Murray survives early scare in Brisbane
Tue, 03 Jan 11:26:00 2012
An upset appeared to be on the cards as Murray - who has recently recruited eight-times Grand-Slam winner Ivan Lendl as his coach in a bid to end his own drought - looked out of sorts in a turgid opening set, but the top seed responded clinically to take the next two and secure his progression to the second round.
"I played better towards the end," Murray reflected. "My body loosened up a little bit so hopefully I will pull up okay tomorrow."
Murray appeared sluggish and lethargic at the start of the opening set as Kukushkin breached the Brit's serve from the outset with alarming ease.
The Kazakh established a 4-0 lead with successive breaks as he capitalised ruthlessly on Murray's lack of rhythm on serve.
The top seed belatedly got himself on the scoreboard with a solid hold then proceeded to win four games on the bounce from 1-5 down to haul himself back on terms.
But despite the hard graft which confounded Kukushkin's blistering start, Murray allowed his level to drop once more and he squandered the parity he had battled so fiercely to restore.
Kukushkin broke serve at 5-5 with a flurry of sparkling groundstrokes, and Murray was left to unleash a tirade of self-abuse at the changeover and bemoan apparent knee and back strains.
This time the world number 91 held his nerve and closed out the set - much to Murray's disgust - before clenching his fist and roaring to a supportive, upset-thirsty crowd at the Pat Rafter Arena.
Murray sought to seize control of the second set from the outset, but Kukushkin managed to keep pace until the fourth game - when the top seed stamped his authority on proceedings.
A string of fierce forehands ensured that Murray established a relatively early advantage in the set, and Kukushkin was unable to muster a resistance as he found himself under the cosh for the first time in the match.
The Brit looked untroubled as he closed out the set in routine fashion with his serve suddenly seeming impenetrable and unerring with his opponent finding himself dictated to throughout.
Murray continued to lament his lack of fluency around the court, but slowly began to settle and discover a fresh burst of intensity as the set developed.
Kukushkin served first in the third and deciding set and impressed with his temperament as he closed out the opening game with ease.
Murray's momentum carried him through the third set, while Kukushkin looked to be badly tiring as he saw his serve savaged in the fifth game with his opponent ruthlessly pounding groundstrokes beyond his defences.
The world number four consolidated his advantage and proceeded to break for a second time at 4-2 with a flurry of emphatic blows from the back of the court.
Kukushkin deservedly received a rousing reception as he left the Pat Rafter Arena having presented the top seed with a stern test, but Murray sealed his progression after a shaky start to set up a second-round clash with Gilles Muller.
Elsewhere, seventh seed Juergen Melzer was ousted 6-1 7-5 by Philipp Petzschner in the opening round.
The Austrian was outclassed in the first set and his German opponent triumphed in a close second set to earn a meeting with Colombian Santiago Giraldo after he beat qualifier John Millman 6-3 6-3.
World number 33 Melzer did not break 63rd ranked Petzschner once, failing to convert either of his two chances, while the latter converted all three of his break points.
Fifth seed Kei Nishikori of Japan needed three sets to defeat 81st-ranked German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 3-6 6-1 6-4.
Sixth seed Radek Stepanek (pictured) lost the second set to local player Matthew Ebden, ranked 86th in the world, but triumphed 6-4 3-6 6-3.
Stepanek won the inaugural Brisbane tournament in 2009, reached the final in 2010 and the semi-finals last year.
"I have a great feeling here, I feel so positive - maybe there is some magic," he told AAP.
Russia's Igor Andreev beat Adrian Mannarino of France 7-6(6) 6-2, German Tommy Haas won 6-3 7-5 over Australia's Marinko Matosevic, Tatsuma Ito of Japan was a 6-4 6-2 victor against another home player in Benjamin Mitchell and Finn Jarkko Nieminen beat American Jesse Levine 7-6(4) 6-2.