Andy Murray has been knocked out of this year's Australian Open, losing today's quarter-final 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 3-6 to Roger Federer.
There was much to admire from today's match. It was a gutsy performance from Murray, full of the heart and determination that has seen him win two slam titles and an Olympic Gold medal over the course of the last two seasons. Just when he was in real danger of going out in straight sets, he fought back, breaking Federer as he served for the match in the third set and then winning a tiebreak after saving two match points.
His will to compete was in full display in the fourth set. In his first service game, an epic 19 minute struggle of 26 points and 10 deuces, he saved 6 break points to hold onto his serve. And he saved a further break point at 2-3. But the battling effort came at a physical cost; he dropped his next service game and although he rallied to force 0-30 as Federer served the match out for a second time, this time the Swiss held firm.
At the beginning of the match Federer was frequently coming into the net with success, and was playing aggressively, attacking any short balls. Serving at 1-2, Federer's aggressive forehand down the line surprised Murray, who was only just able to get his racquet on it - a simple forehand volley into the open space gave the Swiss two break points. He converted after Murray's crosscourt forehand sailed long following a deep return. This break was crucial; although Murray competed valiantly, he was unable to create break point chances on the world number 6's serve and Federer served out the first set to love.
In the second set, Murray was broken after his inside-out forehand went wide, with the 17-time Grand Slam champion taking a 3-2 lead. Although the 26-year-old Brit had chances in Federer's next two service games, taking him to two deuces in the first and 30-30 in the next, he was still unable to create a break point opportunity. With Federer serving out the second set, Murray again got to 30-30, but lost a 27 shot rally - the longest of the match; the Swiss won the next point and took the set.
(46.13 KB. 660x350 - viewed 45115 times.)
The third set started with Murray in trouble and he saved three break points - the last with a wide serve followed by a backhand drive volley. Trusting his aggressive play, he closed out the game with a forehand winner. In his next service game he again faced a break point. But again he dug deep, hitting the ball aggressively, moving the Swiss around the court. He saved the break point and a perfectly-timed ace gave him a game point. Another good serve - unreturned by Federer - gave him the game.
At 4-4 it looked as if Murray's much to be admired resistance was over. At 15-15, the Swiss hit a winning lob - there were some doubts over whether the ball had bounced twice before he hit it. Murray went down 15-40 following a a crosscourt backhand which went long, and dropped serve as he netted his forehand down the line on the next point.
But far from being over, there was to be another twist to the match.
Murray positively channelled his frustration, creating two break points as Federer served for the match. The Swiss saved the first with aggressive play, but could do nothing on the second - Murray hit a scorching backhand down the line which the 32 year old could only just get his racquet on, and the world number 4 broke to level the score at 5-5.
The world number 4 had previously lost seven out of eight tiebreaks played against Federer - but not today. Murray's champions' mentality once again came to the fore. Although he went down an early mini-break, he was hitting the ball with renewed energy, pounding groundstrokes into the corners. And his strategy paid off - facing two match points at 4-6, his hard-hitting groundstrokes forced the Swiss into error and he levelled the score. From two match points down to set point up, he took the set thanks to an aggressive forehand return which forced Federer's forehand long. It was an exhilarating comeback.
Had Murray made a forehand passing shot in the first game of the fourth set he would have had two break points - but Federer held. Then followed the dramatic 19-minute game. Murray rallied from 0-40 to deuce with a steely resolve that manifested itself in aggressive play. Six break points in total came and went for Federer, but the Brit clung on, holding eventually with a backhand passing shot winner. He saved another break point at 2-3 with a volley, but by now he seemed to be physically tiring and began to make more unforced errors. The Swiss broke through at 3-4, sealing the game with a drop shot winner. Although the world number 4 pegged Federer back to 0-30 as he served out the match, this time he was not to be denied and he served out his victory with an ace.
Murray may have lost today, but the effort he put into the match has won him a lot of deserved praise. Before the Australian Open began, he expressed doubts over how successful he would be at this tournament following his recent back surgery. Reaching the quarter-finals, and putting up such a battling display in today's match, is an excellent achievement that he should be proud of.
Murray will next be in action in next week's Davis Cup World Group tie, when Great Britain take on the USA.