Australian Open: Murray and Robson ready to turn up heat after scorching starts
As their friends at home shiver in the depths of a British winter, Andy Murray and Laura Robson are probably expecting little sympathy as they prepare to step into the furnace of an Australian summer. After a spell of comparatively cool weather in a part of the world where it is said you can experience four seasons in one day, let alone one week, the temperature here is forecast to rise to a scorching 39C tomorrow, when Murray and Robson play their second-round matches.
The year's opening Grand Slam tournament has a heat rule in place under which play can be stopped if the temperature reaches a certain level, although matches can continue under the retractable roofs that cover the two main show courts. During a heatwave here four years ago matches were halted late in the morning and did not resume until the evening.
Such conditions might be considered unlikely to suit a pale-skinned Scot and a teenager from Wimbledon, but Murray and Robson have proved on a number of occasions that when the going gets hot they get going.
Both Britons won their opening matches yesterday – played in bright sunshine but with the temperature no higher than the mid-20s – in impressive fashion. Murray did not give the Dutchman Robin Haase a chance to unleash his big-hitting game and won 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. Robson, who was similarly quick out of the blocks, never looked back after winning the first four games against Melanie Oudin and went on to complete a 6-2, 6-3 victory over the American.
They face contrasting tests tomorrow. Murray meets the world No 100, Joao Sousa, a 23-year-old Portuguese who had never won a Grand Slam match until his 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 victory yesterday over the Australian John-Patrick Smith, the world No 237.
Sousa spends most of his time on the Challenger tour and has played in only one other Grand Slam tournament, having lost to Marcel Granollers at last year's French Open.
Robson is up against Petra Kvitova, the world No 8 and 2011 Wimbledon champion. The 18-year-old Briton has a large gap to bridge but, after beating two Grand Slam champions (Kim Clijsters and Li Na) at last year's US Open, the world No 53 has no reason to fear anybody. Kvitova's game, based on her big leftie serve and crunching groundstrokes, is not dissimilar to Robson's, but the Czech, who suffers from asthma, has struggled in tough conditions in the past.
In contrast, Robson enjoyed two of her best weeks in extreme temperatures last year. She reached her first WTA semi-final in Sicily in July and became the first British woman for 22 years to play in a tour final in gruelling heat in China in September. "I don't really like the heat that much, but I tend to play well in it," Robson said.
Murray was already starting to think about dealing with the heat in the wake of his first-round win. "You can't leave anything to chance," he said. "You make sure you are very well hydrated today. Tomorrow I probably won't spend as much time on the practice court as I normally would. On the day of the match you've got to try and conserve as much energy in the build-up as you can and hope your body reacts well to the heat."
A ferocious trainer, Murray has become one of the game's strong men. His appearance yesterday, muscles rippling through his white and yellow shirt, prompted an Australian journalist to ask whether he had added bulk since last year. Haase had clearly thought on similar lines. "When you see him in his shirt you can see he worked out," the Dutchman said after the match, impressed by Murray's strength.
Jamie Baker became the first British player to lose in the singles here when he was beaten 7-6, 7-5, 6-2 by the Czech Republic's Lukas Rosol. The Scot had his chances, having served for the first two sets, but Rosol fought back on both occasions and proved too strong.
* Rafael Nadal has entered the Brazil Open in Sao Paulo next month, which could mark his first tennis action since Wimbledon. The Spaniard hasn't played since June, mainly because of tendinitis in his left knee. He was scheduled to play in an Abu Dhabi exhibition event last month, but a stomach virus forced him to withdraw and skip the Australian Open.