Australian Open

Birds bother Nadal, Djokovic

2012-01-24 16:52
A flock of seagulls fly over Rod Laver Arena during the match between Novak Djokovic and Lleyton Hewitt (AP)

Melbourne - Evening sessions at this year's Australian Open are starting to resemble a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock horror movie, "The Birds."

In search of locusts, swarms of seagulls have been circling Melbourne Park, occasionally swooping down to capture the tasty treats below.

On Monday, it was Novak Djokovic who seemed to be unnerved. The defending champion was in cruise control against Lleyton Hewitt, leading by two sets and 3-0 on Rod Laver Arena.

Then the birds came in.

Djokovic smiled at the unusual holdup but he lost six of the next seven games in dropping his first set of the tournament, before coming through in four sets.

The curse struck No 2-ranked Rafael Nadal a day later. Leading 5-4 in the first-set tiebreak on Tuesday against Tomas Berdych, the birds swooped, Nadal paused briefly and looked up at them - and didn't win another point in the set when he resumed.

Wimbledon's pigeon problem became so serious that the tournament employed a hawk to scare off the pests. Named Rufus, the bird of prey even has its own accreditation pass.

Handlers are often seen walking the grounds of Melbourne Park with birds of prey on their arms - but they are only really for show and don't seem to be acting as much of a deterrent.

Australian Open organisers say the swarms of seagulls are a "highly unusual occurrence and we are looking at ways of preventing it in the future."

The birds are taking a risk by flying by a tennis court. Ten years ago, a small bird chased a moth across Rod Laver Arena and was struck down and killed by a forehand hit by French player Michael Llodra during a men's doubles semi-final.

Last year, Andy Murray's doubles-playing brother Jamie confessed on Twitter that he had accidentally killed a bird with his serve during practice in Melbourne.

"yes I was shocked ... yes I hope it never happens again ... but I hope my serve keeps being so accurate," he tweeted.

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