Andy Murray did little more than he had to in reaching the third round of the Australian Open with a workmanlike 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win in an hour and 41 minutes over the outclassed young Portuguese Joao Sousa in heat that would have tested a camel.
"For the past five years I've prepared for this tournament in Miami, where it's very hot, so I was ready for this heat," Murray said. He served to a high level, with 14 aces and 80% success on his first serve. His second serve brought him a respectable 66% return but his work at the net was flawless as he volleyed nine clear winners from as many visits. He couldn't ask for much more.
The Scot's next match is a first-time encounter with the 22-year-old Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, whose earlier straight sets win over the 25th seed Florian Mayer in marginally cooler conditions was something of a minor surprise. Although Murray knows him well – "I practised with him a couple of weeks ago" – they have never met competitively. So another foray into uncharted waters for Murray, against the son of a taxi driver and post office worker from Vilnius.
Berankis took a mere hour and 17 minutes to beat Mayer 2, 3 and 1, his fifth straight win in Melbourne after coming through the qualifying rounds. Murray will no doubt also remember the former junior world No 1 (they both won the US Open boys' title, three years apart) as a member of the Lithuanian Davis Cup team who embarrassed Great Britain in Murray's absence in 2010, when he beat Dan Evans and James Ward.
Berankis, regarded as his little country's best ever player, has, however, slipped from a career-high ranking of 73 at the start of the year to 110.
On Thursday's showing Murray should not be delayed long when they meet on Saturday, most probably during the day, although certainly not in such searing heat. Rarely troubled, he played well within himself, moved with ease and struck the ball cleanly.
The thin clouds gave way to the full force of the sun over the HiSense Arena as Murray and Sousa warmed up (literally), and those fans who could retreated to the shaded seats. Where it mattered, the action was hot and Sousa, knowing he would have to catch Murray on a particularly poor day to have any chance, needed a borderline ace to save in the very first game.
A double fault and netted forehand from deep betrayed the Sousa's nerves as he gave up serve in the third game; Murray, one of the fittest players on the Tour and usually not bothered about extended rallies against lesser players, was none the less glad of the gift, aware that there would be stiffer challenges to come.
The four Murrayites who'd entertained the Rod Laver Arena during his first-round stroll were there again, clapping and singing in their white-vest uniforms like refugees from a glee club, and the mood in the sweltering crowd, subdued as it was, was with the Scot.
A blistering Murray backhand down the line on his way to a 3-1 lead drew the first proper burst of life from the slumbering spectators.
Sousa had neither the power nor the patience to build a point and wore the look of a bewildered guest as he fell three games behind after 20 minutes, with little prospect that his predicament was going to ease.
Murray wrapped up the first set in 31 minutes of routine dominance and there can have been only one person in the arena who did not share the sentiment that this was a kill best done with merciful speed.
A tournament assessor sat in front of the press seats and, whatever marks he awarded the ball-kids or officials, he might have give Sousa nine out of 10 for pride and perspiration. However, a sublime crosscourt backhand that ebbed past his stretched racket at the net must have drained a good deal of his spirit at the start of the second, and he dropped serve for the fourth time.
The rankings gap between the world No 3 and his prey was 97 places, but it might as well have been a thousand, and Murray was in no mood to ease up on a day better spent indoors than out.
The slaughter abated when Sousa held to love for 1-4 and Murray had to fight through deuce twice to hold, but it was no more than a hiccup and he moved to 5-1 with his fifth ace. After an hour and four minutes he had two sets in his pocket and a good deal of sweat on his brow, but looked well content.
The third set detained him a further 37 minutes and his level dipped only briefly. He is in excellent shape.
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image: © Ian Dick