Andy Murray’s Australian Open run ends in battling defeat to Bautista Agut
- Spaniard eventually prevails 6-1, 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-4 in Melbourne
- Briton succumbs after 14 hours on court over three matches
A day and a half after seemingly dragging his body to the extremes of its physical limits, Andy Murray was back and at it again. He started his third-round match an exhausted shadow of himself, barely even able to move, but then he loosened up. He began to play. One fist pump at a time, he let every single onlooker know. Somehow, he ended up snatching a set for himself.
It was an astonishing, thrilling last stand that encapsulated all that he is about, but it was not enough. As Murray’s immense workload finally caught up with him, his resurgent Australian Open came to an end as he eventually fell 6-1, 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-4 to Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain.
Before the redux of the classic 2019 matchup that nearly retired Murray, which Bautista Agut won in five sets, the only important question was just how well, if at all, the 35-year-old could recover. Between his unforgettable five-set wins over Matteo Berrettini and Thanasi Kokkinakis alone, he had been on court for 10 hours and 34 minutes.
In the early stages, the spectacle was grim. Murray continually clutched his body parts and he moved almost at walking pace. When he attempted to rush the net, he watched passing shots fly by him before he had even reached the service line. Between points, his discomfort was clear.
The Scot won just one point in the opening three games and Bautista Agut breezed through the opening set. The Spaniard broke serve for a 6-1, 2-1 lead after Murray’s legs crumpled on a second serve, leading to a double fault.
Even in those early stages, when his prospects seemed hopeless, Murray fought desperately. When he clinched his first game to be 3-1 down, he vigorously pumped his fist to the roaring crowd. Each of his few minuscule victories were celebrated with outsized cheers. His passion rallied the Margaret Court Arena crowd, whose screams soundtracked every one of his successes.
One of the fascinating spectacles in tennis is the mental stress that an injured or physically compromised player can cause to an opponent. The pressure, from the Scot and the crowd alike, slowly seeped inside Bautista Agut and, as he tightened up, Murray’s shoulders opened.
From 2-4 and break point down in the second set, the Scot reeled off three games in a row. Powered by adrenaline and pure desire, he pulled off some absurd shotmaking, pounding running forehands and delicate drop shots while even outlasting Bautista Agut in long, high-octane rallies.
Murray forced a tie-break and then, somehow, he won it. From 4-6 down, he ended two breathless rallies with outlandish drop shots and then won a final battle of attrition to seal the set. As Bautista’s final backhand struck the net, Murray stared out at his audience with his hands on his hips, his face a picture of utter disbelief as he received a standing ovation for his efforts.
But the Spaniard regained his composure and reverted to type, interrogating Murray’s movement and shot tolerance. Even as the Scot’s legs began to fail him once more, his service speeds cascading as he stumbled out of shots, he fought until the end and forced Bautista Agut to play at a high level to defeat him. To his credit, he did, striking 50 winners to 29 unforced errors, succeeding where a lesser player may have failed.
Once the dust settles after a painful ending, and he shrugs off his reasonable qualms about the scheduling that meant he was still playing tennis after 4am on Friday morning, there are so many positives for the former world No 1 to take from his run. He showed once more that he is playing quality tennis, he is capable of competing with and defeating the best players in the world and he should look towards the rest of his season with his head held high.