The second seed eases into match
Unlike the opening service game of his campaign in Madrid against Radek Stepanek, Murray held here to open proceedings. The world number three came out with a clear game plan to feel his way into the match and get used to the breezy conditions by playing defensively, asking questions of the Kazakhstani’s game. This tactic brought up two break point chances, but the qualifier thwarted his opponent with a couple of sweetly struck forehand winners, inspiring him to go on and secure the hold.
Kukushkin had openings in both of the Brit’s next service games at 15-30 and 0-30, but Murray, who announced the split from his coach Amelie Mauresmo on Monday, was able to respond with a series of well-executed points to remain in front at 3-2.
After holding serve to love for the first time in the seventh game, Murray motored on and capitalized on a dip in Kukushkin’s level. The qualifier squandered a couple of chances to hold before the Brit found a timely combination of superb defense and crushing cross court forehand’s to secure the first break of the match.
The world number three was under pressure when serving for the opening set, down 15-30 for the third time on serve. However, once again the second seed would not face a break point as he wrapped up the set 6-3 in 44 minutes.
Murray marches on
After both players held serve comfortably to open proceedings in set number two, it was Murray who made an important breakthrough in the third game. An extended rally which finished with an unfortunate net cord going wide for Kukushkin secured the break for the second seed.
In the sixth game, a double fault from Murray gifted the qualifier, who had played three matches already here, two break points. The runner-up in Madrid last week found his ‘must not lose’ mentality in the next couple of points to find first serves when it mattered most to save the opportunities and hold for a 4-2 lead.
After holding to love in the eighth game Murray was eager to break the man from Kazakhstan’s serve. A backhand down the line winner off the return of serve helped set up the match point opportunity, which he took on the first chance after forcing the qualifier to net the backhand. A straight sets win for Murray 6-3, 6-3, he will go on to face the winner of the match between Roberto Bautista-Agut and Jeremy Chardy in round three.