Andy Murray is in what experts are calling the tough half of the Australian Open draw. But as far as the last-16 stage is concerned, it couldn’t have been easier.
After defending champion Novak Djokovic went through the wringer to see off 15th seed Stan Wawrinka in a five-hour instant classic, Murray strolled through an hour and 35 minutes of formalities against a spent Gilles Simon.
Despite being seeded one place above Wawrinka, Simon of course was barely fit for the fourth round encounter with Murray after his own gruelling victory over Gael Monfils in the previous bracket left him spending most of his downtime in the treatment room.
Simon bravely soldiered on against the winner of the last Grand Slam but the Scot’s cruel-yet-astute tactic of switching play as much as possible to keep the Frenchman moving didn’t take long to pay off, and unlike Djokovic, Murray hasn’t had to use up much energy at all to advance.
Of course, Murray played down the relative ease of the task in an interview held just after the game of fish-shooting - erm, tennis - had been held in the barrel – um... that is to say at the Hisense Arena:
"It was kind of tough, a tough situation for both players - more obviously for him," the US Open champion said.
"After the first few games, it didn't feel that competitive. At this stage of a Grand Slam you're sort of geed up and prepared for a tough battle.
"That's why it becomes hard because the emotions aren't quite into it. You're not quite necessarily feeling pressure, but you're wanting to try to finish the match as quickly as possible."
Does Murray’s contrary argument that top players benefit from being tested throughout the tournament hold water? Or was he just being polite?
It’s certainly arguable that someone like Djokovic will be ready to take on the world after getting through the early MOTYC against Wawrinka, but then, we’ve yet to see whether the world number one carries any fatigue from those five hours into his quarter-final against Tomas Berdych.
Needless to say, if Nole is feeling the hurt more than the adrenaline against Tomas, he will surely pay the price having stared exit in the face once already.
And yet, Roger Federer displayed subtle reinforcement’s of Murray’s claims that easy rides can get you nowhere. After having to edge a way past the cast-iron service of Milos Raonic twice to go two sets up, the Swiss ace grew visibly frustrated during the insipid third as the Canadian pretty much gave up the chase and succumbed with a whimper.
Fed is the perfect example of a player who prefers to be pushed to the very heights of his pomp and majesty, with his heaving trophy cabinet Exhibit A as to why “rising up to the challenge of our rivals”, as Survivor put it, is the key element of a sporting great.
So while at first glance it will be easy to use the fourth-round escapades of the ‘Big Three’ to counter-balance Novak’s draining efforts against Roger and Andy being placed in the same half of the draw, Tramlines cannot help but feel that everything is falling into place for the yoga-mad, super-fit Djokovic to retain his crown.
And he may even do so via another three five-set broadways. Don’t bet against it.
Stop bugging me!
As Serena Williams mercilessly crushed her 20th successive victim to book the last spot in the women’s quarter-finals, there seemed to be nothing on display to suggest that anything can make the snarling American juggernaut back down.
Nothing, that is, until she retreated to her chair and found it had been hijacked:
Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, being succeeded as the national golden girl by Sloane Stephens, the hair police and men in suits offering spots in terrible TV commercials. All daunting prospects which nonetheless don't see Serena batting an eyelid.
But one of the Australian Open's famous evening bugs scared the living daylights out of Williams during her 57-minute win over Maria Kirilenko.
While the decorated 31-year-old no doubt loves coming to Australia and will do so for a good number of future tennis events, don’t count on her volunteering to represent tennis on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here.
- Sports & Recreation