Andy Murray rolled back the years to defeat 13th seed Matteo Berrettini in a five-set epic at the Australian Open on Tuesday, on a sweltering day that saw play suspended for three hours on most courts.
There was controversy off the court meanwhile on day two after organisers banned Russian and Belarusian flags at Melbourne Park.
Novak Djokovic is set to make his eagerly anticipated return to the Grand Slam later Tuesday following his ban and deportation last year.
But the day looked set to belong to the 35-year-old Murray, after the Briton saved match point to defeat Italy’s Berrettini 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7/9), 7-6 (10/6) in 4hrs 49mins under a closed roof on Rod Laver Arena due to the extreme heat.
“I will be feeling this this evening and tomorrow,” the former world number one, who plays with a metal hip after career-saving surgery, said.
“But right now unbelievably happy and proud of myself.
“I’ve put a lot of work into the last few months with my team to give me this opportunity to perform in stadiums like this, in matches like this and against players like Matteo — and it paid off tonight.”
“I did well to get through,” added the three-time major winner, who faces either Fabio Fognini or Thanasi Kokkinakis in round two.
Also in the men’s draw, Russia’s fifth seed Andrey Rublev ended the tournament of 2020 finalist Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit) temperatures.
Former US Open champion Thiem was outplayed as he continued his return from a wrist injury which kept him off court for nine months across the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
As the mercury rose, the heat forced play to be halted on outside courts. The roofs were closed on the three main stadiums — Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and John Cain Arena.
Play resumed on the outside courts about three hours later.
Like in the women’s draw, the men’s seeds were mostly untroubled.
Britain’s Dan Evans, Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov and Diego Schwartzman of Argentina all rolled into round two.
Eighth-seeded Taylor Fritz of the United States defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili from Georgia 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
Serbia’s Djokovic was deported on the eve of last year’s Australian Open because of his stance on Covid vaccines.
But the 35-year-old will be back when he faces Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain in his opener and looks likely to be given a warm reception by the Rod Laver Arena crowd.
He is bidding to win the Australian Open for a record-extending 10th time and in doing so tie defending champion Rafael Nadal’s men’s all-time record of 22 Grand Slam crowns.
– Russian flag ban –
Tennis Australia banned Russian and Belarusian flags after a complaint from the Ukrainian ambassador to Australia.
The red, white and blue stripes of Russia were seen Monday during at least two matches, with Ukrainian fans reportedly calling security and police to the stands.
“The ban is effective immediately,” said Tennis Australia.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian players have normally competed under a neutral flag as independents, as is the case at the Australian Open.
Moscow called the ban “unacceptable politicisation of sports”.
– ‘Stay calm’ –
In the women’s draw, Caroline Garcia and Aryna Sabalenka — fourth and fifth seeds respectively — both swept into the second round.
France’s Garcia took just 65 minutes to overwhelm Canadian qualifier Katherine Sebov 6-3, 6-0 and cement her status as a contender for the first Grand Slam of the year.
Sabalenka beat the Czech Republic’s Tereza Martincova 6-1, 6-4.
“I have to work on my mindset and stay calm and not get too upset when I make mistakes,” said the Belarusian Sabalenka. “I really believe this is the only thing missing in my game.”
The 26th seed Elise Mertens was another winner. The Belgian outlasted Spain’s former Melbourne finalist Garbine Muguruza, who was cramping before losing 3-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-1.
Tunisia’s second seed Ons Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, starts her bid for a breakthrough maiden Grand Slam with a test against Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek.