PERTH: World number two Andy Murray blew away his training court cobwebs with a season-opening demolition of Frenchman Kenny de Schepper at the mixed teams Hopman Cup yesterday. Murray said his form in practice since arriving in Australia had been poor, but the dual Grand Slam winner looked in sparkling touch ahead of this month’s Australian Open as he dismantled the 148th-ranked de Schepper in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2, in under an hour.
That gave Great Britain the early advantage in its tie with France, but the ledger was squared when Caroline Garcia overcame a gritty Heath Watson to win in three sets, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, in the women’s singles. The Brits then clinched the tie in a match tiebreak in a closely-fought doubles decider, 6-2, 5-7, 10-6.
Murray, 28, had barely played since guiding Great Britain to a drought-breaking Davis Cup win in November, and was pleased to have found form so quickly in the new year.
“I played well and everything was working pretty good,” he said. “I hadn’t been playing well in practice at all, I had been really struggling. “It’s irrelevant really if I play like that in matches.” Earlier, women’s world number one Serena Williams suffered an early season injury setback as she withdrew from the United States’ opening tie with inflammation in her knee.
Her withdrawal helped the Ukraine pairing of Elina Svitolina and Alexandr Dolgopolov record a 2-1 win over the USA. Williams was replaced by American youngster Vicky Duval, on the comeback trail after being diagnosed with cancer in 2014, and the 20-year-old was no match for the world number 19.
The first set was competitive but Svitolina cruised past the tiring Duval 6-4, 6-1. Dolgopolov then secured the tie with a comfortable 6-4, 6-2 win over a disappointing Jack Sock. In the dead mixed doubles rubber, the US pair gained some consolation by winning 6-2, 6-3.
‘TIME TO HEAL’
Williams, 34, was scheduled to play Svitolina in the women’s singles to open the tie, but withdrew minutes before the start, saying she had pulled up sore after a training session earlier in the day.
The match at the mixed-teams tournament would have launched Williams’s preparations for her title defence at the Australian Open in Melbourne later this month.
Williams, who has won 21 Grand Slam singles titles, sat out the tail-end of last season saying she needed “time to heal” after narrowly missing out on a rare calendar-year Grand Slam.
Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, conceded Williams’s knees were troubling her in November. But the player said she hoped to be fit to play in the United States’ second tie against Australia Gold, one of two teams representing the hosts, on Tuesday evening. “I’m disappointed to not take the court in Perth today,” Williams said. “I had every intention to play this morning.
“Unfortunately due to inflammation in my knee I need to rest and am confident to be out there against Aussie Gold tomorrow evening.” Williams won her sixth Australian Open last January and was on target for the coveted calendar-year Grand Slam until she suffered a shock loss to Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals at the US Open in September. Duval only returned to tennis in August after overcoming Hodgkin’s lymphoma and has a career high ranking of 87. – AFP