning power of the teenager Maria Sharapova continues to expand, with the US Open champion's latest endorsement conquests being the sports drink Gatorade and fruit juice maker Tropicana.
The 19-year-old, who is warming up for the Australian Open at an exhibition event in Hong Kong this week, after finishing second to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the 2006 rankings, signed a "lifetime" deal with racket and sports clothes company Prince last year for $25m (£12.7m). She is thought to earn $30m a year from endorsements, appearance fees and prize-money.Reuse content