Five things we learned on Day 1
Five things we learned on Day 1
1. Everybody loves Andy
If Andy Murray has played his last match in Australia – a stubbornly defiant fighting 6-4 6-4 6-7(5) 6-7(4) 6-2 finish against Roberto Bautista Agut at Melbourne Arena – the former No.1 leaves with the respect and affection of all his peers.
Murray was sometimes portrayed as a dour Scot, but fellow players were sending out the love. Sasha Zverev described him as “one of the funniest and coolest dudes out there.” Nick Kyrgios on Instagram wrote: “You took me under your wing as soon as I got on tour… I was actually a little bit of a younger brother to you.” Naomi Osaka felt “really sad. He’s a super nice person.” Sloane Stephens said: “He’s probably the funniest guy on tour. He’s so dry. I think he didn’t get enough acknowledgement. He’s been great for the game, especially the women, he’s been so supportive.” As the enlightened poster boy for gender equality, Murray leaves a special mark – one maybe unique among the men.
2. There’s no empathy in tennis!
Maria Sharapova was predictably asked if she felt sorry for her first-round victim Harriet Dart, who left Rod Laver Arena in tears after a 6-0 6-0 shellacking.
She was the Brit’s childhood idol too. Well. The career Grand Slam champion and winner of over $38 million in prize money didn’t go from Siberia to Wimbledon champion at 17 by being a charity worker. Hard as the truth, Maria declared: “There is no time for that, sorry.” Echoes of Tom Hanks’ famous line from ‘A League of Their Own’: “There’s no crying in baseball!”
3. Greece got game
The most famous Greek names in tennis didn’t play for Greece. The greatest of them, Pete Sampras, was Greek-American; Mark Philippoussis and Nick Kyrgios were Aussie No.1s and Marcos Baghdatis, runner-up here in 2006, is a proud Cypriot. But in Stefanos Tsitsipas, 20, and Maria Sakkari, 23, Greece has a couple of engaging breakout stars who could inspire plenty more. The pair became instant national heroes when they toppled Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic in a thrilling mixed doubles at the Hopman Cup, and both won through on Monday, Tsitsipas in four sets over Matteo Berrettini, while Sakkari upset the No.22 seed Jelena Ostapenko. Tavernas in the Hellenic heartland of Oakleigh had better get the smashing plates ready.
4. Rafa unveils a new serve
The word was out before Rafael Nadal’s opening round win over fighting Aussie James Duckworth, with practice-court scouts noticing the Spaniard has quickened the motion and tried to add more forward momentum. Why tinker at the ripe age of 32 and after 17 majors? “You need to make you feel alive, you know,” Rafa coyly replied, suggesting he was numbed by the rehab routine.
The Spaniard won the Australian Open a decade ago and retired from both hardcourt majors in 2018. Trying to shorten points and extend his career is the plan.
5. John Isner as the little guy
It’s not too often that 208cm John Isner (that’s six feet 10 in the old scale) looks up to his opponent. But in a historic tall-timber encounter, No.9 seed Isner was blasted out of Melbourne Park in four tiebreaks by compatriot Reilly Opelka, No. 97 in the rankings and, at 211cm, a whole inch taller.
Never mind that Isner fired more aces (47 to 40), more winners (79 to 64) and won more points overall (147-42). For the American No.1, it was a second straight opening-day exit at Melbourne Park – he went out to Matt Ebden last year. Opelka’s final 227km/h booming ace on match point delivered history: he is the first American to topple Isner in a major. A numerologist’s dream on Court 8 – unless you’re John Isner.