Murray advances in Brisbane in latest comeback from injury

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              Andy Murray of Britain plays a shot during his match against James Duckworth of Australia at the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)
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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Andy Murray doesn’t know how long his latest comeback can last, so he’s planning on making the most of it.

The 31-year-old Murray returned to competitive tennis for the first time since September and gradually warmed into it, taking the last four games in a 6-3, 6-4 win over Australian wildcard entry James Duckworth at the Brisbane International on Tuesday.

“It’s been really hard. Eighteen months, a lot of ups and downs. It was tricky just to get back on the court competing again,” said Murray, who had a noticeable limp between points but didn’t show many signs during rallies of strain from his troublesome right hip. “I’m happy I’m back out here competing again.

“I want to try to enjoy it as much as I can,” Murray, a two-time champion in Brisbane, told the crowd in a post-match interview. “I’m not sure how much longer it’s going to last.”

He appeared stiff and rusty to start the match but managed to chase down Duckworth’s chips and drop shots and moved across court well, twice creating forehand winners from defensive positions on important points.

Murray said he’s dealing with regular pain but it didn’t hamper his shot-making ability.

“Weirdly enough, walking is actually worse than some of the movements I have to make on the court, which is odd, and that’s something that is frustrating for me at times, because I don’t like walking around limping,” he said. “Like when I see a video of myself doing that, that’s been one of the things that’s like, yeah, it’s got me down quite a lot because I feel like as an athlete I should be able to do that properly. That’s something that’s kind of taken a bit of time to get used to.”

A winner of three major titles and a five-time finalist at the Australian Open, Murray is playing on a protected ranking in Brisbane after sliding to No. 240 in a 2018 season in which he finished 7-5 from 12 matches after surgery on his right hip in January. He missed the last five weeks of the season with an ankle injury.

No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal is scheduled to play his first competitive match since September in a second-round match on Thursday against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Thanasi Kokkinakis 7-6 (6), 6-4.

Nick Kyrgios fired 44 aces and needed five match points before finishing off Ryan Harrison 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (5) in a rematch of last year’s Brisbane International final. Denis Kudla beat fellow American Taylor Fritz 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 6-4 to advance into a second-round match against No. 2-seeded Kei Nishikori.

U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka said she felt nervous but kept her cool to beat big-hitting Australian teenager Destanee Aiava 6-3, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals in a positive opener to her season.

“I feel old a little bit because it was kind of like (playing) a younger me in a way,” Osaka, who is 21, said of her 18-year-old opponent. “And I felt like … she sort of matched my power, which was really surprising to me, because there was not that many people that can do that. It’s always great to start with a win.”

In women’s first-round matches, Johanna Konta ousted No. 3-seeded Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-3, fourth-seeded Petra Kvitova beat Danielle Collins 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6), 6-3 and No. 8 Anastasija Sevastova had a 6-3, 6-3 win over Daria Gavrilova.

Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, was more concerned with the Australian Open later this month than recording a loss in her season-opener.

“I’m always like ‘It’s going to work out, like in the long run … when it really matters, when it’s really important,'” Stephens said. “It’s the first match of the year — I have like 80 more matches to go. Ask me in November what I think about my first-round loss in Brisbane.”