|Australian Open 2017|
|Venue: Melbourne Park, Melbourne Dates: 16-29 Jan|
|Coverage: Daily live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra; live text on selected matches on the BBC Sport website; TV highlights on BBC Two and online from 21 January.|
Andy Murray’s hopes of winning a first Australian Open title ended with a shock defeat by world number 50 Mischa Zverev of Germany in the fourth round.
Murray, the world number one, dropped serve eight times as Zverev won 7-5 5-7 6-2 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena.
It is the Briton’s earliest defeat in Melbourne since 2009, and the lowest-ranked player he has lost to at a Grand Slam since the 2006 Australian Open.
Zverev goes on to face Roger Federer or Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals.
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“It was kind of easy to stay aggressive but it was tough to stay calm,” said the German, who won in three hours and 33 minutes.
“I was expecting to maybe double fault in the last game but somehow I made it.”
Zverev aggression too much for Murray
Murray had been hoping to go one better than five runner-up finishes in Melbourne, but he was unable to cope with the serve-and-volley skills of Zverev.
The 29-year-old German, a contemporary of Murray from junior days, was ranked outside the world’s top 1,000 two years ago after a succession of injury problems.
He fought his way back up the rankings with an attacking style that he used to great effect against Murray, serve-volleying 119 times and winning 65 points at the net, while dismantling the Briton’s second serve.
Murray ended the match with an impressive 71 winners to 28 unforced errors, but it was still not enough against an opponent constantly putting him under pressure.
The top seed began well, holding points to lead 4-1, but Zverev got the break back with a return winner and would not give the world number one a chance to settle from then on.
Zverev recovered another break in game nine and then moved ahead with a delicate drop volley before seeing out the set.
Murray roared in relief when he levelled at a set all with a rasping winner after again being pegged back twice, but from midway through the third set it was clear that Zverev was the man in command.
He reeled off five straight games to move two sets to one and a break up, and despite one desperately nervous smash into the net – managed to serve his way to victory.
‘He deserved to win’ – Murray
The defeat is Murray’s worst at a Grand Slam, in terms of the ranking of his opponent, since he lost to world number 51 Juan Ignacio Chela at Melbourne Park in 2006.
His chances of finally landing the third leg of the career Grand Slam looked to have been enhanced following the surprise defeat of six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the second round.
However, the wait for a first Australian Open title goes on and Murray will turn his attention to Britain’s Davis Cup tie in Canada next month.
“He deserved to win because he played great when he was down, and also in the important moments,” said Murray.
“I was kind of behind in the last couple of sets the whole way but I have had tough losses in the past and I have come back from them.”
Leon Smith, Great Britain Davis Cup captain, on BBC Radio 5 live
Andy will obviously be very disappointed but hopefully in a couple of days’ time he can look back and realise what he’s done over the last decade in Slams is absolutely phenomenal.
So as much as this one hurts, he’s got an incredible record and he’s got time now to go and prepare for the next one, the French Open and onwards.
Mischa Zverev played great. It was much talked about beforehand, he plays in a way that other players just aren’t used to playing against – serve and volley all the time on the first serve, a lot of times on the second, hitting and coming in off returns. It just made it more difficult to get into the match because there’s no rhythm.
Jeremy Bates, former British number one
I don’t think this has any reflection whatsoever on how the rest of the year goes – they are here to play 18, 19 tournaments I think Andy plays on average per year – he’s got all the Slams coming up, he’s still world number one and in a very strong position.
One loss is not going to rock the boat too much or blow him off course. If anything it will motivate him to probably work harder – he’s somebody who analyses these things, he likes to look into the reasons, what he could’ve done better, what went wrong and that’s his mind, that’s the way he works, that’s why he’s successful and he will use it along those lines to carry on.
He’ll probably have another great year, he’s in the driving seat.