Murray Hailed, Novak Heckled At The Not Always Happy Slam

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Bill Simons

Andy Murray has had a sparkling marathon career. As a Scottish kid he headed off to a tennis boot camp in Spain. He started winning tourneys in small places like Aptos, CA, and, decades later, after scoring assorted miracle victories, including three majors, two Olympic golds and a Davis Cup triumph, the father of four probably should have stepped aside when his hip went all wrong in 2018. Four years ago Aussie Open authorities aired one of those teary farewell videos. 

But Sir Andy is tennis’s answer to Braveheart. He never stepped aside. In the first round of the Aussie Open, he overcame a Matteo Berrettini match point and downed the No. 13 seeded Italian in five sets. 

Late into the Melbourne night he topped that by coming back from two sets and 2-5 in the third to overcome local favorite Thanasi Kokkinakis, 4-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 7-5. The 5:45 match that ended at 4:05 AM was the longest in Murray’s career and the second latest finish of any Grand Slam. Murray came back from two sets down for a record 11th time.

SAUCY BIG PRE-DAWN CONVERSATION: At 4:10 AM Murray told broadcaster John Fitzgerald, “I have a big heart.” The Aussie responded, “You have a big everything, I think.” Murray promptly put the brakes on and replied, “My wife might disagree.”

NOVAK DJOKOVIC – HECKLING FANS, LINGERING INJURY: Novak Djokovic’s four set second-round win over France’s Enzo Couacaud was marred by four fans dressed up in red and white “Where’s Waldo” outfits who heckled him. It got so bad that Nole pleaded with ump Fergus Murphy that one of them was “drunk out of his mind” and tried to get him booted out.

Nole later reflected on the disrespectful situation, saying, “What I have a problem with is when somebody’s crossing the line – numerous times. From the very beginning, guys that were under the influence of alcohol [were bothering me]. It was obvious…[when] I was grabbing my towel…particularly one guy. You heard his voice various times tonight. [He] was insulting and provoking me and saying things that were not respectful at all.

“So I tolerated [it] for…almost two hours. I was…looking at the chair umpire, looking at the guy. I think…whoever is responsible for handling the crowd should have done a bit more and anticipated me coming out…and looking like a bad guy, because this is how I’m going to look like now in the media…because I’m the guy that kicked out some other guy. It’s just unnecessary because why should…players be put in a position where we have to always react when it’s been two hours.”

He added that his hamstring injury “is not ideal…I’m worried…I wish that some things were different with the way I feel with my leg, but it is what it is. I have to take it day by day.”

GO FIGURE: There are eight American men and six women into the third round which is the most since 1996, but the top American, Taylor Fritz, who lost in the second round, again had a tough Slam…For the first time since 2002 the top two seeds are out of the tourney before the third round. This was the first time two Americans have beat the top two seeds since the 1994 French Open…Stefanos Tsitsipas is the highest ranked man left in the draw…Ben Shelton, who’s on his first trip outside the US, was just No. 3 on the University of Florida team last year.

RAFA WATCH: After his loss to Mackie McDonald, Rafa said, “I can’t say that I am not destroyed mentally at this point, because I would be lying.” He added that he’ll be out for 6 to 8 weeks. So we wonder whether he’ll play his big March 5 exhibition at the MGM Resort in Las Vegas and then go to Indian Wells. Rafa has been in the Top Ten since 2005. Will he be able to stay there? 

THE VISA FINALLY ARRIVED: When reflecting on Aryna Sabalenka’s most problematic stroke, Mark Petchy commented, “Her serve didn’t get a visa last year, but it certainly did seem to arrive in Australia this year.” 

MINISTER OF HAPPINESS FALLS IN HAPPY SLAM: There has been plenty of hype about Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who reached the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open. She was on the cover of Vogue Arabia and Tennis Channel’s Brett Haber said, “When it comes to Arab women, Ons Jabeur does X, Y and Z first [the first Arab to reach a major singles final, to win a WTA singles title, and to be ranked in the top 10].”

The No. 2 seed was a trendy pick to challenge Iga Swiatek for the Aussie title. How cool it would it have been if the Minister of Happiness had won the Happy Slam. But the 28-year-old fell to No. 86 Marketa Vondrousova, 6-1, 5-7, 6-1.

IS LATE NIGHT TENNIS DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH? Wimbledon has an 11 PM curfew – there are limits when you play in an upscale British village. But the US, French and Australian Opens now have matches that stretch late into the night. Will anything be done about it? Andy Murray said late night tennis is a health hazard. When reflecting on his match that ended at 4:05 AM, he suggested, “It ends in a bit of a farce.”

KATIE ON THE BIG STAGE: Before she downed the considerable No. 9 seed Veronika Kudermetova, qualifier Katie Volynets hadn’t ever beaten a top 50 player. The Walnut Creek, CA native shared her joy, saying, “I literally have the chills because the fans here are just incredible. I’ve never played in a stadium this packed and with that many people keeping the energy up for me. It was awesome.”   

A CURIOUS RIDDLE: After cameras continually focused on Taylor Fritz’s girlfriend Morgan Riddle, journalist Matt Walsh asked, “Is Alexei Popyrin playing Taylor Fritz or his girlfriend? Reckon we’ve seen more close-ups of the American’s partner than we have of him.” 

QUOTEBOOK:

“The rain may be gone but the reigning champion is no more.” – Steve Weissman on Nadal’s loss 

“I want to go to bed.” – Andy Murray after 5:45 minute match finished at 4:05 AM.

“Sun’s out, guns out.” – James Blake on the well built J.J. Wolf who plays in cut-off shirts. 

RUUD REALITY: Casper Ruud lost in the finals of the French and US Opens and in the second round of the Aussie Open.

AUSSIE DROUGHT: Local favorite Ash Barty won in Melbourne last year, but no Australian man has won there since Mark Edmondson in 1976. Frenchman Yannick Noah won Roland Garros in 1983, Andy Murray last won Wimbledon in 2016 and Andy Roddick won the US Open in 2003.

McENROE DIALOGUE OF THE YEAR: While commentating on a match when Rafa Nadal was going back and forth with the chair umpire, John McEnroe said, “There’s nothing more annoying than when the umpire agrees with you but does nothing about it.” Then he paused, and added, “Actually, there are things that are more annoying.” His brother Patrick quickly added, “From you, I’ll take that as serious wisdom.”

Also reporting Steve Pratt and Vinay Venkatesh

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