Friday, August 17, 2018
Sports

Andy Murray, No. 1 and newly knighted, still has room for more

MELBOURNE, Australia — "So Ivan, are you calling Andy 'Sir'?"

Ivan Lendl paused and then laughed, which would surely seem strange to those who know him only as Andy Murray's stone-faced coach in the front row of the players' box.

"Definitely not," Lendl said, chuckling some more before heading off down the crowded main hallway inside Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open.

Clearly, not much has changed in the Murray camp since his remarkable stretch run to the No. 1 ranking and a knighthood in 2016.

He is still tough on himself on court and on the changeovers. Still Andy — not Sir Andy — to his peers and mentor-in-chief, Lendl. Still deadpan and droll with his voice that sounds like it emanates from a mine shaft.

Asked on Monday by the on-court interviewer John Fitzgerald how Murray's wife, Kim, was handling the transition to Lady Kim, Murray said, "No more swearing during my matches, for anyone who saw that a few years ago."

He was referring to Kim's courtside language during his semifinal victory over Tomas Berdych at the 2015 Australian Open. Her tirade did not go unnoticed, and she returned for the final cheekily wearing a shirt that read, "Parental advisory explicit content."

Presumably, Lady Kim won't be wearing that sort of thing in the players' box from here on, either (or at least she wasn't on Monday).

"I haven't found it distracting really," Murray said of the knighthood. "I mean, I found out about it four or five weeks ago. Maybe if it happened a day or so, two days before the tournament. But I've had enough time to get my head around it."

Just as he has had plenty of time to prepare himself for the role of No. 1, however long it lasts.

I asked him on Monday, after his stuttering 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 first-round victory over Illya Marchenko, if there had been any downside to No. 1, thinking he might bring up extra demands or burdens.

"No," he said. "It's been great. I think because it's taken me so long to get there, obviously I want to try to stay there. But also I feel like I'm mature enough now to handle it. Maybe if it happens when you're very young, you might feel extra pressures. The responsibilities might feel a bit much, but I think because I'm much older and more mature, it's been good."

The conventional tennis wisdom is that it is harder to hang on at the top than to reach the top.

"I hope not," Murray said.

But for anyone who believes that he now has nowhere to go but down, that is hardly true in Australia.

He has reached five singles finals in Melbourne and lost all five. No man has done so well at any Grand Slam tournament without breaking through to win the title.

Others have lost five finals in the same major event, including Lendl, who lost five at the U.S. Open. But he also won three. Bill Johnston lost six finals at the United States Championships, but won the event twice. John Bromwich lost five finals at the Australian Championships in the pre-Open era, but won the title twice, too.

Murray, at 29, is in unfortunately uncharted territory, all the more so because Novak Djokovic ended his own long run of frustration at the French Open last year by finally taking the title after reaching four semifinals and three finals.

"Look, it's still a remarkable record, five Slam finals in Australia, and deep down I think it means an enormous amount to Andy to finally complete the puzzle," said Roger Rasheed, the Australian who once coached Lleyton Hewitt when Hewitt was chasing the title here without success.

But Hewitt reached only one final in Melbourne. Murray is 46-11 here and has a better winning percentage at the Australian Open than at any other Grand Slam tournament except Wimbledon.

"Andy's been so close," Rasheed said. "What more does he have to do? Well, it's not a matter of big changes. It's just been a matter of points and the moments."

It's a matter of the opposition, too. The first of Murray's Australian Open defeats in the final came against Roger Federer in 2010. The last four came against Djokovic in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

"Andy played Roger in his prime and has been playing Novak in his prime," Rasheed said. "It's a handful of points changing the way the match falls. Andy's showing he's in his prime now. He just needs to get there and roll the dice again."

Murray's timing may still not be quite right. He played a great deal of tennis down the stretch in 2016 and was beaten by Djokovic in a high-quality final in Doha, Qatar, to start this season. Freshness just might be a factor down the stretch as well as Djokovic's eagerness to restore the pecking order.

But it does not seem quite right in light of their abilities that Djokovic has six Australian Open titles and Murray has not even one.

He broke down in tears after losing to Federer in 2010. He stared vacantly into space after losses to Djokovic and sportingly came up with the right words amid major disappointment. And yet he insisted on Monday that his emotions were not mixed when he thought about this tournament.

