No. 1s all out
MELBOURNE • "It's just tennis," Andy Murray said before disappearing into the Melbourne night after losing 5-7, 7-5, 2-6, 4-6 to a player ranked nearly 50 places below him.
All indications had previously suggested he would finally win the Australian Open he craves after losing in five finals - but it was not to be.
Four of those defeats were by Novak Djokovic, who lost in the second round to the world No. 117 Denis Istomin, 67 places below Mischa Zverev, the German who inflicted the pain on Murray over four sets in the fourth round. The Scot had not just lost a match; he had blown a wonderful opportunity.
"I had great success for a number of months," Murray said, reflecting on his rise to No. 1 at the end of last season, when he displaced Djokovic and beat him in the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
"In the biggest events, you want to do your best but that's not been the case here. It happens. I've had tough losses in my career. I've come back from them. This is a tough one."
WINNING IN A DAZE
I was like in a little coma... There were a few points where I didn't know how I pulled it off but somehow I made it.
MISCHA ZVEREV, on knocking out world No. 1 Andy Murray for a place in the last eight.
The world No. 1 was supposed to play the world No. 2 Djokovic, in the final, and neither was scripted to go out before the quarter-finals to a pair of seasoned hustlers. The last time that happened was at Roland Garros 13 years ago.
Like Istomin, Zverev could hardly contain his delight. He described it as: "Definitely the best match of my life, not only because it was a best-of-five-sets match, it was at a Slam. It was just incredible."
It was a victory, too, for conviction over doubt.
"I believed in myself," Zverev said. "I believed in my game. I believed that playing serve and volley against him and slicing a lot, trying to destroy his rhythm, was going to work, which it did in the end."
Tiredness might be an issue for Murray, and he has the Davis Cup up next, although it would not be the best look if a player just knighted in part for his services to the British game chose not to lead the national team, having been unexpectedly given such a good amount of time to recover and prepare.
He added: "The off-season for me was fairly short just because I had to take a decent break after the Tour Finals but it was a great way to finish last year. I was full of confidence coming into the beginning of this year. I prepared as best as I could."
As did all the players, from the elite to the lucky losers and qualifiers, most of whom went home early.
But the Briton has the support of one of the game's greats in his quest to finally win Down Under.
"It was tough for Andy," Roger Federer said courtside after his 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 over Kei Nishikori.
"But he'll be back. I'm sure he'll win this title one day."