x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Snippets: Of aces, recipes and blondes

Interesting tidbits about players away from the court.

Andy Murray fired 14 aces on his way to the fourth round at the Australian Open and doesn't see why everyone is panicking about his serve. The 22-year-old Scot was broken three times on the way to Friday's 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 third-round win over France's Florent Serra. He got only 55 percent of his first serves in. The 2008 US Open finalist is known as one of the better servers in the game and has been a bit off his mark since arriving in Melbourne, leading to a steady stream of questions on the subject. "I don't think my serve is an issue at all," the fifth-ranked Murray said.

"Everyone is panicking about my serve. I'm happy with how it's gone. When the important moments have come, I've served well. That's the most important thing." Murray charged into the match with three aces and hit a total of 49 winners compared with the Frenchman's 26. Both players took turns grimacing in pain - Murray toward the end of the first set when he appeared to twist his back while switching gears from forehand to backhand. Murray said he was "fine" afterwards, and had just stumbled a bit because the surface in Melbourne is "really sticky". Serra fell early in the third set while chasing a shot and cut his elbow, requiring a two-minute treatment and bandaging. In four previous appearances in Melbourne, Murray has not passed the fourth round. He will be tested in the next round when he faces fellow big-server John Isner, who arrived in Melbourne fresh from winning his first career title in Auckland last week.

Dinara Safina knows how to whip up a decent risotto but will be expanding her menu now that she owns a Julia Child cookbook. The fledgling chef and No 2 seed watched movies in her hotel on the rest day yesterday and was so inspired by the film Julie and Julia that she ventured out of the hotel to buy the cookbook.

"That's what made me buy the book," Safina said after her win 6-1, 6-2 win over Britain's Elena Baltacha. "I like cooking. I have a new apartment in Moscow. I'm like, 'OK, instead of a library of books, I'll have cookbooks.' I want to cook." Safina said she knows how to make a "not bad" risotto with asparagus. "And, of course, green salad with olive oil," she added. So far, so good. "Until now nobody got sick, so this is the positive," she smiled.

Despite her No 11 ranking and a run to the 2007 Wimbledon final, Marion Bartoli has no sponsor and wonders if it's because she's not blonde and thin. "I had one when I was younger, when I became the junior US Open champion," said Bartoli, who won the junior's title in 2001 and was picked up by Le Coq Sportif. The company cut the deal a few years later. She is now 25 now and the highest-ranked French women's player, but has to buy her own on-court clothing. "It doesn't cost much, but I don't understand why some lower-ranked players than me get a contract," Bartoli said after losing her third-round match to China's Zheng Jie, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0. "It's really ridiculous." Bartoli who is 1.7 meters tall and weighs 63 kg told France's L'Equipe newspaper she wondered if the reason was because she is "not blonde enough, not thin enough, not tall enough." * AP