Barring an early hiccup, Andy Murray’s first round in Dubai was a fairly smooth success over Tunisian Malek Jaziri, who started well but could not sustain his level and later said he suffered from dizzy spells during the match on Tuesday.
Murray, competing in the Dubai tournament for the first time since 2015, needed just 79 minutes to skip past the 51st-ranked Jaziri 6-4, 6-1 and set up a second round with Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
“The second set was obviously a bit easier. First set, especially the beginning, was tough. You know, first match is never easy, and playing someone who – you know, he goes for it and he takes chances,” said the world No1.
“So a little bit uneasy. I have never hit with him or played against him before. It took a little bit of time to get used to his game. But I played better as the match went on. The only thing I didn’t do well was the first serve. I didn’t hit my first serve that well. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe first match under the lights, haven’t practiced in those conditions since I have been here. The second serve was very good. The rest went well.”
Jaziri had the better start, putting pressure on the Murray serve and breaking first on a lucky net cord for a 2-1 lead.
Murray fired a backhand down-the-line winner to get a break point in the following game and Jaziri’s advantage did not last long as he mis-hit a forehand to let his opponent draw level.
The pair were neck and neck until Murray found an opening in game 10, getting a set point on the Jaziri serve and hitting a forehand down-the-line winner to take a one-set lead.
Down 0-40 on his own serve at 1-2, Jaziri halted play to seek medical assistance then got broken immediately upon resumption of play.
Jaziri’s level dropped significantly and he had to fight off three more break points in game six. It was not enough though and he sent a wild forehand wide to get broken again as Murray opened up a 5-1 gap.
Murray got his first match point with a smooth forehand winner that painted the sideline and he sealed the deal on another error from the Tunisian.
“I’ve had like five nosebleeds since I arrived to Dubai, I don’t know why,” Jaziri, who played in Marseille last week, said after the match.
“I was feeling good on Monday, and I was playing well in the beginning today but then I don’t know what happened at 5-4. I was feeling dizzy. I was going to call the doctor before that game but then I said maybe I’ll keep moving and it will pass. But then I was feeling worse. I was feeling a dizzy and had a headache all the way to the back of my neck. He played a good match, he made me move a lot.”
Murray, 29, said he did not notice anything wrong with Jaziri until he briefly stopped the match.
The Scot said he’s happy with how his own body feels, and that he seems to have fully recovered from a bout of shingles.
Murray is 2-1 head-to-head against his next opponent, Garcia-Lopez, who won their most recent meeting in Indian Wells in 2012.
“I don’t know exactly how many times we have played. I just remember I lost to him once in Indian Wells, you know, when I was feeling great, from what I remember,” recalls Murray.
‘The practice week before I was playing like some of the best tennis I had ever played, and then I went out there in the evening and really, really struggled. He killed me. I think it was like 3 and 2, or I remember it being a pretty easy match for him. I will need to be ready for that one, and I hope I play a good one.”
Fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych was the last to make it through into the second round when his fellow Czech Lukas Rosol retired while down in the second set with a knee injury.
The tennis audience is typically quite a sophisticated bunch – they know when to applaud, when to be quiet, when to yell their ‘vamoses’ and ‘allez’ and when to stay put.
But there is one particular moment when all protocol and etiquette jumps out the window and that is when a player takes off his shirt to put on a dry one. Whistles and screams immediately ensue no matter where the tournament is taking place.
Dubai is no exception and when Murray changed his shirt on Tuesday during a visit by the physio to his opponent Malek Jaziri, the crowd erupted.
I asked Murray what goes through his mind when that happens.
“Yeah, it doesn’t happen that often,” he said with a self-deprecating smile.
“I mean, it’s obviously happened pretty much every time, you know, any player does it. You know, the crowd find it amusing, and so long as they’re entertained, that’s the most important thing. But it’s a bit embarrassing for the players.”
“Pull down your pants”
The world No1 was in a humorous mood after his win over Jaziri on Tuesday night and he shared with us how he found out he had shingles earlier this month. It involves him pulling down his pants in front of his mother-in-law.
“Well, like I had a little bit of a rash basically like on my bum ’round to kind of my stomach, and it wasn’t, like, terrible. But then, you know, normally like if you have like a little bit of a rash and you scratch it, it feels better. But with that, it was, like, really, really painful,” he said of the illness.
“I didn’t think much of it at the beginning, and then it was actually my wife’s mum, we were having dinner, and I was, like ‘this is really irritating’.
“She was, like, ‘Pull your pants down, show me. It might be shingles,” the Scot added as the room burst into laughter. “I was, like, ‘Okay’.
“Then the next day got a doctor, and she was right. Yeah, I think her son Scott had had it, so she had seen it before.
“It’s quite strange, because it comes in like an arc and it doesn’t go past like the center of your body. It stays on one side. I kind of like knew when I read about it, I was like, actually, Yeah, it clearly is that. And the doctor confirmed it the next day.”
I’m happy to report that the rash is now gone, according to Murray.
This time last year, Pouille was ranked No88 in the world and needed to play in the qualifying rounds before he reached fell in his main draw opener to Vasek Pospisil.
Today, the 23-year-old Frenchman is ranked No15 and seeded No7 in the Dubai tournament after a stellar 2016 saw him rocket up the standings.
“Well, I guess it’s going to be like this for a few months,” Pouille said with a smile.
“I mean, I hope so, for a few years. It’s good. It means I had a good year. I had a lot of victories and all this stuff. Yeah, obviously I’m very happy to come back here this year.”
Pouille had to deal with a quick turnaround between his final appearance in Marseille on Sunday and his first round in Dubai on Tuesday afternoon.
He lost to Tsonga in an all-French final in the south of France, then both finalists attended a football game between Olympique Marseille and Paris Saint-German together that evening before Pouille took a flight to Dubai and landed Monday night.
“It was a good week (in Marseille). I arrived yesterday around 8:30 or 9:00, so couldn’t get used to the conditions, but, yeah, today I think I was solid enough to win. I’m very happy with the win,” said Pouille, who next faces Romanian qualifier Marius Copil.
Pouille, a Dubai resident, spent time practicing with Roger Federer here in the Emirates during the offseason but suffered a foot injury early in the year that saw him retire from his second match in Brisbane and crash out of the Australian Open in the first round.
“Well, we always learn, but obviously it was not easy to get injured second match of the year after good preparation,” said Pouille, who added that he’s feeling fit now.
“I tried my best. I mean, we tried our best with my team to get ready for Australia. It was not possible.
“But now we did all we have to be ready here and for rest of the season. I’m very happy.”