Australian Open: Andy Murray’s biggest major win in years as extreme heat stops play

Andy Murray
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Metal hip, bloody knee and all, Andy Murray produced his biggest victory in years.

Murray built a huge lead, let it disappear completely, then needed to save a match point against Matteo Berrettini — who is nearly a full decade younger and ranked more than 50 places higher — before managing to pull out a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (10-6) triumph across more than 4 1/2 epic hours on Tuesday in the Australian Open’s first round.

“The last few years, I’ve certainly questioned myself at times. There’s certainly a lot of people (who) questioned me and my ability, whether I could still perform at the biggest events and the biggest matches,” said the 35-year-old Murray, a former No. 1 now ranked No. 66. “I felt very proud of myself after the match. That’s not something that I generally felt over the years at the end of tennis matches.”

This was the three-time major champion’s first defeat of a top-20 opponent at a Grand Slam tournament since 2017. That was before Murray thought he would need to retire — and even was given a career send-off at Melbourne Park in 2019, when he exited in the first round a year after his first hip operation.

After a second surgery inserted an artificial hip, Murray decided to try to continue playing. This sort of evening was likely what he had in mind when he pressed on — and when he spent three weeks in Boca Raton, Florida, practicing under the tutelage of coach Ivan Lendl during the offseason.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

“I’ve put a lot of work into the last few months with my team to give me the opportunity to perform on stadiums like this, in matches like this, against players like Matteo,” Murray told a crowd that roared with approval for him. “And it paid off tonight.”

Oh, yes, what a performance it was, filled with the sort of grit that defined much of Murray’s time on tour, that carried him to championships at the U.S. Open in 2012 and at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016 and to two Olympic singles gold medals.

Murray is also a five-time runner-up at Melbourne Park, with four losses in the final to Novak Djokovic and one to Roger Federer.

“He’s a great champion. I said it so many times,” said Berrettini, an Italian who is one of the players chronicled in the new “Break Point” Netflix docuseries. “Personally, was great to play with that atmosphere against him. Just a great match. Unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

There were moments Tuesday when Murray played as he did a long time ago, diving to hit a volley before slamming to the blue court — scraping his right leg — or sprinting to somehow reach seemingly unreachable shots, then looking up into the stands at Lendl and shaking a fist while yelling, “Let’s go! Come on now!”

Murray raced through the first two sets in less than 1 1/2 hours before the big-hitting, big-serving Berrettini turned things around and took the match to a fifth, even coming within one point of victory at 5-4 in that set but faltering and flubbing an easy backhand.

By beating the 13th-seeded Berrettini, who was the runner-up at Wimbledon in 2021, Murray became only the fifth man in the Open era with 50 match wins at the Australian Open, joining Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Stefan Edberg.

They played under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena because of temperatures that soared up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and caused suspensions of play that lasted hours in matches on smaller courts that can’t be covered. Later, a rainstorm came, creating another pause in the action.

This was the most-anticipated match of the afternoon session and lasted so long it finished after 7 p.m. local time, most definitely living up to the hype.

“Some of the tennis at the end was really good,” Murray said. “It felt like that playing; I don’t know what it looked like.”

Looked terrific, Andy.

It was difficult to imagine that the night session matches scheduled to follow in Laver could possibly equal the intensity and drama. First came a 7-6 (8), 4-6, 6-1 win for the No. 2-seeded woman, Ons Jabeur, over Tamara Zidansek, followed by nine-time champion Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 defeat of Roberto Carballes Baena in his return to the Australian Open after being deported from the country a year ago for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Djokovic received a loud and warm reception when he entered the court from fans who chanted his nickname and waved dozens of Serbian flags.

Murray and Berrettini concluded with the first-to-10-points, win-by-2 tiebreaker formula that all Grand Slam events adopted for the fifth sets of men’s matches and third sets of women’s. Murray said it was his first experience with that relatively new format.

Make no mistake: He was far better in that decisive section of the match, jumping out to leads of 5-0 and 8-3. It ended in a bit of anticlimactic fashion: Murray’s service return clipped the net cord and trickled over for a winner.

“Just a bit lucky at the end,” said Murray, who next will meet Thanasi Kokkinakis or Fabio Fognini.

Murray has wondered aloud whether all of the work he put in to get back to a level of play that satisfied him was worth it.

“I need to give myself some credit, because the last few years have been tough,” Murray said. “I’ve lost a few of those matches, those type of matches, in the Slams the last couple years.”

He arrived in Australia having lost in the first or second round in seven of his nine most recent Grand Slam appearances. The other two ended in the third round.

For now, this one continues.

“It’s impressive what he could do after so many surgeries, after all the kilometers that he ran in his career. It’s impressive,” Berrettini said. “It just shows how much he loves the game, how much he loves these kind of matches.”

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Olympic 400m champion, announces pregnancy

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Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the two-time reigning Olympic 400m champion, announced she is pregnant with her first child.

“New Year, New Blessing,” she posted on social media with husband Maicel Uibo, the 2019 World Championships silver medalist in the decathlon for Estonia. “We can’t wait to meet our little bundle of joy.”

Miller-Uibo, 28, followed her repeat Olympic title in Tokyo by winning her first world indoor and outdoor titles last year.

Also last year, Miller-Uibo said she planned to drop the 400m and focus on the 200m going into the 2024 Paris Games rather than possibly bid to become the first woman to win the same individual Olympic running event three times.

She has plenty of experience in the 200m, making her world championships debut in that event in 2013 and placing fourth. She earned 200m bronze at the 2017 Worlds, was the world’s fastest woman in the event in 2019 and petitioned for a Tokyo Olympic schedule change to make a 200m-400m double easier. The petition was unsuccessful.

She did both races anyway, finishing last in the 200m final, 1.7 seconds behind the penultimate finisher on the same day of the 400m first round.

She did not race the 200m at last July’s worlds, where the 200m and 400m overlapped.

Notable moms to win individual Olympic sprint titles include American Wilma Rudolph, who swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 1960 Rome Olympics two years after having daughter Yolanda.

And Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics, when the mother of two also held world records in the high jump and long jump, two events in which she didn’t compete at those Games.

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