Andy Murray shook off some rust and overcame big returns from Mikhail Kukushkin for a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 win at the Brisbane International yesterday in his first singles match since late November.
Top seed Murray lost the first four games, before he rallied to beat Kazakhstan’s Kukushkin and advance to the second round.
Defending Australian Open women’s champion Kim Clijsters had a closer call in the last match on center court, coming back from 3-0 down in the third set to beat Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
Ivanovic won nine of 10 games after dropping the first set. After wasting a break-point chance in the fourth game of the third set, Ivanovic lost the next six games as Clijsters regained control to advance to the quarter-finals.
Murray had not played a singles match since he withdrew from the season-ending World Tour Finals in London with an injured groin. He announced over the weekend that he had hired eight-time Grand Slam winner Ivan Lendl as a coach in a bid to break his drought at the majors. They will have a lot to work on judging by Murray’s performance.
He dropped serve in the first and third games of the match, but managed to come back and was serving to go up 6-5 when he did not attempt to return a ground-stroke that kissed the baseline. Murray called for a review, which showed the ball was good.
The No. 91-ranked Kukushkin also won the next two points to break again and hold for the set.
Murray hobbled at times and clutched at his right leg, which was taped below the knee, but scrambled well enough to chase down a drop shot and send a passing shot down the line to convert a break-point chance for a 3-1 lead in the second set.
From then, he was always in front, with Kukushkin becoming more errant as he pushed harder on his ground-strokes.
In other men’s first-round matches, fifth seed Kei Nishikori of Japan beat Germany’s Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 and sixth seed Radek Stepanek, a former Brisbane International champion, beat Australian Matthew Ebden 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
In other women’s matches, second seed Andrea Petkovic of Germany advanced to the quarter-finals with a 7-6 (7/2), 6-0 win over Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic.
Joining Petkovic in the last eight will be 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy, who beat Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan 6-4, 6-4, and Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova, who beat qualifier Vania King of the US 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
In the women’s doubles, Nina Bratchikova and Kristina Mladenovic defeated Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Voskoboeva 5-7, 6-3 (10/4).
Additional reporting by staff writer