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Hutchins enjoys a healthy return following illness

Andy Murray has been enjoying himself in Melbourne so far this week, even finding time to joke around in practice and then yesterday he watched Pat Rafter make a mini comeback.

Novak Djokovic stretches to make a forehand return against Argentina's Leonardo Mayer as the Serb continued his title defence at the Australian Open. Picture: Aaron Favila/AP
Novak Djokovic stretches to make a forehand return against Argentina's Leonardo Mayer as the Serb continued his title defence at the Australian Open. Picture: Aaron Favila/AP

Even as the Scot prepares to face Vincent Millot of France in the second round here tonight (9.30am UK time), nothing will have pleased Murray more than to have seen his best friend, Ross Hutchins, make a successful comeback, one year after he was diagnosed with cancer.

It was just over 12 months ago that Hutchins was told he had Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a form of cancer, which required 12 sessions of chemotherapy. Murray was the first person other than his family that Hutchins called and the Scot has been hugely supportive, even donating his total prize money of £73,000 for winning the AEGON Championship at Queen's Club to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Hutchins yesterday told how much he had appreciated the support from Murray, his playing partner Colin Fleming and all his friends and family, together with hundreds of well-wishers who got in touch via Twitter, Facebook and in person.

"The vast array of support from everyone helped me," said Hutchins after he and Fleming earned their first victory of the year with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 win over Marinko Matosevic of Australia and Michal Przysiezny of Poland. "Initially when I was diagnosed I was getting a lift from people who have come through cancer, saying they have come through it back in the '70s when chemo wasn't that strong, or from people saying their father was going through it. Friends and family have been huge for me and without them I wouldn't be here playing with Colin."

It has been a long hard road back to full health and then full fitness for Hutchins but, as the match went on yesterday, he looked to be coming close to his best. "Right now I think my level is not as high as when we were finishing before but there is no reason why we can't be better and I think we will be a better team and will achieve more in the game," he said.

The one thing Hutchins does not want is to be considered a victim. When he joined Murray for his traditional Miami training block this winter, he did everything he could to keep up with the Wimbledon champion, no matter what.

"With Andy, you don't want to be struggling," he said. "We have done it for four or five years and I have always done the same training that he has done and I have always done the hours that he has done. I think it would be quite weak if you did go there and say: 'Mate, I am going to take today off'. It is not really the point of doing it. I wanted to be able to keep up with these guys no matter what has happened in the past."

Hutchins and Fleming were joined in round two by the Englishman Dom Inglot and Treat Huey of the Philippines, who overcame Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah of Colombia 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Last night, Jamie Murray and John Peers, seeded three places behind the pairing of Inglot and Huey at No.15, were scheduled to open their campaign in the early hours against the Australians Matt Reid and Luke Saville.

Andy Murray, meanwhile, will be looking to build on his fine opening match by seeing off the world No.267 Millot. The fact that the match is due to be last on at night should help too, with temperatures expected to again hit 40°C earlier in the day.

Yesterday, Croatia's Ivan Dodig added his voice to those dissenting about the heat, saying: "I thought I was going to die". He had to quit in the fourth set of his second-round match as a result of cramp.

With Stefan Edberg on site as part of Roger Federer's team and Boris Becker here to help Novak Djokovic, the role of Ivan Lendl in the Murray camp has almost been forgotten. That is how Lendl likes it but his sense of humour was tested when Murray enlisted Kei Nishikori for some help in practice.

Nishikori recently hired Michael Chang as his coach, which must have evoked memories for Lendl of their French Open match in 1989 when the American served underarm on Lendl's match-point, took the point and went on to win their last-16 tie en route to his only grand slam triumph.

Murray persuaded Nishikori to serve underarm on the first point of their practice set and then waited for Lendl's response. "Me, Kei and Dani [Vallverdu, Murray's hitting partner] found it funny because we had asked Kei to do it," Murray explained. "Ivan laughed after a few seconds but I think Chang was at the back of the court thinking 'Oh my God, I can't believe he has just done that'. He was a bit embarrassed, not knowing how Ivan would respond. When Ivan laughed it was fine."

Yesterday, the women's top seed Serena Williams demolished Vesna Dolonc of Serbia 6-1, 6-2 and Djokovic continued his title defence with a 6-0, 6-0, 6-4 win over Leonardo Mayer.

David Ferrer, the No.3 seed, dropped a set but bounced back to beat France's Adrian Mannarino 7-6, 5-7, 6-0, 6-3, while Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka also progressed without too much fuss.

Pat Rafter's return to big-time tennis at the age of 42 ended fairly briefly, but not before some good tennis, as he and Lleyton Hewitt lost in the first round of the doubles.

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