World number one Andy Murray got his quest for a first Australian Open title underway with a hard fought victory over Illya Marchenko, 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-2, in the first round. The Brit will now face young Russian qualifier Andrey Rublev for a place in the third round.
Marchenko brought out his best aggressive tennis on the big stage, huge groundstrokes breaking through Murray's defense and making him work extremely hard in the opening two sets. The Brit managed to hold Marchenko off, surviving the onslaught of huge forehands to take control in the last crucial moments of each set. Marchenko's level eventually faded in the third after the disappointment of losing two tightly contested sets. Murray closed out the hard-fought opening round test after two hours and forty-seven minutes.
Battle for control
Murray began the match with a double fault but quickly corrected it with a big serve down the middle. A second double fault after an error from Marchenko leveled the pair at 30-30. Another error from the Ukrainian gave Murray a game point but the double faults kept coming and left them locked at deuce. An untimely forehand error from the Brit seen Marchenko earn an early break point that was easily taken with another error from the world number one. Marchenko had an equally slow start on serve as an error followed by a double fault gave Murray a lead on return. Excellent defending from the Brit brought up three break points and a forehand into the net from Marchenko handed Murray the break straight back. Both players began to find their range in the next game. Big groundstrokes from Marchenko troubled Murray but the Brit fired down two aces in a row to come through the game and lead 2-1.
Marchenko took his first point on serve with a forehand winner but another two double faults in a row took Murray into the lead on the return. Another unforced error from the Ukrainian gave the Brit two break points and a forehand wide secured Murray's third game in a row. The world number one consolidated his lead with an easy service hold giving him a 4-1 lead.
The Ukrainian was relying heavily on the short points to come through his service game. Murray was dominating the rallies but Marchenko managed to find a much better rhythm on serve to hold for the first time. A stunning half-volley from Marchenko on return impressed the Melbourne crowd but that was the only point he was allowed on the Murray serve as the Brit extended his lead to 5-2.
A mishit forehand from the Brit gave Marchenko the lead as Murray tried to serve out the opening set. Another incredible half-volley winner from the Ukrainian gave him a break back point but Murray closed down the net to quickly erase it. Marchenko wasn't giving up yet and a huge forehand down the line winner brought up a second break back point, following up with a backhand passing shot to bring the pair back on serve. Murray fired a backhand down the line to take a lead on the return but a forehand long brought them to 15-15. Marchenko hammered the ball around the court, battering his way through Murray's defense to go ahead on serve but a forehand into the net leveled the pair again. A forehand volley winner and an ace brought the Ukrainian through the hold and tied the set up at 5-5.
Murray fought his way through another service game to force Marchenko to serve to stay in the set for the third time. The Brit was refusing to miss in the crucial 30-30 point on the return, eventually drawing an error from Marchenko and bringing up a first set point. Another untimely error from the Ukrainian gave Murray the first set 7-5.
Murray steals the second
Murray cruised through a love hold to keep his momentum going into the second set with Marchenko following up with an impressive hold of his own. The Ukrainian continued pushing Murray back on serve with massive groundstrokes earning him a break point. Marchenko took the first break of the second set with a punishing backhand winner to lead 2-1.
The Ukrainian was full of confidence as he sailed through another hold to extend his lead. The world number one was made to work hard again on serve but battled through the game to stay one game away from Marchenko. The world number ninety-five survived some pressure on serve in the next game but continued his clean hitting to come through with another good hold.
A stunning forehand down the line from Marchenko gave him a 15-30 lead on return but big serving from the Brit gave him a game point. The Ukrainian easily put away a bizarre drop shot attempt from Murray to level the pair at deuce. A bad miss from Marchenko off a good second serve from Murray brought up another game point for the Brit but again he was brought back to deuce as his opponent dictated play. An ace brought up a third game point for the world number one. Marchenko easily dealt with some short forehands from Murray to extend the game again. An ace finally brought Murray out of the tense game, a crucial hold that kept him in touch.
Murray tried to fire himself up as Marchenko hit a reckless backhand wide to give the Brit a lead on the return. Two loose forehand errors from Murray handed the Ukrainian a 30-15 lead on serve. Two more errors, from Marchenko this time, left the Brit with a break point. Attacking play from Marchenko erased it but Murray fought for a second, taking it with another error from his opponent to level the set at 4-4. Murray held on in another tightly contested game to go into the lead late in the set.
The pressure was on Marchenko as he was serving to stay in the set, a couple of erratic errors giving Murray opportunities at 30-30. An error from Murray and a much more confident drive volley held off the danger and got Marchenko through the crucial hold. Another couple of loose shots from Murray gave Marchenko a break point opportunity but the Ukrainian quickly lost it with a backhand into the net. The world number one held on, taking the game point with his signature perfect lob to force Marchenko to serve to stay in the set for the second time.
Murray fired a forehand down the line return winner to take the lead on the return. A good serve and forehand put away from Marchenko leveled the pair up. Huge forehands from the Ukrainian brought him two game points and more brutal ball striking brought him through the game to send the pair into a tiebreak.
A forehand error from Murray gave Marchenko an immediate mini-break lead but it was given straight back with a bad backhand miss from the Ukrainian. Another error from the forehand of Marchenko gave Murray a mini-break lead this time as he began to take the ball earlier and step further into the court. The Brit extended his lead to 4-1 with a big serve and an error from Marchenko. The Ukrainian battled to hold on to his next point on serve but the second was lost with another bad forehand miss to give Murray a 5-2 lead. Outstanding initial defending from Murray wasn't enough to get him through the point as Marchenko fought for one of the mini-breaks back. The Brit then fired down an ace to bring up three set points. Two huge serves from the Ukrainian saved the first two but Murray took the third on his own serve with a scorching forehand forcing the error from Marchenko to secure a two-set lead.
Marchenko fades, Murray takes advantage
After a long bathroom break, Marchenko came back out to serve first in the third set. A quick hold with some impressive net play giving him an early lead. Murray came through a quick hold of his own and then took advantage of a dip in Marchenko's level to lead on return. The Brit took the first break of the third set with some great defense to lead 2-1.
Murray consolidated his lead easily, hammering down another ace to put the pressure back on Marchenko. The disappointment of losing two tight sets had clearly affected the world number ninety-five as his level plummeted, Murray staying solid to break the Ukrainian's serve again. Hopes of getting back into the match were racing away for Marchenko, although wowing the crowd with an incredible lob. Murray extended his lead to 5-1. One more good hold for the Ukrainian came too late as Murray kept his lead intact, serving out the match without trouble to secure the third set 6-2 and the hard fought win.