Tennis: No small task for Murray
SURELY it cannot be long before tennis bashes its head through the seven-foot ceiling.
Andy Murray's opening match at this Australian Open was against 6ft8ins Kevin Anderson, and if he is to reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park for the first time, the Scot must beat John Isner -- conqueror of Ireland's Louk Sorensen -- who is 6ft9ins and wears size 15 shoes.
Anyone with Napoleon syndrome --an inferiority complex about his height -- would be advised to tune out from the tennis this weekend.
Murray is 'only' 6ft3ins. As he goes deeper into the draw, so he also goes further up the height chart in the men's locker room, since Anderson is the third tallest man in the tournament, and Isner is the second biggest.
If Murray beats the giant American, he will play either Rafael Nadal, the world No 2 and the reigning champion here, or Croatia's Ivo Karlovic, the tallest man at the slams at 6ft10ins.
With Isner on the other side of the net, Murray will appear quite small. If Murray, who yesterday defeated the 5ft11ins Florent Serra in straight sets, wants to look Isner straight in the eye, he is going to have to climb onto a step of the umpire's chair.
There is no avoiding the fact that tennis is going through a growth spurt.
When Murray lost in the fourth round of the last grand slam, the US Open, it was to Croatia's Marin Cilic, who is 6ft6, and it was Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro, another 6ft6 player, who won the title, so becoming the tallest grand slam champion in history.
Though Isner has a decent all-round game, his tennis is clearly built around the pace and the bounce of his serve.
Isner's serve is what won him last week's tournament in Auckland, the first title of his career, and was key to yesterday's four-set victory over Gael Monfils, the world No 12. Isner served 26 aces against Monfils.
This is the second slam in succession that Isner has reached the last 16, as he defeated his countryman Andy Roddick to make the fourth round in New York last September.
It will be Murray's first meeting with Isner, who is at a career high in the rankings of No 28.
"The run he's been on, he's a difficult guy to play against," Murray said. "He's the guy that everyone talks about all the time. You don't want Karlovic or Isner next to your name in the draw, because the match is on the other guy's racket.
"If he serves well and hits some big shots and returns well, Isner is a really tough guy to beat. I'm going to have to be on my game."
This is the third time Murray has reached the last 16 here, but he has under-performed in this city.
He has been a quarter-finalist at Roland Garros, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, and a finalist at the US Open, but he is yet to make the last eight in Australia, which seems a little surprising, given that it is played on his preferred surface, medium-paced hard courts, and he copes with the sun and the heat better than most.
Murray is yet to drop a set at this tournament, and has conceded just 22 games in his three matches.
However, Murray also started last season's Australian Open with three straight-sets victories, only to suffer a fourth-round defeat to Fernando Verdasco. In 2007, Murray lost to Nadal.
Once Murray had taken the opening set against world No 64 Serra, in the hot and muggy conditions, it seemed that there was little chance of him losing.
There was much fist-pumping from Nadal on the Rod Laver Arena as he defeated Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber in four sets.
The Spaniard was below his best but took his opportunities better to win 6-4, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. "© Daily Telegraph, London)