All eyes were on Andy Murray on day six of the Australian Open and whether he had the stamina to deal with his third-round opponent following his exertions over the previous two rounds which had kept him on court for 10 hours and 35-minutes.
I mean, my feet didn’t feel great. My legs were actually okay. They weren’t too bad. But I was struggling with my lower back. That was affecting my serve. That was really the main thing that I was struggling with today. Andy Murray
The last one had kept him on court until 4.00am and he virtually had just three hours of sleep before he came back to Melbourne Park which even led to Stefanos Tsitsipas to question “What is he doing here?”
Whether that was a reference to him surviving his match against Thanasi Kokkinakis, or that he was able to walk some four hours after his epic ‘six-hour’ marathon!
One thing can be said about the former world No1, he has stamina, but could his body stand another marathon?
He was up against Robert Bautista Agut, a veteran Spaniard who had a resilient game so spectators could expect a tough tussle between two tenacious players. He was also the player who beat him at the Aussie Open back in 2019 and, as organisers believed he would be retiring, gave him a career-ending tribute on court!
Again, Murray was scheduled for the evening session and immediately fell behind as he lost the first 11 of the first 12 points to trail 0-3 and was broken again before losing the first set having won just one game.
The Spaniard broke yet again early in the second and consolidated to lead 3-1 with Murray really showing fatigue but somehow the Brit recovered in response to the crowd’s urgings, to draw level and take it into a tie-break. There he also recovered from 4-6 down and, helped by a bad error from the 24th seed, levelled the match!
Anyone expecting another five-set marathon would be disappointed as that effort drained Murray’s energy levels despite battling on valiantly. He rallied briefly at the start of the fourth to go 2-0 up only to immediately drop his own and as the match clock approached the three-and-a-half-hour mark, he was broken to love in the ninth game handing Bautista Agut the chance to serve out which he duly did to secure a 6-1 6-7(7) 6-3 6-4 victory.
Having spent 14 hours on court across three matches in six days it wasn’t surprising to discover that tiredness had finally caught up with him.
Murray revealed he had just three hours’ sleep the morning after his win over Kokkinakis, needing to come back to Melbourne Park for medical treatment.
That included having blisters drained along with ice baths leaving him with little time for on court practice.
“I mean, I slept from 6 until 9 the morning I played the match with Kokkinakis, which obviously isn’t enough,” Murray explained.
“Then I had to come in here (to Melbourne Park). I had about seven or eight blisters that I had to have drained and then he put this liquid in to dry it. I had to come in in the morning to give that time to settle.
“Then I went back to the hotel, slept for a few hours, and then hit for, like, 15 minutes yesterday. Yeah, just the ice baths, saw my physio.
“Yeah, actually, I mean, my feet didn’t feel great. My legs were actually okay. They weren’t too bad. But I was struggling with my lower back. That was affecting my serve. That was really the main thing that I was struggling with today.”
He later elaborated: “Serving was the thing that was giving me the most trouble. I mean, my back was uncomfortable.
“I couldn’t really extend on my serves. I couldn’t hit a kick serve. I couldn’t really sort of extend my back on the serve to generate much power on the first serve. Wasn’t able to really drive up to it. That was the thing that was uncomfortable.
“Once I got in the rallies and stuff, it wasn’t really too bad, to be honest. I’ve felt worse on the court than that. It was just the serve, especially like after I got up from sitting at the end, change out the first couple of serves, didn’t feel good.
“… I’m sure if you went and spoke to some sleep experts and sports scientists, et cetera, the people that actually really know what’s important for athletes to recover, they would tell you that sleep is the number one thing, that that’s the most important thing.
“Finishing matches at 4 in the morning isn’t good for the players. I would also argue it’s not good for the sport, anyone involved in it. I do think there’s some quite simple things that can be done to change that.”
Despite having more than enough reasons to make excuses, Murray wasn’t willing use any of them.
He declared there’s “no question” he can return to the second week of a slam – which he hasn’t done since making the quarter finals of Wimbledon in 2017.
“I think obviously you never know exactly when the end is going to be. I would like to go out playing tennis like this, where I’m competing with the best players in the world in the biggest events and doing myself justice,” Murray said.
“There were maybe times the last year or so where I didn’t really feel like I was playing well, and I didn’t enjoy the way that I was playing. Yeah, those sacrifices and that effort that I put in allowed me to get through those matches and play at a high level that I think was entertaining for the people watching.
“I felt good about the way that I was playing (at this event). It’s more enjoyable for me when I’m playing like that, when I’m coming into a major event and really believing that I can do some damage.
“But, yeah, I can have a deeper run than the third round of a slam, there’s no question about that. Obviously draws can open up for you. I need to also help myself with that. If I was playing at this level last year, I probably wouldn’t be ranked 50, 60 in the world. It’s up to me to try and change that.”
Meanwhile earlier in the day, the fifth seeded Andrey Rublev, took out the British No.2, Dan Evans 6-4 6-2 6-3 after two-hours and 10-minutes following some lengthy rallies from which the Russian usually emerged the winner.
“Every match I’m playing better and better,” Rublev said after one of the best performances of his career. “I’m really happy because at the beginning of the season I lost a couple of tough matches against great players. I lost a bit of confidence and I’m happy that since the first match I’m playing really good tennis. I’m really happy and we’ll see what’s going to happen next.
“After the first set I started to feel confident, I started to feel that I can play even better. I can play even faster. As soon as I did it I started to feel even better. I felt he was uncomfortable so I tried to play even more aggressive, but in the end I was still playing really good tennis.”
Rublev put pressure on Evans’ opening service games forcing the Brit to save a break point after a seven-minute game to make it 3-3.
With the rallies getting longer, the Russian had to save a break point in the next game. But he got the break that mattered when Evans was serving in the 10th game to stay in the set.
Despite some fine tennis from Evans, the world No. 6 got the decisive break of the second coming from 0-40 down to take a 4-2 lead.
With the momentum running his way, Rublev went a break up in the third to take a 2-0 advantage and while he squandered five break points to hand Evans his first game in the set, it wasn’t sufficient to change the course of events.