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Casey Dellacqua

You can’t beat a good local story and when the home-grown players are doing well, the Melbourne Park cheers can be heard all the way to Darwin. As Sam Stosur and Casey Dellacqua have marched purposefully into the third round, the volume has been rising and the crowds are getting over-excited.

She has had her moments at her home Grand Slam tournament, has Sam, and her results have never done her justice. Being the local heroine can be a double-edged sword: the backing of the crowd is great but the weight of national expectation can be an unbearable burden. And with Sam’s natural talent and wealth of experience – she is a former US Open champion, after all – the whole of Australia is desperate for her to win here. Still, this year she is looking good and playing well and maybe this time she can turn the overwhelming support to her advantage on Friday when she faces Ana Ivanovic.

Dellacqua is altogether a different character. She is your typical Aussie battler, a woman who has overcome adversity and come out triumphant on the other side. After years of injury problems, she is at last healthy and, consequently, able to work hard, train smarter and, on Wednesday, do for the No.18 seed, Kirsten Flipkens. Now taking on Jie Zheng, she revels in the crowd’s support and they, in turn, love her to bits.

To have 15,000 people cheering your every move can make a difference when the chips are down, as Andy Murray discovered a couple of years ago. When he became the first British man in 74 years to reach a Wimbledon final, the country went nuts. Well, we Brits are not a naturally effusive people so we smiled and we applauded warmly. But we were chuffed for the Muzz. And when he lost to Roger Federer and made his tearful speech on Centre Court, we were smitten.

Everyone had liked him before the final but when he said through the sobs that he wanted to win to repay everyone for the help and support and – and this was the killer – that he didn’t want to let anyone down, grown men swallowed hard and grannies the country over dabbed their eyes.

So, when he came back 12 months later to face Novak Djokovic and strode on to court and into a wall of noise – all of it cheers for him – Murray discovered that he had 15,000 best mates standing at his shoulder and staring Djokovic down. The world No.1 (as he was then) looked ever-so-slightly stunned. Blimey. Doesn’t anyone want me to win? Apparently not. And he didn’t. Murray meanwhile, was cheered to the most famous victory of his career and the most famous victory British tennis had seen in 77 years. It was quite an afternoon.

“The atmosphere today was different to what I've experienced in the past,” Murray said, still looking a little stunned. “It was different to last year's final, for sure.  And then, yeah, the end of the match, that was incredibly loud, very noisy. 

“I've been saying it all week, but it does make a difference.  It really helps when the crowd's like that, the atmosphere is like that.  Especially in a match as tough as that one where it's extremely hot, brutal, long rallies, tough games, they help you get through it.

“It's hard [being the Britain’s great hope at Wimbledon]; it's really hard. For the last four or five years, it's been very, very tough, very stressful, a lot of pressure.  The few days before the tournament, really difficult, as well. 

“The last two days are not easy.  Because it's just kind of everywhere you go.  It's so hard to avoid everything because of how big this event is, but also because of the history and no Brit having won. It's been very, very difficult. I think I felt a little bit better this year than I did last year. But it's not easy. I think now it will become easier. I hope it will. I hope it will.” 

As for Djokovic, he knew he was on a hiding to nothing. He is a decent enough bloke, he is cheery, he likes a bit of banter with the fans, but taking on a Brit in the Wimbledon final – he knew he was never going to win that popularity contest.

“The atmosphere was incredible for him,” the beaten finalist said grimly.  “For me, not so much. But that's what I expected and that's how it was.”

The crowd then, can be like a 12th man in cricket (although, judging by England’s performance in the Ashes, not even an army of supporters could have helped them. But I digress…) or a one-goal start in football.

As Sam and Casey step out on their respective courts on Friday, they should lap up the atmosphere. Yes, a stadium full of people wanting you to win can add to the pressure but imagine what it like for the poor soul on the other side of the net: all they know is that every ticket holder in Melbourne is hoping they will fail. Now that really is pressure.

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Post-Tournament
Thursday, 24 April 2014
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