Ons Jabeur enjoys return to Australian Open as Andy Murray admits finish line may be near

Tunisian eases into second round, Murray loses in straight sets, Osaka crashes out while Gauff cruises through

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Ons Jabeur cut a much happier and healthier figure on her return to the Australian Open as the Tunisian eased into the second round with a comfortable victory over qualifier Yuliia Starodubtseva on Monday.

One year ago, Jabeur left Melbourne Park after a second-round defeat to Marketa Vondrousova, during which she was clearly struggling. As it transpired, Jabeur had an enlarged nodule obstructing her airway which prevented oxygen from reaching her lungs, and required medical assistance as she turned blue and struggled to breathe. Her coach, Issam Jellali, revealed in a new documentary about Jabeur that he thought she was "gonna die".

Now back in Australia for her latest quest to become the first Arab and African woman to win one of tennis' four major titles, Jabeur began with a 6-3, 6-1 win against Starodubtseva, the tears of 12 months ago replaced by a big, broad smile.

"It's very, very special to come back here," Jabeur, 29, said inside Margaret Court Arena after her victory. "I decided to rest a bit before coming to the Australian Open. The crowd really helped today and hopefully it'll be a much better match in the next round.

"Last year wasn't so great here, so coming back here I was a little bit stressed but seeing the crowd made me less stressed."

Jabeur opted against competing in one of the Australian Open warm-up events, and her lack of recent matches showed at the start as the sixth seed was broken in the very first game. However, she responded with a break straight back and soon assumed control with a 4-1 lead. Starodubtseva managed to get the first set back on serve with her second break for 4-3, but a marathon ninth game saw Jabeur earn her third break before clinching the opener on serve.

If the first set showed a slightly rusty Jabeur – her first serve percentage was just 46 per cent and she produced 16 unforced errors – then the second set was a significant improvement. Jabeur earned the immediate break and extended her advantage to lead 5-1, often toying with her opponent with her usual array of tricks.

The Tunisian, a three-time Grand Slam finalist, then wrapped up the victory in 67 minutes with a classy forehand winner, and will next face 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva in the second round on Wednesday.

Murray tumbles out in first round

While Jabeur was enjoying her return to Melbourne Park, it was a tough day for Andy Murray as the former world No 1 tumbled out in the first round before admitting there was a "definite possibility" he has played his last Australian Open.

Five times a finalist in Melbourne, Murray was emphatically beaten 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 by Argentine 30th seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry inside the Kia Arena.

The 36-year-old Briton had a frustrating end to 2023, winning just one match in his last four tournaments, and said previously that unless his form picked up the curtain could be coming down on his career.

"Yeah, it's a definite possibility that will be the last time I play here," said world No 44 Murray, who has struggled to rediscover his best form since undergoing career-saving hip surgery in January 2019.

"In comparison to the matches that I played here last year, it's the complete opposite feeling walking off the court. Wish I involved the crowd more. Just disappointed with the way I played. Tough, tough way to finish."

Murray said he had spoken to his family and coaching staff about when he might quit.

"They're very aware of how I feel about things, where I would like to finish playing, when that would be," the three-time major champion said.

"I haven't made any definite decisions on that. Yeah, it's obviously something that I need to think about and see exactly when that is. It's not like it hasn't been something that's been on my mind."

He added that the time frame on when he will retire "narrows when you play and have results like today".

"I haven't gained in belief from today's match that at some stage I'm going to start playing really well again or winning tournaments or getting to the latter stages of major events."

Early exit for Osaka but easy work for Gauff

Naomi Osaka did not enjoy the fairytale return she might have envisaged as the two-time champion lost 6-4 7-6 to French 16th seed Caroline Garcia in the first round on Monday.

Osaka returned to action after 15 months out during which she had her first child and the four-time major winner looked rusty in her first appearance at a Slam since 2022 as Garcia took control of the first set.

The match was more even in the next but it was Garcia who stepped up a level in the tiebreak to seal the win.

"I thought it was a really good match and I thought I did as well as I possibly could," Osaka said afterwards.

"The competitor in me is not happy that I'm not winning these matches (but) I think I just need to work hard and play a lot more matches and then hopefully my dreams will come true."

Meanwhile, Coco Gauff, who first made a name for herself upsetting Osaka at Melbourne Park in 2020, roared into the second round. The US Open champion rattled off the last nine games in a row for a dominant 6-3 6-0 win over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

"I just freed up and everything started to fall in place," said Gauff, the No 4 seed.

Marketa Vondrousova, the Wimbledon champion, crashed out in straight sets to Ukrainian qualifier Dayana Yastremska.

"I didn't practise much before the tournament because I was injured," said Vondrousova, who pulled out of a warm-up event with a hip issue.

Updated: January 15, 2024, 2:16 PM