Andy Murray is through to the fourth round of the Australian Open, not that it matters much to him. As he strode out of Melbourne Park in his match clothes, dripping with sweat just moments after beating Joao Sousa 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, his only concern was for Nigel Sears, his father-in-law.
Sears, the coach of Ana Ivanovic, collapsed during the match between the Serb and Madison Keys, falling in the stairwell in the Rod Laver Arena. As the paramedics rushed to attend to him, the match was, quite naturally, suspended. But when the news came through that match had been suspended indefinitely, the waves of panic spread through the complex.
Finally, Sears, 58, was taken by stretcher from the stadium. As he was carried out, he was wearing an oxygen mask and he was conscious. That was, at least, promising, but it had taken 20 minutes for the paramedics to stabilise him and ensure he was fit enough to be moved.
He was taken by ambulance to Epworth Hospital, a five-minute drive from Melbourne Park and by the time he got there, he was sitting up and talking. A couple of hours later, the hospital described his condition as “stable”.
Andrew Jarrett, the Wimbledon referee who is working here as an assistant referee at the Open, saw Sears in the stadium as the paramedics treated him and then went with him in the ambulance.
“It was very worrying to begin with and when I saw him lying on the steps he looked so grey facially,” Jarrett said. “They gave Nige an ECG in the ambulance on the way to hospital and another when he got there. The results of both of those were fine. Now they are doing some blood tests on him, which will more accurately determine what the problem is.
“But I was a lot happier when I left the hospital than when I arrived. He was totally conscious and talking very normally. All he wanted to know was how Ana’s match was going. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is discharged from the hospital in the morning.”
Ivanovic initially looked distraught when she saw that it was her coach who had collapsed in the stands but as the news filtered through that he was awake and he was talking, she began to relax. Members of her team told American television that Sears had had “similar episodes” in the past and so when the two women agreed to resume their match 56 minutes later, the initial fears about his condition began to subside.
While all of this was going on, Murray was blissfully unaware of anything other than the fact that Sousa was causing him more problems than he expected. He was playing on the adjacent court to the main stadium, just a couple of hundred yards from where Sears had fallen.
But up in the players’ box, Murray’s team clearly knew what was going on. As the updates on his condition came through, they slowly relaxed and managed to keep any hint of what was going on away from the world No.2.
Once the match was over, Murray happily signed autographs on his way off the court – he did not have a care in the world. But as soon as he was out of public view, his mother, Judy, broke the news to him in a side room off the tunnel leading away from the court. Murray left immediately to go the hospital and see his father-in-law and Judy left a short while after.
Leon Smith, the Davis Cup captain and one of Murray’s closest confidants, had been watching the Scot from the players’ box as the drama unfolded. But for all that he knows Murray puts his family above everything else – and especially now with his wife Kim about to have their first child – Smith was sure that the world No.2 would stay in Melbourne and continue in the tournament provided Sears continued to improve.
“I don’t know the extent of what it is,” Smith said. “If he [Sears] is absolutely fine, it will be business of usual. But obviously he [Murray] needs to find out what exactly happened.”
Gawain Davies, a representative of Murray’s management group, confirmed that Murray would not be flying home immediately. “There is no suggestion that Andy is going to pull out of the tournament,” he said.
If he is to stay in the tournament, Murray will have to be prepared for anything from the very first ball. Against Sousa, he was ambushed at the start by the sheer pace of the shots that were coming at him and while he managed to take control of the first set, he was broken at the start of the second and never got back into that set.
But in his dogged, cussed way, Murray refused to be beaten. Sousa was proving to be a much tougher challenge than either of his first two opponents. Murray muttered and growled, he howled in frustration when chances were missed, but in the third set he restored order with an early break of serve. From there, he began to take charge and soon it was the Portuguese who was cursing and fuming as he saw the match slipping away.
“I thought I struggled,” Murray said to a tournament official as he waited for a car to take him to the hospital. “At the beginning I think he was extremely aggressive, very intense. He was getting into position to dictate a lot of points with his forehand. Once I started to hit the ball a little bit cleaner towards the end of the match I was able to get him in his backhand corner and dictate more of the points.
“It was tricky. I didn’t feel great. In my last match against Sam Groth, though I returned well, I didn’t get to hit that many groundstrokes; didn’t feel I was in a great rhythm; wasn’t hitting the ball clean at the start. Sousa was hitting the ball great, close to the lines, and making me do a lot of running.
“I just tried to keep fighting. At the end I was actually hitting the ball well and felt better at the end. It was good to get through that one.”
It may have been good, but it was not important. Murray was soon on his way to see Sears – his father-in-law’s well-being was all that mattered on Saturday night.