Andy Murray celebrates his win over Christopher O'Connell at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Andy Murray celebrates his win over Christopher O'Connell at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

In what was a blustery and sometimes cloudy day at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday, it was former world No. 1 and three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray who weathered the storm and progress intact to the second round — just.

Feisty Australian Christopher O’Connell certainly played his part in a thriller on Centre Court that lasted almost three hours before going down 6-7, 6-3, 7-5.

Murray cut a frustrated figure as he lost his way in the middle of the match — repeatedly throwing his racket to the floor and screaming at himself in disgust as he coughed up needless points. But it was a different story as a magical shot down the line after a long rally against an opponent ranked No. 158 in the world brought up three match points — and Murray held his hands aloft and graciously accepted the adulation of a packed Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.

The Scotsman, now ranked No. 89 in the world after his recovery from an operation to resurface his hip, has struggled of late and came into Dubai off a 6-0, 6-1 hiding at the hands of Roberto Bautista Agut at the Qatar Open last week. While he was far from thrilled at his performance on Monday, Murray was glad to get over the line.

“I think it was more that I played a great point to get myself to that situation,” Murray told Gulf News of that outpouring of emotion towards the end of the match. “I was very frustrated during the match, not happy with how I was feeling on the court and how I was playing. I made it very difficult for myself out there.

“I was trying to be more positive in terms of my emotion like when I played a good point. But it was a struggle out there. It is a relief to get over the line. I did a great job to win that match. It would have been very easy for me to have lost that tonight. And I came out with a great point at the end to turn the match. Also, to be fair, when I was down in the third set, and also during some break points, I came up with some good stuff as well.”

Murray gave a nod to the crowd, who roared him on throughout the match, even as he lost his cool.

“It’s a really good atmosphere,” he said. “You never quite know right now, with everything that’s going on, how the crowds are going to be at the beginning of the week. It was nice to have a big crowd from the beginning of the match.”

The Scotsman was also glad to put the loss to Bautista Agut behind him.

“I think Roberto plays very well in those conditions, there’s no question about that,” he said. “But after a loss like that, what options do you have? Do you go away and sort of hide, take time off, whatever, or do you get some practice in and try and come back the next week and get some wins on the board and try to improve?

“I don’t know if I played way better tonight, but I got the win. I’m getting close to the goal that I’ve set myself for the last few months (700 ATP wins, this was No. 699). Hopefully I can achieve that in the next round. I still believe I can play much better. I mean, since I came back from the hip surgery, I’ve won against Zverev, Berrettini, Norrie, Hurkacz, Alcaraz. There’s a number of guys that are currently in like the top 25, top 30 in the world. I think I’ve beaten 12 or 13 of them since I came back.

“The consistency certainly has not been there. I’m totally aware of that. But there has been times where I played well. The last seven, eight months have been tough. Obviously I’d rather play much better than I did tonight. I’m not sure exactly why it’s been so up and down. Yeah, I need to try and change that.”