- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

MELBOURNE, Australia | Andy Murray’s first win at Rod Laver Arena was a little low key.

The 21-year-old Scot, carrying the hopes of a British public looking for its first male Grand Slam champion since 1936, was leading Andrei Pavel 6-2, 3-1, 15-0 in the Australian Open when the Romanian retired with a back injury.

The fourth-seeded Murray, who lost last year’s U.S. Open final to Roger Federer, didn’t mind getting off the court as the midday temperatures topped 99 degrees Tuesday (Monday EST), day two of the first major of the year.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever won a match on here,” he said. “You don’t want to win a match like that. Andrei’s been having trouble with his back for a year.”

Murray was installed as the favorite or joint favorite for the tournament by British bookmakers after beating Federer three times since losing the U.S. Open final — his best run at a major to date.

“I’m aiming to go one better here, and I need all the support I can get,” he said, noting the number of Scottish flags unfurled around the stadium. “It’s nice. Hopefully they’ll keep coming throughout the tournament.”

Murray defended his Qatar Open title before coming to Melbourne but said it was still difficult getting used to the Australian summer.

The relentless sun had players seeking shelter in whatever shade they could find between points.

Murray, who worked hard in an offseason conditioning program that has added seven pounds of muscle to his lean frame, was sharp from the start, exerting pressure with virtually every shot.

Pavel managed to keep pace for the first four games before his feet betrayed him at the same time his back was letting him down. He was twice called for foot-faults as Murray broke him for a 3-2 lead while running off the last five games of the first set.

Pavel had a quick massage on his lower back during the changeover, held serve and lost 13 of the next 14 points.

Federer commenced his quest for a 14th major to equal Pete Sampras’ record with a 6-1, 7-6 (4), 7-5 first-round win over 35th-ranked Andreas Seppi of Italy that finished after midnight.

It was a difficult opener considering Seppi is only just outside the top 32 players who are seeded for the tournament.

Federer had mononucleosis this time last year, and that dogged him for months.

“I wasn’t fit. I had hardly played any matches, had any practice,” he said. “This year I had much more preparation, and I feel I know where my game’s at.”

Second-seeded Serena Williams, the reigning U.S. Open champion and winner each odd year at Melbourne Park since 2003, faces Yuan Meng of China on Tuesday.

Sixth-seeded Venus Williams, who won her fifth Wimbledon title and finished off 2008 by winning the season-ending tour championship, goes against Angelique Kerber of Germany.

Fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva, unbeaten in 10 matches this year and winner of the Beijing Olympic gold medal, plays Kristina Barrois.

Rafael Nadal starts his second consecutive major as the top seed in a night match against Christophe Rochus of Belgium, about the same time No. 9 James Blake is due to play Canada’s Frank Dancevic.

Blake and Andy Roddick are leading the American charge.

Mardy Fish also advanced, but six other Americans made first-round exits: Robby Ginepri, John Isner, Robert Kendrick, Bobby Reynolds, Sam Querrey and Taylor Dent.

Dent, returning from three back operations for his first major since 2006, lost to fellow American Amer Delic in five sets.

Other men advancing were No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro and No. 10 David Nalbandian of Argentina, No. 11 David Ferrer, No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka, 2005 champion Marat Safin, 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis and 16-year-old Australian Bernard Tomic.

Third-seeded Dinara Safina and No. 7 Vera Zvonareva of Russia, No. 11 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, No. 15 Alize Cornet of France, No. 16 Marion Bartoli and No. 19 Daniela Hantuchova were among the women advancing.

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