Andy Murray fought valiantly but ultimately was defeated in four sets by Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round of the Australian Open. After spending 11 hours on court in his previous two matches, Murray showed early signs of fatigue and tiredness as he was well and truly dominated in every department in the opening set.
Murray lacked energy from the baseline and couldn’t drive into his serve as Bautista Agut dissected the Brit’s game. As the set went on the Spaniard became more consistent and aggressive while Murray continued to make more unforced errors and double faults as he was broken on two occasions. The 24th seed didn’t mind that too much though as he continued to go about his business on serve, closing out a convincing opening set in 29 minutes.
In the second set, Murray still couldn’t increase his energy levels even with the help of the crowd as he continued to commit simple unforced errors from the baseline. Bautista Agut happily accepted the gift as he claimed the break in the third game for a 2-1 lead. However all great champions adapt and Murray continued to do so as he fired up the crowd as well as coming to the net to finish off points as he began to find momentum on serve.
Despite this the three-time Grand Slam champion continued to struggle on return until the eight game. That was when Bautista Agut for the first time gave Murray a sign of opportunity with the Spaniard starting to miss simple shots from the baseline. An opportunity was created and taken by Murray who somehow broke back for 4-4.
The Brit had to dig deep but after saving break points on serve, forced a second set tiebreak to the delight of Margaret Court Arena. The disbelief in the stadium was evident and was even more evident when Murray came back from a mini-break down to grind out the tiebreak 9-7. This match was now at one set all as Murray was somehow believing that he could do the impossible.
Murray’s belief was consolidated in the second game as he survived a long game to hold his serve as he was unbelievably fighting for every ball. The Brit had his chances in the fifth game to get the crucial break but when it mattered most Bautista Agut found a way to neutralise any attack from the Brit as he held for 3-2.
That seemed to be the turning point as from that point in the set onwards Murray was struggling on serve while the Spaniard was cruising through his service games. In the end the pressure told as a backhand into the net gave the 24th seed the crucial break at 5-3 which resulted in Bautista Agut holding to love to secure a two sets to one lead.
It looked like Murray was physically done at this point but all observations were immediately disregarded as the Brit broke for a 2-0 lead in the fourth set. Some aggressive returns and a more aggressive approach from Murray meant that he was right back in this match. However all his hard work was undone when Bautista Agut forced the errors from Murray to break straight back in the next game.
Despite Murray trying his best on serve to stay within touching distance, it wasn’t enough as 14 hours on court was just a few too many. Bautista Agut would break to love in the ninth game and comfortably serve out the match to earn a place in the second week with Murray having a lot to be proud of as he fell just short of the second week in Melbourne.
Despite the defeat for Murray it has been a hugely positive tournament for Murray who battled to two five set victories over Matteo Berrettini and Thanasi Kokkinakis before a valiant defeat to Bautits Agut.
It seems that Murray’s work on his conditioning and fitness has finally paid off as he looks to achieve more consistent results ahead of the next Grand Slam at either Roland Garros or Wimbledon.
Speaking after the match Murray said he believes a deeper Grand Slam run is only a matter of time and he can do some damage, “I can have a deeper run than the third round of a Slam, there’s no question about that,” the Brit was quoted as saying by the ATP website.
“Obviously draws can open up for you. I need to also help myself with that. If I was playing at this level last year, I probably wouldn’t be ranked 50, 60 in the world. It’s up to me to try and change that.
“You never know exactly when the end is going to be. I would like to go out playing tennis like this, where I’m competing with the best players in the world in the biggest events and doing myself justice.
“There were maybe times the last year or so where I didn’t really feel like I was playing well, and I didn’t enjoy the way that I was playing. Those sacrifices and that effort that I put in allowed me to get through those matches and play at a high level that I think was entertaining for the people watching.
“I felt good about the way that I was playing. It’s more enjoyable for me when I’m playing like that, when I’m coming into a major event and really believing that I can do some damage.”
There is no doubting that on the evidence of his performances in Melbourne, Murray has a deep Grand Slam run in him and can achieve some big results in the future.
However Murray will need to keep up this level of performance if he wants to be seeded for the big events and whether that is a sustainable approach remains to be seen.
Murray also spoke about how the lack of sleep and preparation didn’t help before this third round match with Bautista Agut, “I slept from 6 until 9 the morning I played the match with Kokkinakis, which obviously isn’t enough,” Murray explained.
“Then I had to come in here. I had about seven or eight blisters that I had to have drained and then he put this liquid in to dry it. I had to come in in the morning to give that time to settle. Then I went back to the hotel, slept for a few hours, and then hit for, like,15 minutes yesterday. Yeah, just the ice baths, saw my physio.
“My feet didn’t feel great. My legs were actually okay. They weren’t too bad. But I was struggling with my lower back. That was affecting my serve. That was really the main thing that I was struggling with today.”
The three-time Grand Slam champion will look to recover in time for the ATP 500 event in Rotterdam which starts on the 13th of February.
There are now no Brits left in singles at the Australian Open after Cameron Norrieand Dan Evansboth went out in the third round. Starting with Norrie, the Brit suffered a painful five set defeat to Jiri Leheckawhich was a match that had plenty of twists and turns throughout the match. The match saw both players serve incredibly well in a match that went quickly for a five set contest with Norrie holding his nerve in the opening set. After a quick response from Lehecka in the second set, Norrie controlled the third set with a good mix of aggression and defensive variety to take a two set to one lead.
In the end though Norrie lacked energy and was struggling physically with a few minor injuries as Lehecka continued to apply the pressure on the eleventh seed. The Brit forged a mini-comeback in the fifth set but in the end it wasn’t enough as the talented Czech Republican stormed into the second week with an aggressive last two sets.
As for Evans he was well and truly beaten by a world-class Andrey Rublevin straight sets. The Brit couldn’t convert any of the four break points in the match as he faced a wave of relentless pressure from the fifth seed. After a semi-competitive opening set, Rublev would break in the tenth game to take the opening set 6-4 before breaking on a further three occasions to seal a place in the second week.
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