"Honestly, they're totally positive," said Murray, who plays 19-year-old Andrey Rublev in the second round on Wednesday. "I've had a lot of tough losses here, for sure. But I love it here. Played some great matches as well, but just haven't managed to win the final. But, you know, I keep coming back to try. I'll keep doing that until I'm done, but I still feel like I've got a few years left to try and do it."

He is, by any measure, due for a change of fortune in Melbourne. And if you like your sports with foreshadowing, the only other top tennis player to receive a knighthood was Sir Norman Brookes, the Australian star of the early 20th century.

Guess whose name has been given to the trophy awarded to the men's champion at the Australian Open?

Comments
Full disclosure: My preseason AP Top 25 ballot

Full disclosure: My preseason AP Top 25 ballot

We'll find out where Miami, Florida State and the rest of Florida's teams start the season Monday when the AP releases its preseason Top 25 rankings.Until then, here's a sneak peek, in the form of the AP ballot I submitted last week.Clemson starts at...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Preseason football: Berkeley Prep passing game on point in weather-shortened win

TAMPA — Berkeley Prep did some strange things on offense Thursday night.Instead of wheeling around to hand off, quarterback Josh Youngblood was firing the ball down the field.The Bucs becoming more of passing team?Believe it.By shucking its run...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from the Rays’ win over the Yankees

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from the Rays’ win over the Yankees

NEW YORK — Here's Marc Topkin's takeaways from the Rays' 3-1 victory over the Yankees Thursday:1. Give mild-mannered 29-year-old rookie Adam Kolarek credit for handling the pressure of a bases loaded no-outs in the ninth situation and clos...
Updated: 8 hours ago
The Rays finally won a series in Yankee Stadium. Now for some perspective.

The Rays finally won a series in Yankee Stadium. Now for some perspective.

NEW YORK — After the Rays exhaled following Thursday's tense-as-they come 3-1 win, they were able to appreciate the significance of what they'd done.For now.And, more importantly, for the future.Really, it shouldn't be that hard. They make thre...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rays journal: Rookie Adam Kolarek picks good time for first career save

Rays journal: Rookie Adam Kolarek picks good time for first career save

NEW YORK — There was a lot that went into the Rays hanging on to their 3-1, series-clinching win over the Yankees Thursday.Including the conversation  reliever Adam Kolarek had with himself jogging in from the bullpen with the bases loaded...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Preseason football: Springstead rolls over Hudson 55-0

Preseason football: Springstead rolls over Hudson 55-0

SPRING HILL — Preseason games are usually a good gauge of where teams stand entering the season. But even after Springstead's 55-0 win over Hudson on Thursday night, Eagles coach Mike Garofano was cautiously optimistic.He thought dept...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Catching up with the guy who’s been on both sides of Winston-Mariota

Catching up with the guy who’s been on both sides of Winston-Mariota

NASHVILLE — Jon Robinson knew being the general manager of the Titans meant almost every decision would pass by his desk."I got into this for football,'' Robinson said. "And now I'm trying to buy vacuum cleaners.''The Titans' kicker is Ryan Suc...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Sports on TV/radio for Friday, August 17

TODAYAutosXfinity: Food City 300 qualifying3:30 p.m.NBCSNXfinity: Food City 3007:30 p.m.NBCSNBaseballMets at Phillies6 p.m.MLBRays at Red Sox7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMMarlins at Nationals7 p.m.FSFAstros at A’s10 p.m.MLBBaseball, Little League World Series...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Bucs sign former Panthers DT Drew Iddings, waived Stevie Tu’ikolovatu injured

Bucs sign former Panthers DT Drew Iddings, waived Stevie Tu’ikolovatu injured

One Bucs player will be departing Nashville before the team does.Defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, a seventh-round pick from Southern Cal in 2017, was waived injured Thursday. Tu'ikolovatu suffered what is believed to be a triceps injury.The Bucs...
Published: 08/16/18
Rays hang on for 3-1 victory, win first series at Yankee Stadium since 2014

Rays hang on for 3-1 victory, win first series at Yankee Stadium since 2014

NEW YORK – Once they got done exhaling, the Rays had reason to celebrate Thursday.In hanging on for a 3-1 win and taking two of the three games, they won their first series at Yankee Stadium since the middle of the 2014 season.Twelve times sinc...
Published: 08/16/18