Andy Murray’s preparation for the Australian Open got off to a disappointing start on Tuesday with a straight-set loss to Sebastian Korda in what could have been his only match before the first major of the year.
An unlucky first-set tiebreak for Murray proved decisive against top-flight opponent the 22-year-old American at Adelaide International 1. More worrying is how this match – his first of the season – could affect his performance in Melbourne this month.
Murray will not play again until the Australian Open starts on January 16 and, with the exception of Tuesday and a few exhibition matches last month, has not played in competition since the Paris Masters in October.
While a 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 loss to Korda wasn’t a disastrous performance, just two hours on court won’t be the ideal preparation he envisioned for Melbourne, where grueling five-set tennis awaits in the sweltering Australian summer.
Pre-tournament performance isn’t always the key to a major, as Murray, 35, knows well enough. Last year, at Down Under, he reached the final at the Sydney Tennis Classic, but was knocked out of the Australian Open in the second round a week later by Taro Daniel. The only time he reached a final last season was in Stuttgart, where he suffered an abdominal injury that prevented him from playing at Wimbledon.
Finding the balance between too many and too few Grand Slam matches is often a challenge for Murray’s injury-ravaged body. But beyond his physical condition, there are other reasons to avoid first-round losses, and that is to achieve the long-held goal of getting into the main seed.
Despite having moved up the rankings over the last 18 months, they are still out of the world’s 49th seed with a sub-par score by 2022. Winning the early rounds of tournaments like Adelaide is vital to earning ranking points and an advantage closer to being taken top 32 positions. Deficiencies in this area have held him back in recent years.
Murray hasn’t made it past the third round of an overseas major since the 2017 French Open before injuring his hip, and – without the Melbourne seed – the draw could be nasty again.
Even in Adelaide, Korda was a tough first round draw. He is ranked 33rd and defeated Murray in the quarterfinals in Gijon in three sets last October. He has an athletic game with a big serve but had to show nerve of steel against former world No. 1 Murray on Tuesday.
Bold play saw Murray fight back against a slump in the opening match, but after he scored the first point in overtime, the momentum turned in favor of Korda. It was really bad luck, as Murray’s winner on the cross – which was called by the linesman – could have given him a mini-break, leading 2-0 and well on his way to winning the first set. Instead, the point was replayed with Korda hitting two aces in a row before continuing, scoring the longest base exchange of the game to take a 3-1 lead. Murray was unable to challenge him again, and Korda served a set before taking the match calmly.
There were classic Murray points throughout, from defensive lobs to his brilliant reactions at the net, and he looked to be at a high level of fitness. That was a cause for concern at the end of last season, and Murray’s three-week training session in Florida with Ivan Lendl in late 2022 seems to have done the trick.
However, the Brit No. 4 did not serve well enough, hitting just 52 percent of his first serve, taking only one of his five break points and being too passive at times. There is room for improvement, but – unless he asks for a wild card in next week’s tournament – he will not be able to put those improvements into practice on the match court.
Earlier on Tuesday, Novak Djokovic won his first singles match on Australian soil since his dramatic deportation last year. He defeated Constant Lestienne of France in straight sets to advance to the round of 16 in Adelaide where he will face fellow Frenchman Quentin Halys.
When is the Australian Open?
The tournament will start at Melbourne Park on Monday 16 January and end on Sunday 29 January.
When is the Australian Open draw?
The draw will take place on Thursday, January 12.
Australian Open men’s singles main draw entry list
Australian Open Women’s Singles Main Draw entry list
How to watch Australian Open 2023 on TV
In the UK, Eurosport has the rights to broadcast live from Melbourne. In the US, the tournament is broadcast by ESPN.
What’s the latest news?
All eyes will be on Novak Djokovic as he returns to the tournament. The 21-time grand winner was deported by the government last year after entering the country on a visa he claimed entitled him to an exemption from Covid vaccination.
He was banned from returning for three years, but Australia has since lifted the requirement for visitors to show proof of vaccination status, and the new government confirmed last month that Djokovic could legally re-enter the country.
“Now my focus is here on Adelaide, try to do well in this tournament,” Djokovic told reporters after he outclassed Constant Lestienne in his first singles match since returning to Australia at the Adelaide International.
“Of course Melbourne, a grand slam, is different…so many players, both on the women’s and men’s sides.
“I will also be there the week before my first match as usual, training, getting used to the differences in conditions and speed of the court… we’ll see. I hope to be well received. “
How much is the Australian Open prize money?
The total prize pool of the Australian Open is $76.5 million, up 3.4 percent from 2022. Each of the singles champions will take home $2.975 million, or just over £2.47 million.
Who are the defending champions?
Ashleigh Barty defeated Danielle Collins to end a 44-year drought in her homeland by winning the women’s title in 2022.
Rafael Nadal fought from straight sets to beat Daniil Medvedev to win his 21st Grand Slam title.
What are the latest odds?
Novak Djokovic 11/0
Carlos Alcaraz 11/2
Daniil Medvedev 7/1
Nick Kyrgios 10/1
Rafael Nadal 12/1
Iga Świątek 13/8
Ons Jabeur 12/1
Carolina Garcia 12/1
Aryny Sabalenki 12/1
Emma Raducan 33/1
Rates correct as of January 2