January 22, 2017
Andy Murray has squandered his best ever chance of winning the Australian Open. ‘It’s a tough one to lose,’ he admitted. ‘I wanted to go so far.’
The Brit became the first world number one to be dumped out of the tournament at such an early stage since Lleyton Hewitt fouteen years ago.
Tennis legend John McEnroe said: ‘This is a shock to the tennis world and it will continue after the Australian Open.’
Murray’s conqueror was a man who has never won a significant title and isn’t even the best player in his own family.A man who almost gave up the game, dropped out of the rankings and went off to try to become a pilot.
Mischa Zverev, the elder brother of teenage sensation Sascha, had never reached a quarter-final of a Slam before and has never been ranked above 45. His kid brother persuaded him to get back on court and stick at it. How grateful he must be now.
The no-hoper triumphed 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 to pull off one of the great tennis shocks of all time. Murray will wonder whether that elusive Aussie title dream is ever meant to be.
The Brit paid the price for an appalling lack of focus. He tried to play virtually the entire match through the players’ box, repeatedly asking his team for help – quite literally on one occasion.
At some point he had to realise that the strength had to come from within. Unfortunately for Murrray, it only appeared to dawn on him in the very last game of the match – but Zverev held his nerve.
As if he expected his last-gasp Houdini act to succeed, Murray said later: ‘The last game I came up with some great returns and he kept coming up with great shots, a reflex drop-volley or half-volley.
‘I don’t think I was flat, I was getting myself really pumped up, I had a little bit more energy and positive body language at the end of the match.’
It was too little, too late. And Murray’s passionate fans will be exasperated that he has failed to capitalise on the early exit of his Aussie Open nemesis, Novak Djokovic.
Again, Andy pointed to the climax of the match as a period when he began to find form. ‘I had some opportunities in his last two or three service games. He came back from his mistakes and there isn’t much you can do about that.’
But going into that climax, Murray had won just 35 per cent of points on his second serve, a lamentable statistic. Some of his returns were also uncharacteristically disappointing, although he refused to acknowledge that reality.
‘I thought I returned reasonably well,’ said the Scot, ‘but I definitely could have served better.’
A key tactic for Zverev was to charge the net at every opportunity. He volleyed like a dream and refused to become discouraged, even when Murray did manage to pass him.
‘He served and volleyed – a victory for the old school!’ purred McEnroe later.
There was no juvenile dependency on his team during the match for the Russian-born German, who now resides in Monaco. He knew he had to find the answers within himself – and he did so in spectacular style.
Mischa could hardly believe the level he had found. ‘You should tell me how I did it,’ he said later. ‘There were points when I didn’t know how I pulled it off. Sascha is my inspiration. It means the world to me. I got excited but how could you not, like, stay focused?’
Ask Murray. He was the sad authority on that one, just when we least expected him to falter. But it is probably harder to stay at the very top of your game than most of us could ever imagine.
Andy will have to go away, find some fresh mental strength from somewhere, and come again. He must use the pain of this moment to have a fantastic year from here.
But this is the time to congratulate Mischa Zverev on a quite wonderful display. Even Murray acknowledged that the underdog fully deserved it.