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Business as Usual at the Australian Open as Covid Fears Grip Melbourne • And Medvedev Meltdown And Win • Rafa Back is Better

Daniil Medvedev of Russia reacts while in action against Filip Krajinovic of Serbia during their third round match at the Australian Open grand slam tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 13 February 2021. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

By Alix Ramsay

The storm had passed and all was quiet. After the dramas of Friday, an eerie calm descended on the Australian Open on Saturday: no great upsets, no injury scares and nothing much to report.

But beyond the confines of the tennis site, Melbourne was anything but calm. The news that Michail Pervolarakis had tested positive for Covid ramped up the city’s alert levels another notch. “Who is Michail Pervolarakis?” we hear you ask. He is the world No.463 and he had been in town to represent Greece in the ATP Cup.

He left Australia on Tuesday and before he boarded his plane, he had delivered a negative test to the authorities. But by the time he landed in South Africa 24 hours later – he was due to play a Challenger there – he had developed Covid-19. He is, at the moment, free of all symptoms but he is now in an official “isolation facility” in Potchefstroom and, by all accounts, it is not a great place to be.

On the same day that Pervolarakis was travelling, a café worker in Terminal 4 at Melbourne airport tested positive for the virus. That worker is linked to the outbreak centred around one of the airport quarantine hotels. But he was on duty at a coffee shop in the domestic terminal; Pervolarakis would have travelled through one of the international terminals making it unlikely he contracted Covid at the airport.

The health authorities are, unsurprisingly, alarmed: their track-and-trace network has so far identified more than 900 potential close contacts related to the hotel outbreak but the virus variant, believed to be the UK mutation, is moving so quickly that they fear they cannot keep pace with it.

Pervolarakis would also have had the opportunity to be around Stefanos Tsitsipas before he left – and that means that the virus could have made its way into the Australian Open locker rooms.

Meanwhile, at Melbourne Park, it was business as usual despite the five-day lockdown. For Ash Barty, the experience of playing in an empty stadium was a novelty – she opted to stay in Australia when tennis was shut down by the pandemic and then stayed put when the tours restarted last August. This then, was a new experience and, on the whole, she didn’t mind it one bit as she sped past Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2, 6-4 in 80 minutes.

Ashleigh Barty (C) of Australia leaves the court after winning her women’s singles third round match against Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 13 February 2021. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

“I enjoyed challenging myself in a new environment,” she said. “It was a new experience. You could hear a pin drop in there tonight at times. You could narrow your focus to listen to the sound of the ball. I felt like I navigated through it quite well.”

Daniil Medvedev finally managed to navigate his way through his first five-set match and into the fourth round  but for a while there, it appeared that he had been blown off course. From two sets up, he allowed himself to be rattled by Filip Krajinovic and that is when it all started to fall apart. The Russian got angrier and angrier and kept yelling at his coach, Gilles Cervara, to shut up and let him play. Just in case Cervara hadn’t got the message, Medvedev yelled at him in Russian, French and English. Finally, the coach left the court and Medvedev calmed down to win 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-0.

“I think the most that triggers it is my opponent playing well,” Medvedev said. “He started playing better. I felt like I was in control of the match, started losing it a little bit. I felt it. Got a little bit mad at myself, first of all. That’s what I have been working on since many years because even like three, four years ago I could go crazy any match.

Daniil Medvedev of Russia reacts after winning against Filip Krajinovic of Serbia during their third round match at the Australian Open grand slam tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 13 February 2021. EPA-EFE/JAMES ROSS

“Now I think I have made big steps already working on my mental strengths. Sometimes I’m very temperamental person on the court so sometimes it can still get out, and usually it doesn’t help me to play good.

“I think he felt also the momentum change, so he started playing better. I’m happy that I managed to keep my cool in the fifth set.”

As for his Cervara, Medvedev is going to have words with him later. Such fallings out between them are not uncommon and the world No.4 is not too bothered by the latest bust up.

“I don’t know what was going through his head,” Medvedev said, “but at least what he said is that he was sure I’m going to win, and he just wanted to leave me alone to be calm, because as myself, as human, that’s why we can have, let’s call it, some frustrating moments, both of us, because we both want to win. Him as a coach, me as a player, he wants me to win so he felt like that was the best thing to do.

“Sometimes maybe I will disagree, but this time, yeah, for sure it was a good thing to do. I’m sure it happens, I don’t know, once per year, two times per year maximum, maybe once in two years, but today it helped, and definitely we’re going to talk about it a little bit, but there is not a big deal.”

Rafa Nadal easing into the second week of a grand slam without dropping a set is hardly a big deal, either. He was given his sternest test of the tournament so far by Cam Norrie but still headed for the fourth round 7-5, 6-2, 7-5.

Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts during his men’s singles third round match against Cameron Norrie of Britain at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 13 February 2021. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

The good news for Rafa was that his back felt a little better on Saturday and that meant that he could serve normally. The injury was still there but it didn’t hurt as much and that had to be a step in the right direction.

“Today is the first day that I started to serve again my normal serve,” he said. “But yesterday I didn’t practice, so today just warming up with the new, with the normal movement. So, of course, I didn’t serve bad, but I can do better, I think. And I’m looking forward to do it better.

“Have been an important victory for me. The biggest victory is the back is better for the first day. So that’s the most important thing.”

Given that he now has to take on Fabio Fognini, he can only hope that it is a lot better come Monday.

As for Norrie, he walked away from the encounter with new ideas and new goals. He had fought well and he never looked overawed with the setting – the Rod Laver Arena, albeit a deserted RLA – or his opponent. And he thought he could see ways that he could make Rafa’s life difficult should they ever meet again.

Cameron Norrie of Britain in action during his men’s singles third round match against Rafael Nadal of Spain at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 13 February 2021. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

“I think it was a fairly close match and, yeah, there are some positives to take from that,” Norrie, the world No.69, said. “But I think more I just left the court feeling like I want to get better and want to, definitely some things to work on.

“It’s nice to play him; I had a couple of chances, but, yeah, I need to get better. It was a great experience and I want to learn from it.

“I think he played pretty smart. I was going a lot into his backhand, and he was using his slice line out to my forehand to neutralize. I don’t think he wanted to get into kind of backhand-to-backhand rallies with me. I think that’s where I could hurt him, so I think he was tactically pretty smart from the get-go.”

Grand slam champions have a habit of being like that, Cam. But it was a good effort from Norrie – it was just a shame that there was not a soul on court to see it.