The first test has been passed – Andy Murray is safely through to the second round of the Australian Open unscathed, untroubled and looking remarkably fresh in the 42 degree furnace of a Melbourne heatwave.
As promised, the hot weather moved in yesterday and before a ball had been struck in earnest, it was already 36 degrees. By the time Murray got on court at gone 5pm – the hottest part of the day here – the thermometer had tipped 42.2 degrees. It was too hot to breathe, much less play tennis and in such brutal conditions, the world No 4 had no intention of hanging around. He absolutely clumped Go Soeda, the world No 112, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. It took just 87 minutes, which is 86 minutes more than most people would have liked to have spent in that heat, but after it was over, Murray was pleased with himself, his performance and with the way his newly-repaired back held up to the challenge.
“You’re obviously a bit nervous and apprehensive about playing in those conditions and for a number of reasons for me,” Murray said. “I was nervous because this for me is a big, big test playing in those conditions, potentially playing for anywhere from two-and-a-half to four hours. So I was a bit nervous before the match.
“But I played well today. Practice the last week or so was very good. I played with a lot of good players. I hit the balls very well on the courts here. And I maybe didn’t expect to play as well as I did today, but the signs have been good in practice. I started the match off very well and did everything solid.”
Soeda only looked ready to challenge the Scot for one game – the first. Having held his serve to love and having allowed Murray to have a quick look at what was on offer, the Japanese was toast. And by the end of the third set, he was burnt toast. Murray read his serve and dominated him from the baseline and should Soeda try and come forward, Murray passed him with relative ease. In such difficult conditions, this was just the sort of match Murray wanted.
Despite the fact that the temperature was rising with every passing hour, the tournament’s extreme heat policy was not implemented. It is based on a complicated calculation which takes the heat and the humidity into consideration and when the combined levels are deemed too much, play is stopped. But given that yesterday was not only very hot but very dry, the outside courts were kept running while the roof was left open on the two main show courts.
The women, though, have their own set of rules and when it gets too warm, they are allowed a ten-minute break between the second and third sets to cool down. This anomaly puzzles Murray although not enough to anger him. He has a grand slam draw to negotiate and the women taking a bit of a breather to prevent a fit of the vapours is the least of his worries.
“There’s different rules for the men and women,” Murray said. “I don’t understand what the difference is in the two rules. I don’t know why there’s the different rules for the heat, I don’t know exactly why that is. If there’s a medical reason for it, then I’m fine with it, if there isn’t, I’m not fine with it. That’s it. If I’m told to play, I play; if not, then we don’t.”
He will play again, though, and he will be back in the blistering sun taking on Vincent Millot, a French qualifier who took three-and-a-half hours to get the better of Wayne Odesnik in five sets. And as Millot sweated and grafted, Murray was happily sitting in the air-conditioned bliss of the locker room. He could not have asked for a better result.
Ranked 267 in the world, Millot has only made occasional appearances at the grand slam events and until yesterday, had never won a match at this level. Now he finds himself playing the world No 4, the Wimbledon champion and a three-time finalist in Australia. Coming from a family of footballers – his father, Philippe, played for Saint-Etienne alongside Michel Platini and his uncle, Franck Gava, was a French international who played for Paris Saint-Germain – and knowing that Murray has similar genes (his grandfather, Roy, played for Hibs), Millot reckons that it might be a fairer contest if they ditched their rackets and grabbed their football boots.
“Maybe we should play each other at football rather than tennis,” the 27-year-old said hopefully, “and if we did I think I might win. I had a lot of talent as a footballer and I had some offers to join some clubs when I was 13, but my father pushed me more towards tennis. I loved playing tennis as well so I was happy to do that. I think I could have played football professionally, though you never know.
“But for someone who spends most of their life playing on the Challenger tour, to play in a match like this is a dream. We’ll be on a big court and it will mean that my family back home will be able to watch.”
They had better keep their eyes peeled, though, because Murray will be fresher than Millot after yesterday’s endeavours.