Australian Open: Murray back at 9:30am to deal with the ‘hangover’ of a 4am finish

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The British star was back at Melbourne Park less than six hours after 4am finish in epic comeback win over Thanasi Kokkinakis, writes STUART FRASER.

Those who were feeling bright and breezy in the locker room at Melbourne Park yesterday (Friday) morning could scarcely believe their eyes. At 9.30am in walked Andy Murray, less than six hours after he had completed the second-latest finish in grand-slam history at 4.05am.

“I saw him today before my match,” Stefanos Tsitsipas, the No 3 seed from Greece, said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘What is he doing here? He should be in bed.’ ”

It would have been perfectly understandable had Murray not turned up on site at all yesterday (Friday). After producing the most astonishing of all his great comebacks, recovering from two sets down to beat Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis after five hours and 45 minutes, it was close to 5.30am by the time he arrived back at his Melbourne hotel. A combination of adrenaline and the after-effects of the various supplements and liquids he took to get through his match made it difficult for him to nod off.

“He said it was very tough for him to sleep at all because you take all these types of supplements, energy drinks and gels to keep yourself going, and a lot of them have caffeine in them,” Laura Robson, the former British No 1 and a Europort pundit, said.

“He was taking them right up until the end of the match not knowing how long it was going to be. He was lying in bed, thinking, ‘This is really not what I need.’ ”

While some may have been tempted to set an alarm for the afternoon and press the snooze button a couple of times, it will probably be to Murray’s benefit that he decided to get up early. The danger with lying in after such a long match is that the body stiffens up more, making the recovery extremely challenging – as if it was not hard enough already.

One tour physio said that Murray, at the age of 35 with a metal hip, was better off moving about as much as he could despite the obvious discomfort he must have been in. After a physio appointment in the morning, he was seen on an exercise bike in the player gym before returning to the Margaret Court Arena at 6.30pm for a light hit of about 20 minutes.

“I was surprised to see him,” his brother, Jamie, here playing in the mixed and men’s doubles, said after speaking to him in the player restaurant at 7.30pm. “He just wanted to move around. It’s probably a good thing to keep his body moving, and that he came in to hit. If he was really feeling absolutely atrocious, he wouldn’t have done it, would he?

“I’m sure Andy probably feels like he’s got a hangover today because he got no sleep. I’m sure his body’s a complete mess, whereas if he played during the day and had a proper night’s sleep, proper recovery, maybe there was a chance for him to be in a better condition physically to go compete tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe he’s feeling fine, but the odds are not in his favour.”

Jamie has been particularly vocal this week about the scheduling issues that have resulted in middle-of-the-night finishes on four of the first five days. The order of play on the main two show courts is split, with a three-match day session starting at 11am (tickets are priced from pounds 55 for the Rod Laver Arena) and a two-match night session from 7pm (from pounds 85).

“If they just had one night match, I think that’s enough,” Jamie said. “I guess going into one match they have their issues with value for money for the ticketholders, but what’s more important, the players that are out there competing or the amount of money that they charge for a ticket?

“And it’s a disaster for everyone else connected to the event, right? I’m sure you guys had to stay up super late. Ball kids, umpires, transport staff. How can that be the best way forward for these events? It just can’t.”

Late finishes are increasingly occurring across the tour. Slower courts and balls, coupled with more physicality, are contributing to an upward trend in long matches – last year on the women’s tour there were 55 matches beyond three hours, compared with none in 2000. The introduction of a 25-second shot clock between points may have helped to clamp down on serial time-wasters such as Rafael Nadal, but it has actually encouraged those who typically play quickly to give themselves a little more time to prepare for the next point.

One potential solution here is to cut the day session to two matches in an effort to avoid the session overrunning. An earlier start time of 6pm for the night session would also help to reduce the prospect of an early-hours finish, although one Australian broadcasting insider was adamant yesterday (Friday) that the domestic television rights holder, Channel 9, would not approve this because its 6pm news bulletin is considered so sacred.

As is the case with so many people in positions of power within tennis, the Australian Open tournament director, Craig Tiley, appeared to have his head in the sand when he initially said yesterday (Friday) morning that there was “no need to alter the schedule”. Later in the day he adopted a more conciliatory tone.

“The crux of the thing is taking care of the players’ wellbeing, and we’re constantly getting feedback from players,” Tiley said. “We’re asking, ‘What can we do to help you shorten matches?’ Have we looked at no lets, no warm-ups, a shorter time between changeovers?

“There are all elements of the debate, such as looking at the scoring, five sets at grand-slams. That’s been the uniqueness of grand-slams. We’re supporters of best of five sets. It’s up to the players. I’m just throwing out ideas.”

The scheduling debate aside, there was great praise yesterday (Friday) from across the tennis spectrum for Murray’s herculean efforts. His mother, Judy, has watched countless of his matches from courtside but was in disbelief at what her son has produced here in Melbourne this week, coming through 10 hours and 34 minutes of action in the first two rounds.

“What he has gone through to get back to this level is quite remarkable,” she told Channel 9. “He is just an incredible fighter and his resilience is second to none.”

Ironically, Murray today (Saturday) takes on the player he faced in what was thought at the time to be his last professional match, at the 2019 Australian Open, because of his debilitating right hip problem. Roberto Bautista Agut, the world No 25 from Spain, held on to beat him in a deciding set that day, and is still considered to be one of the most metronomic players from the baseline.

“It’s funny that when he was playing Bautista on one leg basically he could barely run, yet he still played five sets and had a chance in the match to win,” Jamie said.

“All this time later he’s now playing him here again, with two legs but almost 11 hours of tennis under his belt. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think anyone really knows.”

-The Times

Originally published as Australian Open: Murray back at 9:30am to deal with the ‘hangover’ of a 4am finish

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