Zverev delivers latest spectacular Melbourne display to oust Murray

By Dejan Kalinic 22 January 2017 253
Zverev delivers latest spectacular Melbourne display to oust Murray

He may be world number one and top seed at the Australian Open but there was little Andy Murray could do to stop an otherworldly Mischa Zverev.

Denis Istomin provided the first shock of the year's maiden grand slam as he knocked out Novak Djokovic in round two, but Zverev was even better on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.

Less than 24 hours after his younger brother, Alexander, received a standing ovation leaving the same court despite a loss to Rafael Nadal, Mischa took it to another level. 

The world number 50 rarely missed – just 26 unforced errors in three hours, 33 minutes – giving Murray few free points.

And this was a match of pure contrast at Melbourne Park.

The baseline is home for almost all players on tour but Zverev lived at the net, serving and volleying throughout. That's rarely enough to beat the world's best, who specialises in returning and a relentless defence. 

But Zverev, in his maiden grand slam fourth round and in the main draw at the Australian Open for the first time since 2011, took his chances.

The great Roger Federer described the fast conditions as, to an extent, ideal for "first-strike tennis" after his opening-round win. Istomin, who went for his shots, was rewarded, as was Zverev, albeit with a different type of aggression. Zverev won 65 of 118 points at the net, his volleying brilliant, be it drop or deep, leaving world number one Murray digging at his feet or behind him to return.

For the first time since the 2004 French Open, the top two men's seeds failed to reach the quarter-finals at a grand slam. Gaston Gaudio was the champion at Roland Garros then as Federer (third round) and Andy Roddick (second) made early exits.

A changing of the guard was expected at the hands of the 'Next Generation' but it was Federer and Nadal, making returns from injuries, who were expected to fall early in Melbourne. Instead, it's the world's top two, at the hands of Istomin, 30, and Zverev, 29.

For five-time runner-up Murray, his biggest chance to end his Melbourne hoodoo was now, with Djokovic out. Instead, he made his earliest exit since 2009. His only lower-ranked conquerors at majors have been Juan Ignacio Chela (50) and Arnaud Clement (91) in 2006 and 2005 respectively.

While Zverev was spectacular, Murray was passive and punished. The Briton was, for the most part, back to his old ways of barking at his player's box and by the time he stopped, it was too late.

If the year's first grand slam needed a lift, it has received two in the first week in the unlikeliest of ways, with unexpected special performances.

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Dejan Kalinic