Murray’s opportunity lost

Novak Djokovic’s early exit gave Andy Murray his best chance to win in Australia, but Mischa Zverev flipped the script on Sunday.

Murray v Zverev match highlights (4R)

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Murray v Zverev match highlights (4R)

It was not the end of the world. It was not good, but it was not the end of the world. Andy Murray was out of the Australian Open, beaten in the fourth round by Mischa Zverev.

For three-and-a-half hours, Murray had tried everything he could think of to stop the net-rushing German, but nothing seemed to work. He couldn’t prevent Zverev from recording the biggest win of his career, 7-5 5-7 6-2 6-4.

Match report: Zverev stuns Murray

There were things Murray could have done better – his serve was doing him no favours – but there was almost nothing Zverev could have done better. He played like a man inspired, like a man possessed, like, as he put it, like a man “a little coma and serve and volleying my way through it.” Murray could not stop him no matter how hard he tried.

“Just wasn't meant to be,” Murray said moments after the loss. “He served very well when he needed to, especially when he was behind in games. Yeah, he deserved to win because he played great when he was down, and also in the important moments.

“I was kind of behind in the last couple of sets the whole way. But the first two sets, I had chances. I was up a break I think in both of them pretty early. Couldn't convert my opportunities.”

In the heat of battle, Zverev looked to the calmest man in the stadium. Even when he missed a smash, a horrible fluff into the bottom of the net, he did not waver. He just looked across at his mum, saw that she was smiling and got back to work. As the end approached in the last set, there were moments when he got a little nervous, there were shots that he missed, but he was always able to regroup, reset and hang on to his serve.

“I had some opportunities at the end,” Murray said. “I think the last two service games I had chances. Maybe three service games in the last set I had opportunities. Maybe he missed a couple of balls that he had been making.

“But then he came back from all of the mistakes that he made, kept coming, kept coming up with great shots. You know, there's not too much you can do about that. Sometimes you got to say, ‘well played’.

“Every time it was close points, I put Mischa under pressure, he came up with great stuff. That's unfortunate for me and great for him. He deserves to be in the next round.”

Murray has had some heart-breaking losses in Melbourne Park over the years, and his record of five final defeats hurts. With Novak Djokovic dispatched by Denis Istomin in the second round, the draw had been ripped apart. Surely this would turn out to be Murray’s year. But no. That would have to hurt more than ever.

But since the world No.1 became a father last February, the losses don’t hurt quite as much and the wins don’t count for quite so much. That is not to say that Murray does not care as much; it is just that he has a new perspective on life, a new equilibrium. And that is what helped him power through the second half of last year and on to that No.1 ranking. He is calmer than before, and while he will probably not be the best company tonight, breakfast with his wife and daughter will lift his spirits.

“I'm obviously down about it,” he said. “It's just tennis. I mean, I had great success for a number of months. Obviously in the biggest events you want to do your best. Obviously that's not been the case here. You know, it happens.

“I've had tough losses in my career in the past. I've come back from them. This is a tough one. I'm sure I'll come back okay from it. But right now I'm obviously very down because I wanted to go further in this event, and it wasn't to be.”

And at least Murray is still secure in the No.1 spot. With Djokovic’s early loss, the Scot leaves Melbourne 1715 points ahead of his old rival. It was not the end of the world after all.

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