MELBOURNE, Australia — This country has a well-earned reputation as a land of extremes: fatally poisonous snakes, deadly insects, killer crocodiles, drenching rains and brutal heat.
The Australian Open got a fair dose of that Tuesday — well, not so much the killer bugs or crocs or snakes, though the park next to the tennis center does have signs warning visitors to beware of snakes. The heat got so intense that play was halted for most of the afternoon. In the evening, a torrential rain fell, halting play once more.
Keeping with the theme of extreme, somewhere in the midst of all this weather, Andy Murray, the 35-year-old three-time Grand Slam winner and former world No. 1, somehow managed to turn back the clock and beat Matteo Berrettini of Italy in five sets, including a deciding super-tiebreaker at the end of the fifth set. The final score line looked like this: 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (10-6). The match lasted 4 hours 49 minutes. Murray, who is in the middle of a yearslong comeback from major hip surgery, saved a match point and played the final set with blood coming out of his knee after skinning it on the ground trying to win it in four.
“I feel tired,” Murray said in his news conference a little more than two hours after he finished.
“Impressive what he could do after so many surgeries, after all the kilometers that he ran in his career,” Berrettini said of Murray. “It just shows how much he loves the game, how much he loves these kind of matches.”
Murray and Berrettini were lucky. They played in Rod Laver, one of three courts here with roofs, which were closed when organizers announced that while temperatures had not hit triple digits, the four climate factors they consider when deciding whether to halt play — air temperature, radiant heat, humidity and wind speed — had all tipped the scale.
The 2023 Australian Open
The year’s first Grand Slam tennis tournament runs from Jan. 16 to Jan. 29 in Melbourne.
Taylor Fritz of the United States, who beat Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia in four sets, said he had felt far more discomfort in Washington, D.C., last summer or at the U.S. Open some years.
“It’s dry heat,” said Fritz, who has spent plenty of afternoons in smothering humidity in Florida. “I don’t think it’s as bad.”
The weather played havoc with the schedule, and with rain forecast on and off through the evening it appeared that plenty of matches might not finish until Wednesday.
If you like upsets, Tuesday was not your day. Murray’s was the big one. Berrettini, a finalist at Wimbledon in 2021, was the 13th seed, and with his big serve and forehand he can be as dangerous as anyone other than the nine-time champion Novak Djokovic, who beat Roberto Carballés Baena of Sapin in straight sets in the late match on Rod Laver, a court and time slot that Djokovic loves.
Murray credited a three-week journey to Florida last year to train with Ivan Lendl, the coach who has been with him for many of his biggest wins. The past success creates trust, Murray said, and the confidence he needs to compete with players a decade or more his junior. He will face the winner of the match between Thanasi Kokkinakis, a hometown favorite, and Fabio Fognini of Italy on Thursday, when the high temperature is expected to be just 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s worth noting in the wake of Berrettini’s loss that there is some chatter going around Melbourne Park and social media about a Netflix curse. The thinking is that if you were featured in the Netflix series “Break Point,” the tennis gods are coming for you.
Nick Kyrgios, Paula Badosa, and Ajla Tomljanovic all featured heavily in “Break Point” and had to pull out with injuries. Now Berrettini is out. Then again, Fritz and Felix Auger-Aliassime have survived. Eventually, the tennis gods come for everyone except one woman and one man.
As for Wednesday, Rafael Nadal is scheduled to be back in action against Mackenzie McDonald of the United States in the afternoon, but the real star power is on the night schedule.
Coco Gauff, the American star who is only 18, takes on Emma Raducanu, who won the U.S. Open in 2021 as a qualifier and has graced magazine covers ever since. If ever there was an early-round match worth setting an alarm for 3 a.m., this one might be it.