MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s traditional love of the underdog and admiration for sporting battlers garnered plenty of support for Briton Andy Murray during his long wait for grand slam success.
However, the Scot’s U.S. Open triumph last September has snuffed out some of the good will at Melbourne Park this year, with Australians having grown weary of sporting success from their former colonial masters.
Long Britain’s measure in most competitive pursuits, Australia has felt the boot firmly on the other foot in recent years.
Australia’s loss of the Ashes to the England cricket team on home soil two years ago was considered a national humiliation, coming off the back of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where Britain finished higher up the medals table.
Solemn pledges to right wrongs against Team GB at the London Olympics last year fell spectacularly flat, as Australia came off second best in almost all of their traditional clashes, barring the odd discipline like sailing.
Murray’s breakthrough at the U.S. Open, after four consecutive failures in grand slam finals, was admired by Australians as warmly as any non-partisan nation.
The prospect of another grand slam win for Murray on Australian soil, where home fans have not hailed a local winner in 34 years, is another thing altogether.
“I like his game, but I don’t like his personality,” Blake Kebblewhite, a 17-year-old junior tennis player draped in Australia’s national flag, told Reuters at Melbourne Park.
Kebblewhite watched Murray’s first-round demolition of Dutchman Robin Haase on a big screen near Rod Laver Arena.
Although impressed by Murray’s form, trouncing his Dutch opponent 6-3 6-1 6-3 in a little more than an hour and a half, Kebblewhite and his friends were not leading the cheers for the Briton.
“He’s a sook (crybaby). I was watching him (on a big screen) and he was arguing with the umpire and I thought he was losing,” Kebblewhite said.
His companion Zane Sillery-Shaw was still stinging the day after Australia’s bleak Monday, when eight of nine local entrants crashed out in the first round, including former world number one and double grand slam champion Lleyton Hewitt.
“I saw (Murray) on the practice courts and he’s up himself. He’s a bit arrogant,” Gold Coast native Sillery-Shaw said.
“I cried when Lleyton went out last night. I‘m a huge Hewitt fan. Number one.”
Murray’s defeat of the 53rd-ranked Haase was applauded politely by the Rod Laver Arena crowd, who struggled to raise their enthusiasm for the one-sided slaughter.
Haase’s rare winners, including the odd clever drop-shot to confound Murray, elicited warm cheers from the stands, however, but their hopes of a genuine competition were repeatedly thwarted by the jet-heeled Scotsman.
Murray did have some warm support from a pocket of young Australian fans at Rod Laver Arena that have been a fixture at Melbourne Park, rousing the Scot with a limited repertoire of songs over the past few years.
“I think it’s the same group of guys that come every single year,” Murray told reporters.
“(We) try to sort them out some tickets when we can... They’re good support and pretty amusing songs. Although I think they haven’t come up with too many new ones, so challenge them to that.”
Murray’s bid for a second grand slam title Down Under has sparked a light-hearted dig at Australia’s iconic celluloid hero “Crocodile Dundee”, the weathered bushman played by Paul Hogan in the 1986 film.
An image of Murray superimposed on a mock poster in Hogan’s place next to his girlfriend Kim Sears has him carrying a tennis racquet under the revised movie title “Crocodile Dunblane”, a nod to the Scot’s hometown.
“He’s here for your trophy... and your Sheilas,” the caption reads, referring to the colloquial Australian term for women.
The poster has gone viral on the internet and local media have done their best to shrug off the joke.
Ron Reed, a veteran sportswriter for Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper, gave short shrift to the idea of rallying around Murray, with no real local threats in the men’s draw.
“I admit to a sneaking admiration for how professional British sport has become,” Reed said in comments published on Tuesday.
“But the Brits have become too big for their bovver (heavy) boots and it’s time to put a stop to it because Murray’s arrival in Melbourne is just the thin edge of the wedge for the new sporting year.”
Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien