Murray’s 6-3, 6-2 win set up a clash with second seed Casper Ruud for a quarter-final berth. The former No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings was due to face former World No. 4 Kei Nishikori for the 12th time before the Japanese player withdrew due to a lower back injury hours before the match.
“I’d practised with Denis a few times but I don’t think we’d ever played a match before so it’s not easy,” Murray said in his on-court interview. “[I tried] to ask around a few of the players to get a few tips on what his strengths are, his weaknesses, but it’s not easy for him.
“He was on his way to LA in the car when he found out. It’s not like he’s hanging around here so obviously, a great effort for him to come back and play.”
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The 34-year-old continued to build on his recent run of form, having defeated Ugo Humbert and Vasek Pospisil to reach his first tour-level quarter-final in two years at the Moselle Open last week. He fell in Metz to eventual champion Hubert Hurkacz for the second time in six weeks.
Murray improved to 9-8 for the season with his win over Kudla, the No.94 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. He claimed 63 per cent of first-serve points and converted three of his four break points.
“I think first and foremost it’s great to be on the court healthy and competing week after week for the first time since 2017. It’s been a long time,” Murray said. “I’m starting to feel better with each match. The ranking is not the No. 1 priority, but I’ve had some tough draws in the last few months.
“Obviously if your ranking gets high enough you can start to get seeded in events and you avoid that. I want to try and win to push my ranking up to give myself a better chance of having a deep run in some of the major tournaments again.”
The British wild card – currently at World No. 109 – played a fine return game to land his first break for 5-3 and took the set at the 32-minute mark. It was vintage Murray when he rolled a backhand lob winner to bring up break point in the opening game of the second but Kudla saved it with an ace on his way to the hold.
Murray did not have to wait long to take control of the second set however, as he broke for 3-2 and put the foot down to secure a love break for a 5-2 lead. Victory came at the 70-minute mark on his ninth ace.
Sixth seed Diego Schwartzman followed Murray into the second round, following his 6-2, 6-3 victory over Italian qualifier Federico Gaio. The Argentine won 74 per cent of first-serve points and claimed 64 per cent of return points on Gaio’s second serve. Schwartzman will next meet Lloyd Harris for a place in the quarter-finals after the South African rebounded to beat American qualifier Christopher Eubanks 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.