© Samer Alrejjal

Andy Murray battles past Taro Daniel in Doha on Tuesday.

Murray Downs Daniel, Sets Bautista Agut Clash in Doha

Two-time champion moves to 20-3 match record at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open

Andy Murray did not hide his disappointment after his second-round Australian Open defeat to Taro Daniel in January, but the former World No. 1 didn’t have to wait long to banish those demons.

Playing at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open as a wild card, the 34-year-old produced a strong first-round performance to brush past Daniel 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday.

The Scot was pleased with how he dealt with the threat of Daniel this time around. “He played very well in Australia, he had a very good run there and was too good for me there. I tried to be the one dictating from the first point, and I thought I did that well. It was one of the better matches I’ve played in recent months.”

Murray is a two-time champion and four-time finalist in Doha, and he looked happy to be back as he hit 11 winners and broke Daniel twice to ease to the first set.

World No. 110 Daniel broke in the first game of the second set to momentarily halt the Murray charge, but a trademark backhand winner that sealed an immediate break back was typical of how the Scot struck the ball throughout and he went on to seal victory in one hour, 20 minutes.

Murray now faces second seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round. The Brit will seek to increase his 3-1 ATP Head2Head series lead over the World No. 16 Spaniard, but is not taking anything for granted despite his excellent record in Doha.

“Obviously the results from 12 years ago aren’t going to affect the results this week,” said Murray when asked about his previous titles in Doha. “But what it tells me is that the conditions here are good for my game, so if I can play to a good level the courts are going to suit me here and I’ll make it difficult for everyone I play against.”

Montepellier champion and seventh seed Alexander Bublik beat Slovakian qualifier Jozef Kovalik 6-2, 6-4 with a powerful performance earlier on Tuesday.

The World No. 31 Kazakh hit 25 winners including seven aces, breaking his opponent four times to reach the second round in Doha for the third consecutive year. He now faces Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech, who defeated Jiri Vesely 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.

Pune runner-up Emil Ruusuvuori continued his strong start to 2022 with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over David Goffin.

Ruusuvuori was making his debut in Doha and came good in the deciding set against the 48th-ranked Belgian to secure his eighth tour win of the year. The 22-year-old now faces sixth seed Karen Khachanov in the second round.

Marton Fucsovics knocked eighth seed Lloyd Harris out in Doha for the second year in a row with a 6-4, 7-6(4) victory. In doing so, World No. 36 Fucsovics levelled his ATP Head2Head series with Harris at 2-2 and the Hungarian now faces South Korean Soonwoo Kwon in the second round.

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