Australian Open feature: Anyone for actual tennis? Andy Murray erases the blue mood

Andy Murray celebrates

It’s just gone Blue Monday. It’s mid -January. The Premier League is taking a winter break. The Ashes has been a non-event. Ricky Gervais has released his very depressing third series of Afterlife on Netflix. Fetch me a stiff drink. This is the beginning of a very looonggg year.

Thankfully, by the time you read this, it will be not so terrible Tuesday. Or something. If life is getting you down and sport is not offering the pick-me-up that you had pencilled in to push back against the stress of the post-Xmas fortnight, then just hang on for a while.

Sure enough, we’ve just had an Andy Murray five-setter epic with his metal hip still intact. That’s why we are here. It’s what happens on the court not in a court that gives Melbourne a blue tick.

At its best, sport takes us to places where we can’t imagine (deportation aside). Places unfettered by day to day downsides. We should get lost in its heights and roll with the lows, rather than be sucked down the vortex of its troughs and side issues.

Then again, the succour for us mere mortals is to remind ourselves that these professionals are human. One look at the fallout of the epic fail of English cricket is enough to satiate those looking for dirty linen this morning.

Never mind. There is always the Australian Open, the “Happy Slam” as it is known.  Or was known until a global pandemic played out, first in hotel rooms in 2021, as the players swiped rackets next to soft furnishings for a whole fortnight, holed up, incarcerated but, you know, “happy” to just be there.  Or maybe not.

At least we got to see the fun and frolics of Bernard Tomic and his girlfriend complaining about hair, food and room service. It was like a mad version of Celebrity Tennis Big Brother with Novak Djokovic playing the role of chief protagonist with his alleged list of demands.

Ultimately, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley was highly lauded by  winners Djokovic and Naomi Osaka for keeping the show on the road against the complex backdrop of Covid. Tiley boasted that he had “a playbook that we can share with the rest of the world”. Did it include medical exemptions?

Twelve months on, the tennis community came down under looking for a fresh start, a firecracker to set off a new year. Although the sun is shining, the off-court drama has become about as exciting as an episode of Parliament Today when everybody is on snooze by mid-afternoon.

Poor Rafa Nadal gave us a rundown of how rotten he was feeling, firstly about the situation of the missing person: “ I’m just a player seeing the circus from the outside. But, as I said, I am a little bit tired of this matter. I think it went too far….. And that’s it, I want to play tennis.” Rafa then did play tennis very well but reminded us how he was struck down by Covid. Holed up in bed for four days? We know how you feel.

Watching events unfold has felt like a never-ending cruise trailer where you only get to see what’s in your cabin.

Nadal has said tennis is “showbiz” and that’s exactly what makes us forget the nonsense that goes before. The product has to be purer than the politics of the preamble.

We need to believe in what we are seeing. The Australian Open has the profile alright. It’s just in all the wrong places. Let the sport talk rather than sink under the weight of its lost cargo.

Even the missing person has told us to “focus on the game”.

Let’s play.