January 27, 2016
Andy Murray’s on-court tantrums don’t always work in his favour – often quite the reverse. But it was a different story during his gutsy victory over David Ferrer in their Australian Open quarter-final, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-3.
If ever there was a sportsman who needed to release some tension and frustration, it was the British number one. His personal circumstances have been exceptional of late.
A good moan against the imperfections of the world were precisely what the doctor ordered for this complex character. And now Murray must try to focus on Milos Raonic and their big semi-final.
Of course, Murray tantrums haven’t always been worth their while – and for some time he toned them down. Under Ivan Lendl, the British number one would rarely go into meltdown mode, because he knew how deeply unimpressed his granite-faced coach would be.
Superior self-control led to extraordinary success. US Open triumph, Olympic glory and then the biggest tennis prize of all – Wimbledon.
Yet when Murray and Lendl split, the volatile Scot seemed to feel he could behave almost as he wanted on court. He was running his own show, after all. And, despite her own inner calm, little appeared to change when Amelie Mauresmo took over the coaching role.
Last year’s Davis Cup brought a different dynamic. Murray wasn’t up against the best of the best as he led Great Britain to glory – and he was rarely threatened with defeat in the singles rubbers. He thrived on the extra responsibility and his behaviour hardly ever let him down.
At the Slams, however, Murray has received plenty of criticism for his histrionics over the years, not least because they seem so counter-productive.
Not so against Ferrer, after a tough few days by anyone’s standards. Murray’s father-in-law, Nigel Sears, collapsed at the Australian Open and was rushed to hospital. Andy only found out when he finished his own match – and wouldn’t have continued at the tournament had Sears remained seriously ill.
Murray must also have been deeply concerned about the impact Nigel’s collapse might have had on his heavily-pregnant wife Kim, Sears’ daughter.
And if the baby were to arrive early, Murray still appears determined to cut short his increasingly promising Australian Open campaign and return to Britain.
It won’t have escaped Murray’s notice that his arch-rival Novak Djokovic hasn’t quite been firing on all cylinders so far in Melbourne and looks more beatable than usual. Could outside factors still deny Andy the opportunity to take Novak down, just when the Serb might be there for the taking at last, should he get past the evergreen Roger Federer?
Murray’s mind must still be in a whirl. His life is so complicated right now. So many uncontrollables. So much tension.
So when Murray lost his temper against Ferrer, his reactions weren’t just forgivable – the release was almost a necessary part of his psychological and emotional survival at the tournament.
He appeared to yell at a photographer for being too visible, swear loudly at himself for losing the second set when he had worked so hard to remain in contention, and show open disgust at the decision to close the roof when he was 3-1 ahead in the third – even though he admitted later that the indoor conditions helped him to return better.
None of these reactions could have been too pleasant to be around at the time, and there is no attempt here to condone that kind of behaviour in general.
But if Andy Murray ever has any right to scream at the world in sheer frustration, it is probably now. And if a tantrum is ever to do him any good, it is also now.
That release of tension should now clear the way for a fascinating semi-final against Milos Raonic – as long as Kim doesn’t go into labour, of course.
Raonic, a 33-1 shot at the start of the tournament, defeated Gael Monfils, the great entertainer, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Playing better than ever since teaming up with new coach Carlos Moya, Raonic will provide formidable resistance to Murray’s dream of reaching another Melbourne final.
And yet Murray will start favourite, due to his renowned skill at taking down big servers. It will be fascinating to watch the drama unfold.
How cool is Johanna Konta? And not just for reaching her own Australian Open semi-final! When journalists were still trying to make an issue of her nationality and stir up a tug-o’-war between Britain and Australia, Konta cleverly diffused the tension while giving the media a soundbite they simply couldn’t resist.
After her brilliant 6-4, 6-1 victory over Zhang Shuai, the 24-year-old Konta said: ‘Actually I’m a tri-citizen. I’ve got a Hungarian passport as well. Just add that into the mix, guys. I mean, I’m pretty much the female version of Jason Bourne.’
She’ll need some of Bourne’s incredible powers if she is to negotiate her semi-final against German sensation Angelique Kerber, who pulled off a shock first win against Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 7-5.
Azarenka had been in such impressive form that she was widely tipped to give Serena Williams a run for her money in Melbourne. Instead the Belarusian found herself 0-4 down in the first set and then couldn’t hold her second-set lead against Kerber’s victorious comeback.
Kerber’s explosive consistency must make her favourite against Konta – but don’t rule out the battling Brit just yet.