Keeping Tabs, Melbourne: Jan. 28

Monday, January 28, 2013 /by

MELBOURNE—That wasn’t a bad effort from Andy Murray, right? He made his third straight Grand Slam final, and fourth straight at a major event. He beat Roger Federer for the first time at one of these things, in as convincing a five-setter as you’re likely to see. And, as the Daily Mail put it back home in the U.K., he made a strong claim to being the second best tennis player in the world at the moment, behind only the “great Djokovic.”

But if you thought that would give Muzz any satisfaction, you would be wrong, very wrong, according to the Mail. It only makes things far worse.

MURRAY’S REAL AGONY IS FALLING JUST SHORT OF TRULY GREAT DJOKOVIC

“Andy Murray is the second best tennis player in the world," Martin Samuel writes. "Bummer. Turns out second, which must have looked so appealing when he was fourth, and then third, is still a pretty frustrating place to be.

"More so, probably, because now Murray gets to stand next to more trophies, but without being permitted to touch; he gets to give speeches, as the warm-up act for the winner. He gets to be very polite to everybody and have everybody be polite about him. ‘You put up a good fight, you played your part in a great match. Let’s have a big hand for Andy.’ At that moment, second must suck way more than, say, 14th.”

There you have it—the better you do, the worse off your feel. Why didn’t anyone warn Murray about this years ago? He might have done the smart thing and studied marketing instead. 

Anyway, its good to have Muzz the loser to kick around again, isn’t it? Here’s what else the world press is saying about Murray, Djoker, and Vika, among other people, the day after the Aussie Open.

*****

The Melzer Moment

Simon Briggs of the Telegraph has an interesting nugget from Djokovic’s coach, Marian Vajda, which I hadn’t heard before. Vajda claims that the turning point toward No. 1 for Novak wasn’t the Davis Cup win in 2010, as is so often mentioned, it was a loss that Nole had suffered earlier that year from two sets and a break up to Jurgen Melzer at Roland Garros. 

“That was the turnaround, mentally,” Vajda said, “After that defeat, he convinced himself that he had to work harder."

“He was always great," Vajda continued. "He was No. 3 in the world, but he wasn’t patient. He said, ‘When, when, when?’ I said, ‘It takes time, you have to work on this and this and this.'"

Djokovic didn’t dispute that assessment. “It did change things,” he said. “[In 2010] my game was not there. I changed my serve technique. I had a lot of mental issues. Every single pro athlete has to go through this crisis period in his pro career. I lost that match [to Melzer] and then from Wimbledon on, in the second part of the year, I started playing much better and being more confident on the court.”

You might think this is kind of an insult to Jurgen Melzer. You’re wrong. Now he finally has something to tell the grandkids about his career:

“I was the player who inspired Novak Djokovic to say to himself, ‘I must be doing something wrong if I’m losing to this guy.’”

*****

Feathery Touch

Speaking of speaking to the grandkids, Scott Gullan of the Herald Sun imagines Murray, years from now, telling his own grandchildren why he lost the 2013 Aussie Open final. (Apparently, as the years go by, Muzz will move on from his beloved lemon sodas to harder liquids.)

“He will slowly put down his pint,” Gullan writes of this hypothetically soused and rambling Murray of the future, “and with a wry grin say in his Scottish drawl: ‘A bloody feather beat me.’”

“In Melbourne these stupid birds called seagulls hang out at the top of the stadium’s roof and shed their feathers. I had to wait for this feather to get out of the way and it totally threw me off.’”

“Then Murray falls silent and the kids think he has actually nodded off. After guzzling down the pint, he then reaches for the bottle of Scotch whiskey next to him and takes a big swig. He starts mumbling as the parents arrive to sneak the rest of the kids away."

“‘That bloody feather. The feather. I can’t believe one tiny little feather....’”

*****

Kisses (of Grudging Respect) for Vika

Of all of the columnists who held forth on the Timeout, Patrick Smith of The Australian was the harshest. He gave Azarenka no quarter, and didn’t change his opinion after her “locked rib” explanation. But today Smith, while still maintaining that the timeout was “gamesmanship,” accords Azarenka a measure of respect for her victory. Writing in the second person—after a few paragraphs, I felt like I was reading “Bright Lights, Big City” again— he finishes with these words for her:

“You should feel proud. You beat not one opponent but thousands. Chokers don’t win those sorts of matches. Champions do. Victoria Azarenka does.”

*****

Shark Attack

That’s the headline above Linda Pearce’s and Greg Baum’s Azarenka article in The Age today. It refers to her coach Sam Sumyk’s description of how the press went after Vika this week.

“You’re sharks, guys,” Sumyk informed us. And he was being polite. “I understand you have to do your job, but sometimes you can maybe do it a little more—I don’t know, I don’t have the right word, I don’t want to be mean.”

What was the word he was looking for? “Professionally?” “Civilly?” In both cases, he’d have a point. Azarenka was blasted even after giving what I thought was the plausible explanation of the locked rib. I didn’t see ESPN’s coverage, but it seems Sumyk was especially unhappy with the network’s commentators. 

It’s also true that the grilling she received in the interview room right after her match with Stephens was intense. But at that point, Azarenka had twice said that she had left the court only because she was mentally overwhelmed. That version of the story needed to be questioned. Vika surely regrets walking off. Media-wise, she probably regrets it even more that she did against a popular new American star.

*****

Monday, Monday, Can’t Trust That Day

Remember the ATP’s U.S. Open boycott threat, over playing tennis on a Monday night? The tournament fired back while we weren’t looking. This weekend USTA president Gordon Smith told Neil Harman of the Times of London, “We’ve done our due diligence, we’ve consulted the players all along the way.”

“Smith said the Open would have suffered a $10 million shortfall if it had chosen to stage the final on Sunday [and eliminate the Super Saturday semifinals],” Harman writes. “The damage was limited to a $1 million loss with the Monday fixture.”

“‘We didn’t think it right was for us to take a $10 million hit,’” Smith says, “‘and at the same time be deciding on significant prize money increases. Super Saturday, with six hours of men’s tennis, was hugely attractive to CBS.’”

The Open’s current contract with the network runs out next year.

*****

Muzz’s Last Meal

The Guardian finds space for one final Andy Murray-does-the-hard-yards article. Or, as the paper’s headline puts it:

TEAM MURRAY HAILS TRANSFORMATION OF THE LIGHTWEIGHT WHO BECAME A WINNER

The piece provides a helpful, if slightly disturbing, timeline of Murray’s average training day in Miami. There’s beach running at 6:30 in the morning, a protein shake breakfast, a protein bar snack, 90 minutes of hot yoga, an afternoon pasta load-up, 400 meter sprints, and then, for fun, fruit and yogurt “topped off” with more protein bars and shakes.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

I had noticed over the last two weeks that Murray hadn’t mentioned one of the few things about his personal life that he has mentioned in the past: His love of Japanese food. In his obsessive quest for greatness, had he robbed himself even of that?

No reason to fear. According to the Guardian, Murray finishes each day at 7 P.M. by “wolfing down 50 pieces of sushi.”

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