Dubai tennis: Murray wins gruelling opening battle, Cilic stunned

Murray beat Australian qualifier Christopher O’Connell in a dramatic three-set battle

Andy Murray of Britain reacts after winning his ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships match against Christopher O'Connell of Australia. (AFP)
Andy Murray of Britain reacts after winning his ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships match against Christopher O'Connell of Australia. (AFP)

Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Mon 21 Feb 2022, 10:48 PM

Last updated: Mon 21 Feb 2022, 11:07 PM

Defying a creaking body, Andy Murray enthralled a near-capacity crowd to kick-start the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on an unforgettable Monday evening.

Knackered by two career-threatening hip surgeries, Murray is now a pale shadow of the player that won three Grand Slam singles titles and became the only man in history to clinch two Olympic golds in the era of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

But on Monday, Murray, 34, fought back from a set down against Christopher O’Connell, the 27-year-old Australian qualifier, to clinch a grueling three-set battle 6-7 (4/7) 6-3 7-5.

From smashing his racquet in a frustrating first set littered with unforced errors to conjuring some majestic points in the second and third, the British icon sent the Centre Court crowd on an exhilarating emotional roller coaster.

The demons were back to haunt him in the ninth game of the decider. But he exorcised those demons with an unflinching spirit, saving four break points, the second of which with a jaw-dropping drop shot, to keep himself alive in the slugfest.

Murray then brought the crowd to its feet in the 12th game by breaking the Australian’s spirit and serve with some scorching returns, clinching the match in two hours and 51 minutes.

“I was very frustrated early on in the match. I didn’t quite find my game and he was dictating a lot of rallies. But I managed to serve a little bit better as the match went on which helped me a lot,” Murray, who has entered the Dubai tournament on a wildcard, told the TV presenter during the post-match on-court interview.

A return to Grand Slam-winning form may seem impossible for the 2017 Dubai champion, but Murray says he will continue to play tennis as long as he can.

“I have spoken to a lot of ex-players. A lot of them asked me to keep playing. Some of them maybe regret stopping it a little bit too soon. So, yeah, I feel I can still compete at the highest level. It’s not easy, obviously, physically it’s very challenging for me. But winning matches like these is obviously very satisfying,” said Murray after his 699th career win.

Jaziri bows out

Crowd favourite Malek Jaziri of Tunisia bowed out of the championships after an engrossing three-set battle against Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.

Wild card Jaziri, 38, rolled back the years with some fantastic shot-making from the baseline to win a close first set before the Serb fought back for a 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 6-4 victory in two hours and 18 minutes on the Centre Court.

“We all know that Malek is an amazing player. He was a top 40 player. I had practiced with him so many times, he knows these conditions so well,” the 29-year-old Krajinovic said of Jaziri who reached the Dubai semifinals in 2018.

“I cannot say that I am happy with my performance, but I am happy that I am in the second round. I like to play here in Dubai. I have so many fans here,” added Krajinovic who would face the winner of the match between defending champion and seventh seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia and Mackenzie McDonald of the US in the second round.

Earlier, Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely pulled off the first big upset of the championships with a straight set victory over former US Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia.

The 28-year-old Vesely beat Cilic 6-4 7-6 (7-3) in the first round clash.

Having come through the qualifying stages with two back-to-back three set matches, Vesely dominated the 2014 US Open champion as he won the first set with a single break of serve.

Cilic fought back in the second set when Vesely served for the match at 5-4, breaking the Czech before forcing a tie-break.

But Vesely, the world number 123, held his nerve in the tie-break to complete a well-deserved victory against the world number 24.



Singles first round

(WC) Andy Murray (GRB) beat (Q) Christopher O’Connell (AUS) 6-7 (4/7) 6-3 7-5

(Q) Jiri Vesely (CZE) beat Marin Cilic (CRO) 6-4 7-6 (7/3)

Filip Krajinovic (SRB) beat (WC) Malek Jaziri (TUN) 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 6-4

(Q) Taro Daniel (JPN) beat David Goffin (BEL) 6-3 7-6 (7-5)

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