Australian Open diary: Roger Federer speaks out at 'never-ending story' of money issues with the Grand Slams

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It feels like an annual ritual. Spending at least a day reporting about the oppressive Melbourne heat each time the Australian Open comes around.

Thursday was one of those days.

We all knew the heat wave was coming, we all know Melbourne weather is unpredictable and sways from summer to winter within the same day, and players usually prepare for the new season in warm conditions specifically to be ready for the Aussie furnace.

Yet we always end up debating and deliberating whether players should have been allowed to compete in such weather, and whether the Australian Open organisers have the competitors’ best interest at heart.

Let’s be real and agree that tournament organisers will forever prioritise their business as much as they possibly can. But that doesn’t mean they want to watch players drop like flies. Losing a high seed due to weather conditions is also not in their best interest.

The Australian Open has three courts with retractable roofs, if the conditions become unplayable, they would follow their Extreme Heat policy and shut the roofs on those three courts, and suspend play on all other courts. That is not an easy call to make, especially with players giving varying degrees of accounts of how oppressive the heat really was.

Take Naomi Osaka for example, who said this when asked about the heat on Thursday: “I didn’t really think it was hot. I think it has to do with the fact that I live in Florida. I actually really like the heat more than the cold, so…”

Still two things are for sure: Players’ safety should trump all. And two players grinding through a match in extreme heat makes for some really unwatchable tennis.

Seeing Gael Monfils really struggle that way against Novak Djokovic was fun for literally no one. Saturday’s cooler weather can’t come soon enough!

Here’s a quick look at highlights and lowlights from day four Down Under…

UPSET OF THE DAY

Croatian-born American lefty Bernarda Pera, 23, took out one of the contenders of the tournament in ninth-seed Johanna Konta and she did it in straight sets as well.

Here’s what makes this remarkable:

  • Pera is making her Grand Slam debut
  • She is ranked 123 in the world
  • She only made it into the Australian Open main draw as a lucky loser following the withdrawal of Margarita Gasparyan
  • She only ever played one tour-level match in her entire career prior to the Australian Open
  • She was ranked 319 in the world 12 months ago
  • Her career prize money won entering the Australian Open was $159,951. She has earned $150,000 for making the third round in Melbourne, doubling her career earnings.
  • Konta’s two previous main draw appearances in Melbourne saw her make the semis in 2016 and quarters in 2017. She’s also a Wimbledon semi-finalist.

Pera takes on Barbora Strycova for a place in the fourth round.

MOST EFFICIENT OF THE DAY

On a day when players wanted to do anything to escape the heat, Madison Keys dropped just one game in her 41-minute victory over Ekaterina Alexandrova to set up a third round against Romanian Ana Bogdan.

Keys reached the final of the last Grand Slam played prior to Melbourne (runner-up to Sloane Stephens at the 2017 US Open) yet somehow she’s under the radar when it comes to title contenders this fortnight. Not for me though. I’ve had my eyes on Keys since the draw came out and see her as someone who can really test Angelique Kerber or Maria Sharapova down the road in her section.


TRUTH BOMB MOMENT OF THE DAY

Most players tried to dodge questions about the players-only meeting in which Djokovic spoke to his peers about demanding more money from the Grand Slams. Most players took the diplomatic route when explaining what happened during that meeting, or refused to answer altogether. Roger Federer chose to drop truth bombs instead.

After coming through a two-hour three-set win over Jan-Lennard Struff in the second round on Thursday, the Swiss said this about the matter, talking specifically about the slice of the cake players get to take at the majors.

“Yes, they could definitely pay more, no doubt about it,” said the 19-time Grand Slam champion.

“They know that. We’re not partners. We’re just players. It’s always hard to rally. We had a good agreement, in my opinion, that made the Grand Slams happy, the players pretty happy. Seems like that has run its course.

“The moment that happens, there’s not the same increases any more, so players have to rally, get back together again, put in the effort. The Grand Slams know that. They will only react when we do so. We’re ready to do it. It’s going to be the same process over and over again.

“It’s a bit boring, to be honest, always having to ask for stuff. If you look at the revenue, the sharing process, it’s not quite where it’s supposed to be. But, look, you can’t go from here to right there in a day. We know that. We just hope they realise and they do appreciate us maybe more all the time and not just in waves, you know what I mean?

“But it’s all good. We have good contacts with the Slams. It’s all good. But it’s going to be a never-ending story.”

Leave it to the Fed to tell it like it is. In this particular case anyway.

HERO OF THE DAY

Dominic Thiem told me in Abu Dhabi that he had a “breakdown in confidence” after he blew a two-sets-to-love lead against Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open last year. He said it took him a while to get over it and assured earlier this month that he has moved past it.

Today we can officially agree that he has indeed put it behind him. The fifth-seeded Thiem came back from two sets down to defeat Denis Kudla 6-7 (6), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 and advance to the third round on Thursday.

“Not easy mentally, but, yeah, from that moment on I was a break up in the third set, the mind was again positive,” said Thiem after the match. “The physical fitness is the most important. It was 3 hours 50, I think, and almost 40 degrees. It’s very tough. Also, if you are physically fit, you stay mentally fresher, for sure.”

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