Andy Murray has returned to winning ways in Dubai.
The former World No. 1 was made to work hard for victory on his first appearance at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships since his title run in 2017, coming through a tough first-round clash with qualifier Christopher O’Connell on Monday.
A wayward Murray fell behind in his first meeting with the World No. 158 but kept his composure to run out a 6-7(4), 6-3, 7-5 winner in two hours and 51 minutes.
“I enjoyed the result,” said Murray after the match. “[But] what went on in the middle, not so easy.
I was very frustrated early on in the match, couldn’t quite find my game and he was dictating a lot of the rallies. I managed to serve a bit better as the match went on which helped me a lot, and I just managed to tough it out in the end.”
A cagey first set looked to be going the Australian’s way when forehand errors from the Scot helped him break for 5-4, but the Scot reacted immediately for a break of his own. The Australian stayed solid to take the tie-break 7/4, however, Murray growing frustrated with another unforced error on set point.
O’Connell has enjoyed his time in the Middle East, also qualifying for the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha last week, and Murray was forced to up his level to get himself back into the match. He did so immediately, breaking in the first game of the second set and levelling the match with a second break.
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A deciding set of small margins saw Murray save four break points under pressure when serving at 4-4, and the World No. 89 saved his best for the end as a superbly controlled backhand winner brought up three match points on the O’Connell serve. The Brit converted the second to seal victory, with both players having hit 31 winners in an engrossing encounter.
Murray will look to secure his 700th career win in the second round in Dubai, where his opponent will be either World No. 43 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina or fourth seed Jannik Sinner, and the Brit feels he is in good shape to challenge once again in Dubai.
“I still feel like I can compete at the highest level,” said Murray. “It’s not easy, physically it’s very challenging for me, but winning matches like that is obviously very satisfying.”
The 2014 US Open champion Cilic is a two-time quarter-finalist in Dubai but despite serving 17 aces was unable to grind down the World No. 123, Vesely breaking once in each set to level the pair’s ATP Head2Head series at 1-1.