Dubai | Murray and Djokovic make successful returns

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Five matches were played on the opening day of the Duty Free Tennis Championships, an ATP 500 tournament on thee hardcourts of the Aviation Club in Dubai with the final two on the day’s schedule of most interest to the packed crowd around the main show court as it involved two of their former champions, namely Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.

I still feel that I can compete at the highest level – it’s not easy obviously. Physically, it’s very challenging for me but winning matches like that is very satisfying Andy Murray

First up was the Brit playing the DFTC for the first time since winning the title in 2017, up against a determined Aussie qualifier, Christopher O’Connell who was able to make life difficult for the former world No.1 as Murray had to recover from a tight first set loss to progress into round two 6-7(4) 6-3 7-5.

The victory will have been a huge relief coming a week after suffering one of the worst defeats of his career, winning just one game against Roberto Bautista Agut in Doha last week.

“I enjoyed the result,” the Scot said on court following his win. “What went on in the middle was not so easy [to enjoy].

“I was very frustrated early on in the match; I couldn’t quite find my game and he was dictating quite a lot of the rallies. I started to(get) a little bit better as the match went on, which helped me a lot. I just managed to tough it out in the end.”

It is now customary for him to be asked how long, at the age of 34, will he continue playing bearing in mind the time he has had off following hip surgery and his struggles to get back to the level which earned him three grand slam titles and two Olympic Gold medals.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of ex-players that say keep playing as long as you can because nothing will replace it,” he replied on this occasion.

“Obviously, some have regretted maybe stopping a little bit too soon. I still feel that I can compete at the highest level – it’s not easy obviously. Physically, it’s very challenging for me but winning matches like that is very satisfying.”

The Scot, currently ranked 89, was extremely frustrated in the opening set, throwing his racket around as O’Connell, ranked 158, passed him easily to raise two break points at 4-4 in the opening set.

Murray saved the first, but the racket flew again as his forehand on the second, sailed wide to hand his opponent the break.

He recovered that break in the next game and forced it into the tie break and again, the racket was thrown when he conceded the mini-break he held and then allowing O’Connell to stride away with the first set after 68-minutes.

A break to love at the beginning of the second improved Murray’s mood and he dropped just five points on serve on his way to levelling the match.

And in the decider, Murray had to dig deep to get out of trouble at 4-4 saving four break points in a 13-minute game in which some incredible shot-making was witnessed, including a stunning lunging reach to pass O’Connell down the line which brought the crowd to its feet in appreciation.

In the next game, Murray’s aggressive returns on the O’Connell serve brought up three match points. And, after two-hours and 50-minutes, he converted the second to face either Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina or the world No 10 Jannik Sinner of Italy, the fourth seed, in the second for a place in the quarter-finals.

Novak Djokovic has a comfortable victory

Francois Nel/Getty Images

Having enjoyed a gruelling match, the spectators had the pleasure of seeing the current world No.1, make his playing debut on the 2022 ATP Tour and he did it in style, a reminder to all and sundry that while he hasn’t played since the ATP Finals in Turin last November, he hasn’t lost his touch.

And he couldn’t have had a more comfortable start defeating Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti, a wild card entry, 6-3 6-3 to put the Australian deportation debacle hopefully well behind him.

The five-time DFTC champion certainly received a warm welcome as he strode on court where he showed little signs of lack of match play requiring just 74-minutes to record his win over the 19-year-old Musetti.

After the match he made a lot of the welcome he had received.

“I couldn’t ask for a better reception. It’s been a while since I played the last match — I couldn’t pick a better place to kick-start the season.”

“It was the best possible experience tonight and thank you very much for your support and welcoming me on the court the way you did.”

The Serbian came out firing breaking his opponent in the fourth game of the first set to take a 3-1 lead and then displayed typical resilience in the next game, saving three break points before going on to wrap up the first set.

Djokovic broke Musetti once again at the start of the second set to take firm control of the match before breaking the teenager for a second time to seal a dominant win.

His next opponent will either be Russia’s Karen Khachanov or the Aussie No1, Alex de Minaur, nicknamed ‘The Demon’ by his compatriots!

Earlier in the day, two qualifiers made their mark with strong wins, namely the Czech Jiri Vesely who defeated Croatia’s Marin Cilic 6-4 7-6(3) and Japan’s Taro Daniel, who took out Belgium’s David Goffin 6-3 7-6(3). Finally, Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic battled his way past the Tunisian wild card Malek Jaziri 6-7(4) 6-2 6-4.

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