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Father-in-law given all clear but doubts over Murray remain

By Paul Newman

Panic over. Andy Murray's dramatic weekend at the Australian Open took a major turn for the better yesterday with the news that his father-in-law, Nigel Sears, had been given the all-clear to leave hospital and return home.

After a troubled Saturday night, when Murray went straight to the hospital after his victory over Joao Sousa to visit Sears, the Scot was able to resume preparations for his fourth-round meeting today with Bernard Tomic, due to start at 8am UK time.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen what effect the events of the weekend will have on Murray, whose thoughts have no doubt been with both his father-in-law and his heavily pregnant wife, Kim, who is back home preparing for the birth of their first child next month.

The British No 1 is usually meticulous in his post-match routines, but on Saturday he walked straight from the court to a car which took him to the hospital, where he stayed for around two hours.

After such a late and dramatic night he did not practise yesterday until 4pm. He did not want to speak to the media and asked for the side of the practice court, usually filled with cameramen, to be cleared.

While Murray was practising, Tennis Australia issued a statement from Sears: "My medical advice is that I will be allowed to leave the hospital shortly and I have been cleared to fly back to the UK in the next day or so."

Sears, who did not explain what his problem had been, collapsed in the Rod Laver Arena on Saturday evening at the same time as Murray was winning in the Margaret Court Arena.

The 58-year-old Briton coaches Ana Ivanovic, whose match against Madison Keys was halted after his collapse and did not resume for nearly an hour. Sears was treated by paramedics, given oxygen and taken out of the stadium on a stretcher bare-chested.

Murray's entourage were aware of what was happening but the world No 2 did not find out until he was told by his mother, Judy, who was waiting for him when he left the court.

For several weeks Murray has said he would fly home immediately if his wife went into labour, whatever the stage of the tournament. That has led to officials giving some thought as to what they might do if the Scot keeps winning all the way through to the semi-finals and then pulls out before Sunday's final.

In the 139-year history of Grand Slam singles competition, only two finals have failed to take place.

Sidney Wood was given a walkover at Wimbledon in 1931 as a result of Frank Shields' ankle injury, and a knee injury prevented Nancy Richey from taking the court against Margaret Smith in Australia in 1966.

In order to provide some entertainment for the 15,000 people with tickets for Sunday, a number of options are believed to be under consideration. The ATP World Tour Finals in London were faced with a similar problem in 2014 when Roger Federer pulled out on the day of his scheduled final against Novak Djokovic because of injury. Murray was one of those who came to the rescue by playing an exhibition set against Djokovic.

If there is a similar situation in Melbourne, one option might be to ask the new champion to play an exhibition match against whoever loses to Murray in the semi-finals. However, that could lead to an odd scenario in which a player was crowned champion and lost a match on the same day.

Another alternative might be to ask the two losing semi-finalists to contest what would amount to a third-place play-off. Prize-money could be offered and the Association of Tennis Professionals might even be asked to offer ranking points to the winner in the hope of guaranteeing a competitive edge to the match.

Sears was the third person to require the attention of paramedics during a match at this tournament. It was the second time Ivanovic had a match disrupted, her second-round encounter having been held up for 25 minutes after a spectator fell down some stairs. There was yet another hold-up yesterday as a doubles match involving Sam Groth was delayed for almost 20 minutes after the Australian's mother also fell down stairs.

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