The wait is over. Andy Murray has kicked off his first major campaign since that memorable Monday last September.
The first man standing between him and a second Grand Slam in a row on Tuesday was world No. 53 Robin Haase of the Netherlands.
In a curious coincidence, Tramlines once sat directly behind Haase’s mother as she watched her son grind out a four-set win over a moody Fernando Verdasco during the second round of Wimbledon in 2011.
There was nothing creepy about this scenario. Tramlines was in the company of its own friends that day, who also happened to be Dutch.
And so Court 7 was the scene at which said Dutch companions were pontificating about the correct way in which to pronounce ‘Haase’, as his eavesdropping mother giggled quietly at the fore. ‘Haase’ is not said in the same manner as one would say Tommy ‘Haas’, for the record. The ‘aa’ also has a more elongated pronunciation than most commentators realise, just as ‘Robin’ as in ‘Robin Hood’ is not correct, because the accent falls on the ‘i’ and the ‘R’ should sound more like an ‘H’ really.
Peppered within this lesson of vernacular was talk of Haase’s game. Among the Dutch he is known for having a lethal presence on court on a good day but also as somebody who struggles mentally when things aren’t going his way.
It’s safe to say that Tramlines witnessed both versions of the man on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday.
In short, Murray destroyed his opponent 6-3 6-1 6-3. It wasn’t exactly a tough day at the office in his current form, but there were certainly moments in which Haase showed his potential, and the match wasn’t quite as straightforward as the score indicates.
Murray and Haase have a little bit in common. They were both born in 1987, just over one month apart of each other, and both stand at 6ft 3in. What is decidedly different about the pair is that the Scot is over a stone heavier, which is made up basically of muscle (or so we believe, if Ivan Lendl’s training regime is anything to go by). Haase is a lankier version of Ruud van Nistelrooy.
The 25-year-old Dutchman rose to world number 33 last July – the best of his career – and though he has never progressed beyond the third round of a Grand Slam he was voted ATP’s comeback player of the season in 2010 after an 18-month break due to a knee injury, when he shot from world number 447 to number 65 in the space of just one season.
The main problem with Haase is that he seems to lack that killer instinct to finish his opponents off when he gets out in front.
The curly-haired player very nearly disposed of an in-form Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon 2010, who was forced to come from behind twice to win in five sets, in a performance that was so much stronger than his No. 151 ranking at the time.
Murray has also been in dangerous Dutch territory before, when he was two sets down in round two of the 2011 US Open, a match that turned out to be an epic five-setter, which the Scot eventually clawed his way back to win.
The only other time the pair have met was in 2008, which Haase won, and given the history Murray was careful not to dismiss him as a cheap ride to the second round.
Haase did come out firing to start with. He possesses a blisteringly powerful forehand given that he is a left-hander who plays tennis with his right, and a serve that topped at 202km/h in this match. His average first-serve speed here was 184km/h to Murray’s 161km/h, to put it in perspective.
These forehand power shots mixed with clever slices that cut low and dropped just over the net – along with a wayward drop shot from Murray – were what helped him break Murray’s serve in the first set and take back two games in what would otherwise have been a 6-1 rout.
If consistency wasn’t an issue, Haase would be a legitimate threat to highly-ranked players. When placed correctly, his big baseline drives had Murray running all over the place. The problem with making someone like Andy Murray run, though, is that his body is currently built like something akin to a track athlete. He has been clocked at covering 10 metres per second in very short intervals, which is on par with Usain Bolt over that distance, and possesses a rare combination of both endurance and strength, which usually cancel each other out.
Murray’s impeccable reaction time means he gets to most balls and his strength ensure he usually sends them back with force. In Haase’s case here, trying to play the big points all the time doesn’t always work when your opponent is not only matching you but was also raising you one each time. Tellingly, Haase made 35 unforced errors to Murray’s 20.
The Scot has brought a stronger form to Melbourne and his boost in confidence on the back of his US Open title, Olympic gold medal and Brisbane International win at the weekend were evident. Shots that would have rattled Murray in the past galvanised him into action for the next point, and there was never really any doubt as to who would win this time around.
