Andy Murray saw off the bright challenge of the exciting young Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in Brisbane to resume his title-winning ways, then interrupted his celebrations to spare a thought for his close friend, Ross Hutchins, who announced on Sunday he has cancer.
Murray was moved near to tears during the post-match interview. Although this tournament was an important build-up to the Australian Open, which starts next weekend – and he showed encouraging improvement on his recent form – Murray's thoughts were with Hutchins who, 12,000 miles away, simultaneously announced on Twitter: "Unfortunately I will be away from tennis for a while as I was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma."
Declining to identify Hutchins by name, Murray said, "I'd like to dedicate this victory to one of my best friends. Thank you very much. He's back home watching and … you're going to get through."
Hutchins, 27, who has played Davis Cup with Murray and is rated 28 in the world in doubles, added: "I am doing well, very positive with excellent medical support, friends and family around me. Looking forward to being back on the court soon!" Last year Murray repeatedly raised his arms to the skies after matches in recognition of the private health problems of another unidentified friend.
Hutchins received messages of support from people across the spectrum of tennis, including Murray's former coach, Brad Gilbert, who tweeted: "This is an opponent I am sure you can beat. Keep up the positive mojo, like you do on the court. Stay tough!"
Roger Draper, the Lawn Tennis Association's chief executive, said: "Everyone in British Tennis is behind Ross. He is a true ambassador for the sport both on and off the court and I have no doubt he will overcome this setback."
Murray shook off his recent inconsistency to beat Dimitrov 7-6, 6-4 in Brisbane although he dropped serve in each set. He clinched the match with a sublime top-spun forehand that Dimitrov could not handle.
The 21-year-old Dimitrov is the youngest player in the world top 50 (at 48) and the first Bulgarian to reach an ATP Tour final. He left his French coach Patrick Mouratoglou in November to remodel a game that had shown such promise four years ago, when he won Wimbledon and US junior titles and was considered the aesthetic heir to Roger Federer, with his one-handed backhand and all-court flair.
Dimitrov arrived in Australia a rejuvenated prospect after six weeks in the dark of midwinter in Sweden with the Good to Great Tennis Academy, run by the former touring pros Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillstrom.
"Everyone will agree he played some extremely exciting tennis," Murray said. "It was a very tough match. He's just changed coaches, started with a new team, so congratulations to them. I'm sure they're going to do great things together."
Murray's own coach, Ivan Lendl, will be pleased enough with the Scot's tennis a week before the Australian Open, as he found more consistency than in Doha, where he went out in the first round, and during his occasional struggles in Brisbane.
The world No3 will probably start second favourite behind the defending champion, Novak Djokovic, in Melbourne and ahead of the world No2, Federer, who has not played competitively since November. All three will appreciate the absence of Rafael Nadal, still recovering from the knee problems that have kept him out of tennis since he lost in the second round of Wimbledon to Lukas Rosol. He returns to the tour in Acapulco next month.
In his place, however, the young players who have been making progress outside the leading pack – Dimitrov and the temperamental Australian Bernard Tomic, as well as Canada's Milos Raonic – are sure to make an impact. Tomic, whose subtle gifts mirror those of Dimitrov, beat a below-par Djokovic in the Hopman Cup in Perth last week and may finally have shrugged off his youthful angst after a series of embarrassing episodes away from tennis.
Murray stressed how much his own winter training will come into play in Melbourne, where temperatures are likely again to hit the Fahrenheit century mark. Last year he built on winning the Brisbane International with an impressive run in the season's first major, losing a magnificent semi-final to Djokovic, who went on to beat Nadal in the final.
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image: © Ian Dick