Following the Australian Open from the other side of the world is always an unusual experience. Often a day behind despite watching in real time, it’s perhaps never felt as distant as this year’s tournament. First, there was the Andy Murray situation; the retirement, followed by the match itself.
In a sense, there was a cruelty to it – it felt wrong that there was such a distance between the Scot and hoards of his worshippers back home. It was a Melbourne night that you wanted to touch, a match with which you wanted to properly engage, an emotional rollercoaster with which to resonate. Yet, 12 hours behind the action, watching Britain’s greatest fight through our mid-morning meant that there was always a little part of it that didn’t feel quite right.
Days later, Johanna Konta, somewhat off the radar with her form having rather deserted her, sprung into action with high-profile draw against a high-profile player in Garbine Muguruza. The sort of game that deserves, if not headline status, then certainly that of a worthy support act.
Perhaps what Muguruza, a two-time major winner, and Konta, the fourth best player on the planet less than two years ago, didn’t deserve was final billing on a work night, shoved away from view like an embarrassing uncle at a family party.
Starting after 12:30am, what followed was steeped in the sort of incompetent inevitability that leaves one wondering quite what the motives are of those who organise such flagship events.
That Muguruza came through in straight sets against Timea Bacsinszky in her follow-up match is testament to the feisty determination of the Spaniard, rather than a logistical victory for the competition’s planners.
Konta and Muguruza had faced off on three prior occasions, with all three going the distance into a final set. Two gutsy women, both seeking resurgences in form and results after a less than glittering 2018, it was hardly a shock when what transpired was a tension-filled and passion-fuelled contest of the highest quality.
There was, however, a harsh irony to it all. As Muguruza sealed her victory with the Melbourne clocks ticking past 3:12am, there was hardly anyone left to see it. After all, why would they? The first match of the ‘following’ day would begin just nine hours later.
It is often said that sport doesn’t help itself, that its interests are too arbitrary, that the fan is second best, that the athletes are just pawns in a far greater commercial game.
Konta and Muguruza, one suspects, will hold their shared title for some time; the latest start a to a grand-slam match in tennis history. As far as gongs go, it is unlikely to be one treasured by either athlete or by the few who watched on with a loyalty to the players that the sport’s authorities so abjectly failed to display.
It was a game that deserved a greater billing, not only out of respect to the players, but for the credibility of the competition.