Murray will meet Joao Sousa of Portugal in the second round after the 23-year-old saw off Australian wildcard John-Patrick Smith. He concedes to not knowing much about him apart from seeing him play a couple of clay court matches in Barcelona and at the French Open last year.
Murray is adamant that his golden year has produced no extra nerves nor changed his personal approach in any way.
“I’ve been asked that question a lot. It doesn’t feel much different too me, I was still nervous before I went on the play the match,” he said.
“But I don’t think it makes personally a huge amount of difference to how you feel at the beginning of events. So whether everyone else is still thinking about the US Open or not makes no difference to me.”
It may not, but the rest of the world is certainly talking about which of the big three men will surface in the final next Sunday. The main focus of course is on the Murray v Djokovic rivalry, which has ripened perfectly for this Slam, even more so as the Nadal v Federer equivalent enters its twilight.
Federer is unlikely to be victorious here. Obviously there is no discounting the 17-time Grand Slam winner and he is still lethal. But he is also pushing 32 and has only claimed one Slam title out of a possible 11 since he won his 16th, the Aussie Open in 2010.
He’s also up against history. It’s been 10 years since a male player over the age of 30 has won or even reached the final of this Open. It has also been 18 years since a male player has won without having played a warm-up tournament, and rest has been the Swiss’s strategy in the lead-up to this season. Andre Agassi was the last to achieve both, in 2003 and 1995 respectively.
This is a love triangle that is destined to leave somebody heartbroken. In Shakespeare terms, if Murray and Djokovic are Orsino and Viola, then Federer is poor Olivia - noble, yes, but ultimately misplaced. Tramlines is by no means suggesting that Djokovic wants to dress up as a eunuch, but everyone wants a piece of Viola and Murray is potentially his best match.
As it happens, Agassi agrees.
“You really have to look at Murray and Djokovic as the two who are in the position to raise the standards,” he told someone who then told the Scottish Daily Record.
“Heading particularly towards Australia, I like Andy. His game can play at the standard of Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer. He’s slowly come to understand what he needs to do out there as far as not being so passive.”
The Muzzball has what it takes. And he has the Rafa factor on his side – the Spaniard was also sidelined with injury for the US Open and Olympics. See a pattern?
If he meets Djokovic at the altar, he has had enough dress rehearsals to know how to play his part to perfection.
Scare of the day
Serena Williams took a worrying tumble on to her ankle during her 6-0 6-0 demolition of Romania's Elina Gallovits-Hall.
On whether she will be able to play on Thursday?
“Oh, I’ll be out there. I mean, unless something fatal happens to me, there’s no way I’m not going to be competing. I’m alive. My heart’s beating. I’ll be fine.
"Obviously there’s pain, obviously there’s swelling. So it’s going to be really important to see how the next few hours unfold.”
Twitter royalty award
The Williams sisters have a helluva lot of Grand Slam titles to their collective name - and now they can add 'Queens of Twitter' to that honour roll.
AAP report that Serena and Venus have topped IBM's Social Media Leaderboard so far at the Aussie Open - "a chart tracking and analysing Twitter conversations about all the players".
Tens of thousands of tweets have been sent about them since Monday, with about 80 per cent of those about Serena rated as 'positive' and 94 per cent for Venus.
Cheer squad persistence award
Three Aussie fans, living up to fan standards of recreating any song possible in the name of sport, chirped (with actions): “Andy Murray is our man, Eeyi eeyi, oh! With a drop shot here and a drop shot there. Here a drop, there a drop, everywhere a drop shot.” The crowd got in the spirit every change of end.
Appreciative quote of the day
Andy Murray on being serenaded continuously by gentlemen in singlets, shorts and thongs: “I think it’s the same group of guys that come every year. They’re good support and sing pretty amusing songs. I think they haven’t come up with too many new ones though, so I challenge them to that.”
Interesting player fact
Wu Di today became the first male player from China to ever compete in the singles of a Grand Slam tournament after qualifying via a wildcard tournament in Nanjing. The 21-year-old world No. 186 fought back from a set down but lost his opening match 7-5 4-6 6-3 6-3 to Croatian Ivan Dodig.
- Sports & Recreation
- Robin Haase
- Andy Murray