Updated at: 01/06/2013 10:37 AM
By JOHN PYE
(AP) BRISBANE, Australia - Andy Murray kicked off 2013 with a successful defense of his Brisbane International title, holding off the up-and-coming Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (0), 6-4 and then dedicating Sunday’s victory to an absent friend.
"Thank you very much," Murray said, his voice starting to break at the end of the trophy presentation. "He’s back home watching ... you’re going to get through."
He didn’t immediately reveal the name of his friend, but signed "For You Perched" on a small plaque.
Murray began his breakthrough season in 2012 by winning in Brisbane and followed that up later with career-changing titles at the London Olympics and U.S. Open.
He heads into the Australian Open, starting Jan. 14, as the reigning major champion and without the enormous pressure that has followed him on every previous trip to Australia to end what had been a drought dating back to 1936 for British men at majors.
The 21-year-old Dimitrov raced to a 4-1 lead in his first ATP World Tour final, stunning Murray with some impressive single-handed backhands, but lost his nerve and was broken when serving for the set at 5-3. After getting back on serve, No. 3-ranked Murray saved a set-point with an ace and forced a tiebreaker, which he dominated.
In the second, Murray drilled a backhand into the net to give up a service break and a 4-3 lead to Dimitrov, and chastised himself as he sat in his chair at the changeover, yelling: "legs, legs, legs, legs, legs."
He raised his game immediately to break back in a three-game roll, getting quick points from a backhand passing shot and a stunning return to set up a break point and a backhand winner down the line to level.
Murray held at love for a 5-4 lead in a service game that lasted 56 seconds and then broke Dimitrov again to finish it off in 1 1/2 hours.
"I was up a break and I was actually not playing bad tennis at all I thought," the No. 48-ranked Dimitrov said. "He’s one of the best returners in the game by far. He picked up couple of my serves on big points, so that gave him extra confidence. Then he stepped up with his serve.
"He’s a top guy, so he has his rhythm, his routine on court. When he has to play good, he plays good. So I didn’t feel that I was far from winning the set or even the match, but still that was a little margin that he got covered."
Dimitrov beat No. 2-seeded Milos Raonic, the big-serving Canadian, No. 7 Jurgen Melzer and 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis en route to his first career final.
And Murray thinks Dimitrov, who has been compared with 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer as a younger player, could be on the verge of bigger things.
"It’s his first final. Everyone will agree he played some extremely exciting tennis, it was a very tough match," Murray said. "He’s just changed coaches, started with a new team, so congratulations to them _ I’m sure they’re going to do great things together."
Murray made a shaky start to the tournament, dropping a set in his first match against No. 199-ranked Australian qualifier John Millman, but the Scot gradually picked up momentum in wins over Denis Istomin and _ after falling behind a break in the first set _ was leading fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori 6-4, 2-0 when the Japanese player withdrew from their semifinal with an injured left knee.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)