If neither his five-set fracas with Stefanos Tsitsipas at the US Open nor his three-set dismissal of Spanish upstart Carlos Alcaraz in Indian Wells last year were enough to convince you that Andy Murray, metal hip and all, still has the stuff to compete for big-stage trophies, his run last week at the Sydney Tennis Classic surely did the trick.
The 34-year-old Scotsman, after all, proved that he can still go corner to corner with the sport’s elite, flashing the kind of form that landed him three major singles titles in his prime. Ranked No. 113, Murray scored a pair of Top-25 wins, even blunting American Reilly Opelka’s serve, in reaching his first tour-level final in more than two years.
“I’ve put so much work and effort into getting back into these positions and to be competing for tournaments again,” said the former No. 1, who fell short against Russian Aslan Karatsev in the title match, 3-6, 3-6. “I have had a lot of issues and gone through a lot to get back here.”
“It’s a huge comeback from him to play at this level after what he has been through,” echoed Karatsev.
Murray hopes to carry that momentum into his much-anticipated return to the Australian Open, where he’s played some of the best tennis of his career. The five-time finalist (2010-11, 2013, 2015-16) has grown accustomed to early-round challenges of late, and the AO will be no exception. The wild card has drawn a familiar foe in Indian Wells runner-up Nikoloz Basilashvili in the opening round. Murray rallied from a set down to defeat the heavy-hitting Georgian just days ago en route to the Sydney final, and also prevailed in four sets in the first round at Wimbledon last year. Both victories were hard-earned.
“It’s a tough, tough draw,” said Murray, currently mentored by Basilashvili’s former coach Jan De Witt. “I would expect another difficult one. He’s a huge hitter of the ball. Hits the ball very clean from both sides and takes a lot of risks. I need to go out and play another top match to win against him in Melbourne.
“He’s not an easy guy to play against, because he can hit winners from all over the court. Not easy to prepare for that.”
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Murray recently sang the praises of another player who has come within a match of the title in Melbourne Park, 2021 finalist Daniil Medvedev, signalling the Russian as just the kind of player who can break up the prolonged dominance of the Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
“It’s nice to hear these words from somebody like Andy, such a champion,” said the World No. 2, who was outplayed by Djokovic in last year’s AO final, but later avenged the loss in claiming his first Grand Slam title at the US Open.
“We all know that the Big Three are getting older, yet they are still winning a lot of Slams. Every tournament that they’re in, they are the favourites… It’s always like this when somebody big is quitting the sport or is starting to not be as good. They’re always saying, ‘Who’s next? There is no one coming.’ Yet there is always somebody to come.”
Like Murray, Medvedev will open his 2022 Australian Open campaign on Tuesday when he faces 91st-ranked Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland. They’ve met just once before, with Medvedev claiming a Davis Cup clash, 7-6(8), 6-7(6), 6-2, in 2019.
“I’m feeling ready physically and mentally,” said the 25-year-old. “That’s the most important thing. That’s when I can play good and I know I can beat anybody.”
Medvedev’s countryman Andrey Rublev, the fifth seed, is in for a first-time meeting with Italian Gianluca Mager, while fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas finds himself matched with longtime friend and occasional practice partner Mikael Ymer in Melbourne for the second straight year. The 23-year-old Greek, who made his first big splash at the Australian Open in 2019, stunning Roger Federer and becoming the youngest Grand Slam semi-finalist (20) since 2007, is 2-0 in his ATP Head2Head against the Swede.
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Fresh off Canada’s triumphant run to the ATP Cup title, where he banked wins over Alexander Zverev, Cameron Norrie and Roberto Bautista Agut, Felix Auger-Aliassime will go up against 90th-ranked Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland.
The atmosphere is sure to be lively when home favourite Nick Kyrgios takes the court against qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain.
Also on the busy Day 2 schedule are eighth seed Casper Ruud (vs. Alex Molcan of Russia), 11th seed Jannik Sinner (vs. lucky loser Joao Sousa of Portugal), 13th seed Diego Schwartzman (vs. Filip Kajinovic of Serbia), 20th seed Taylor Fritz (vs. Maximilian Marterer of Germany), 22nd seed John Isner (vs. Maxime Cressy of the United States), and 26th seed Grigor Dimitrov (vs. Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic).