Andy Murray shook off some rust and overcame big returns from Mikhail Kukushkin for a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 win at the Brisbane International Tuesday night in his first singles match since late November.
The top-seeded Murray lost the first four games before he rallied to beat Kazakhstan’s Kukushkin and advance to the second round.
Defending Australian Open women’s champion Kim Clijsters had a closer call in the last match on center court, coming back from 3-0 down in the third set to beat Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
Ivanovic won nine of 10 games after dropping the first set. After wasting a break-point chance in the fourth game of the third set, Ivanovic lost the next six games as Clijsters regained control to advance to the quarterfinals.
Murray hadn’t played a singles match since he withdrew from the season-ending World Tour Finals at London with an injured groin. He announced over the weekend that he’d hired eight-time Grand Slam winner Ivan Lendl as a coach in a bid to break his drought at the majors.
No British man has won a Grand Slam singles title since Fred Perry in 1936, and Murray has been runner-up three times — losing the last two Australian Open finals.
Lendl is expected to join Murray ahead of the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 16 in Melbourne.
They’ll have a lot to work on judging by Murray’s season-opening performance.
He dropped serve in the first and third games of the match, but managed to come back and was serving to go up 6-5 when he didn’t attempt to return a ground stroke that kissed the baseline.
Murray called for a review, which showed the ball was good. The No. 91-ranked Kukushkin also won the next two points to break serve again and hold for the set.
Murray hobbled at times and clutched at his right leg, which was taped below the knee, but scrambled well enough to chase down a drop shot and send a passing shot down the line to convert a break-point chance for a 3-1 lead in the second.
From then, he was always in front, with Kukushkin becoming more errant as he pushed harder on his ground strokes.
The 24-year-old Scot had enough energy to leap high and punch the air to celebrate the win.
“He was hitting winners from all over the place. I was a little bit slow, I didn’t expect him to come out swinging like that in the first match of the year,” Murray said. “You have to be mentally ready from the start, and I wasn’t quite there today.
“So I need to improve on that for the next round. I played better toward the end. I started to move a bit better, my body loosened up a little bit — hopefully I’ll pull up OK tomorrow.”
Murray will play Gilles Muller of Luxembourg on Wednesday night. He said the back and leg soreness which slowed him down against Kukushkin were normal for him at the start of the season and he was confident of regaining full fitness before the Australian Open.
In other men’s first-round matches, fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan beat Germany’s Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 and sixth-seeded Radek Stepanek, a former Brisbane International champion, beat Australian Matthew Ebden 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Clijsters extended her head-to-head dominance over former French Open champion Ivanovic to 5-0, although there were some tense moments.
“I think Ana really turned it around in the second set,” said Clijsters, who won the title here in 2010 in her only previous trip to the Brisbane tournament. “I just had to let it happen, even thought I was down, I was able to turn it around.
“I tried to think of what I was doing well in that first set and focus on each shot. It worked.”
Clijsters will next meet the winner of Wednesday’s second-round match between U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur and Iveta Benesova.
In other women’s matches, second-seeded Andrea Petkovic of Germany advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-6 (2), 6-0 win over Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic.
Joining Petkovic in the last eight will be 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy, who beat Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan 6-4, 6-4, and Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova, who beat American qualifier Vania King 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.