Stroll for Murray as Pavel retires injured

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The Independent Online

In the end it was little more than a gentle work-out, but with the temperature heading towards a scorching 40C Andy Murray hardly looked disappointed when Andrei Pavel retired after only 45 minutes of their first-round encounter at the Australian Open here today.

Pavel, suffering a recurrence of the back injury that had kept him off the court for the previous 11 months, called a halt to the match and his career with Murray leading 6-2, 3-1.

"I would have liked to have been on court a bit longer," Murray admitted afterwards. "But if you want to do well in the tournament, it's good to conserve some energy as well. Hopefully that was a good thing."

Pavel had not played since last February, but his back had improved sufficiently for him to plan a farewell tour of this year’s Grand Slam events before making his final bow at his home tournament in Bucharest in September. Those plans were in tatters as early as the 34-year-old Romanian’s second service game. "I just felt it again really bad," he said of his vertebra injury. "From then on, it just got tighter and tighter. I couldn't go any further."

Will he now retire? "I think so. I don't want to try it again. I don't want to damage my health just in order to play another tournament. I guess I’ve played in enough tournaments."

Murray, who expressed sympathy for his opponent, was asked whether he had ever finished anyone else’s career. "Yes, actually. I beat Neville Godwin in a Challenger in Manchester," he said. "That was the last match he ever played."

In the circumstances it was no surprise that today’s match was barely a contest. From 2-2 Murray won seven of the last eight games and never appeared in any sort of trouble. It was a total contrast to the 21-year-old Scot’s last appearance here 12 months ago, when he was beaten in the first round by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the eventual runner-up.

While Murray might have preferred some more demanding match practice, he has had plenty of time on court already this year, having won the Qatar Open in Doha, and at least this gave him the chance to sample the conditions in the biggest arena at Melbourne Park.

On some days there are barely more than a few hundred spectators in Rod Laver Arena for the start of the day’s play, but it was testimony to the growing interest in Murray that the main show court was two-thirds full when the Scot opened proceedings at 11 a.m.

Even at that stage the temperature was soaring rapidly and Murray found the conditions testing. "It was pretty windy on the court," he said. "Both of us mistimed quite a lot of balls. Also, from one of the ends the sun was bang in your eyes when you served. There were a few things you had to deal with out there."

Murray will now play Spain’s Marcel Granollers, a four-sets winner over the Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili. How will the Scot prepare for his next match? "Similarly to how I prepared for this one. I'll probably practise maybe a bit longer tomorrow than I did yesterday. I think it's meant to be a bit cooler. Maybe hit for an hour and a half, two hours, get a lot of fluid in me, eat a lot, just try and relax, watch some of the tennis, not spend too much time here."

Murray, the pre-tournament favourite, was asked whether he felt a greater weight of expectation on his shoulders than at Wimbledon. "I think once the tournament starts it's exactly the same," he said. "Obviously the support I get at Wimbledon is awesome. This is the first time I've been to a Grand Slam outside of Wimbledon where I've had a lot of media attention, so it was kind of similar. But it doesn't really make a huge difference once you start the tournament."

The world No 4 said his recent victories over the three players above him in the rankings, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, had helped his confidence. "Now when I go out on the court against them I feel like I can win against them on a regular basis, which wasn't necessarily the case in the past. I'd lost to Nadal five times in a row. At the start I lost to Djokovic four times in a row. So I think it's helped me."

Pavel is among those who believe Murray is a strong contender for the title here. "He’s on the top of his game," he said. "I think everybody has great expectations from him. He can handle that, but you still have to go match by match. There are so many good players out there. It only takes one bad day and you can be out.

"He's a great player - a great, great player. I think he's going to do really, really well. I think this might be his year. He’s already started by beating Federer and Roddick in Doha, so why not go all the way here?"