The players privileged enough to play at Rod Laver Arena in front of 15,000 spectators are highly-motivated, driven athletes with high expectations of themselves.
But it doesn't make their battles any easier.
Tennis is ‘mano a mano’ like prize fighting - however a boxer can at least talk to their trainer between rounds.
So in tennis when the tension and frustration mount and the pressure cooker is about to blow, there’s one obvious option available – that graphite object players wield is handy as a vehicle for anger therapy.
On Monday, after failing to convert four match points in the third set against lucky loser Stéphane Robert, Andy Murray took it out on his Head Graphene Radical racquet, cracking it with one mighty slash on the Plexicushion surface.
He later discussed the fine points of the art – a downward, face-first thrust from the throat to avoid breakage, a full perpendicular tomahawk if obliteration is intended.
“My racquet bit the dust,” Murray said. “Unfortunate for it…but I did manage to start well in the fourth set.”
The last time Roger Federer mangled a racquet was against Novak Djokovic in the 2009 Miami semifinals.
Tonight he and Murray will meet for the 21st time with the Scot leading 11-9 but Federer up 3-1 at Grand Slam tournaments. Murray finally broke through with a 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-2 win in their semifinal clash here 12 months ago.
Since then, a lot has happened. Federer’s streak of 36 Grand Slam quarterfinals ended unceremoniously with a loss to Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon, the same event where Murray consecrated his career by becoming the first British male winner in 77 years.
On Monday, Federer made one of his most candid revelations about the severity of his 2013 back ailment.
Last March, he decided to play an Indian Wells quarterfinal against Rafael Nadal despite a bad back. “The hit I took in Indian Wells was more than just a slight setback,” he said.
That helps explain his spring and summer disappointments.
Murray’s back issue required surgery in late September, and he’s only now playing the second tournament of his comeback.
“We had an interesting year,” Federer said Monday about himself and Murray, “with some ups and down. So it’s a good start to the season for both of us.”
Murray was in the ascendency after his win over Federer a year ago, but there are doubts about whether he’s now back to near that form.
In the afternoon quarterfinal, Nadal plays budding superstar Grigor Dimitrov. He has won all three previous meetings but the Bulgarian has taken a set each time.
“He’s a pretty nice guy,” coach Roger Rasheed said recently about his charge Dimitrov. “I want the nice out and the mongrel in.”
But is there enough mongrel in him yet to really bite Nadal?
Today’s women’s afternoon quarterfinals will result in a career-first Grand Slam semifinal for the winner between 11th seed Simona Halep and No. 20 Dominka Cibulkova, while in the other Agnieska Radwanska tries to end a run of 12 consecutive sets (none better than 6-4) lost to Victoria Azarenka.
Like Murray, Azarenka has been known to show her frustration, swiping her racquet on the court. “As a player,” Murray said about breaking his frame Monday, “it’s not something you’re particularly proud of. But sometimes you need to get some frustration out. I wanted to do it in that moment. I took my warning (from the umpire) and moved on.”
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS
Federer def. Murray in four: Federer was brilliant against Tsonga and, post-surgery, Murray is a question mark in a big match in just his second tournament in four months.
Azarenka def. Radwanska in two: How do you get inside someone’s head? For Azarenka it’s as simple as winning 12 sets in a row against an opponent like Radwanska.
Nadal def. Dimitrov in three: Kei Nishikori played sublime tennis against Nadal on Monday, and still didn’t win a set. Rafa will be extra-vigilant against the gifted Grigor.
Halep def. Cibulkova in three: With a first-ever Grand Slam semifinal on the line for both, the demure Halep prevails against the effervescent Cibulkova.