By Will Swanton
BRISBANE (Reuters) - Andy Murray narrowly avoided the wrath of coach Ivan Lendl after laboring to a 6-1 5-7 6-3 win over Australian qualifier John Millman in his opening match at the Brisbane International on Thursday.
The U.S. Open champion ran hot but mostly cold against the 199th ranked player in a match of wildly fluctuating tennis that lasted two hours and four minutes at Pat Rafter Arena.
The 2012 Olympic gold medalist revealed that former world number one Lendl, who was due to arrive in Brisbane on Friday, had not even considered the possibility of the Scot losing to Millman.
Before the second-round match, Lendl had sent a text message to the 25-year-old's hitting partner Danny Vallverdu asking what time Murray's quarter-final against Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin would be on Friday.
"December 22nd was the last day we trained in Miami before I went home. He messaged Danny and said, 'Can you send me the score and what time he's playing tomorrow before the match?' He hadn't heard of John before," said the Scot.
"He was obviously expecting me to come through, but it was very nearly a different story. The depth of the game now is so, so strong. None of the matches are easy. It was a bit different back in Ivan's day where they could kind of cruise a little bit the first couple rounds."
Murray was horribly out of sorts in a tight second set, clutching at his back, thigh and shoulder. His class shone through but it was not one of his finest efforts.
"I had seen John's name before, but I hadn't seen him play," he said. "I think it's important when you don't know how someone plays to find out about their character a little bit.
"He's very consistent...he can play quite a long way behind the baseline and doesn't take too many risks. And then, you know, he was going for absolute bombs and making them," he added.
Murray's five-set thriller against World No.1 Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Australian Open last year was a portent of the great achievements to come.
He said he was in good shape for his next assignment at Melbourne Park, from January 14, despite his stuttering display against Millman that had a sold-out crowd roaring for the Australian.
"It was great to play in an atmosphere like that for the first match of the year, to get back into the swing of playing in front of large and loud crowds," Murray said. "There is obviously a lot of that at the Australian Open.
"No matter how much you practice, you can't replicate those sorts of atmospheres. It's important for me to play in them, especially in the beginning of the year. I wasn't too disappointed with the way I played tonight either, so it was a good, good first match for me."
Second-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic was eliminated 6-3 6-4 in the biggest boilover of the event by 21-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, nicknamed Baby Federer for the similarity of his technique to Roger Federer's.
The other quarter-finals on Friday are Marcos Baghdatis against Gilles Simon, Alexandr Dolgopolov versus Kei Nishikori and Dimitrov against Jurgen Melzer.
(Editing by Alan Baldwin)