ANDY Murray has vowed to bounce back after a shock defeat dented rather than burst the bubble within which he is on the tennis odyssey of his life.
Sir Andy was stunned 7-5 5-7 6-2 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena by world No.50 Mischa Zverev, the elder brother of hot prospect, Alex, in the last-16.
It's the earliest I've lost here for, I don't know, a long time. So I'm disappointed right now.
And Jo Konta was left as the only Brit standing when Dan Evans followed Murray to the exit, going down 6-7(4) 6-2 6-4 6-4 to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Top seed Murray won the Davis Cup, a second Wimbledon title, a second Olympic gold, the ATP World Tour final trophy and reached world No.1 in a dream 12 months up to last November.
The British No.1 and we all knew Murray was not infallible. Evidence of that was when he lost to Kei Nishikori at the 2016 US Open and to Juan Martin del Potro in the semi-finals of Team GBÈs Cup defence.
But all his followers believed he could secure the fourth Grand Slam of his career and his first Melbourne crown after five final reverses. And the neutrals joined them when Novak Djokovic who beat him in four of them – suffered a surprise early exit against American Sam Querrey.
Yet Zverev, whom Murray defeated on route to the 2004 US Junior Open and in three previous encounters as a senior, forgot to read the script. It was the top seedÈs worst defeat in a Slam since Juan Ignacio Chela, then world 51, stunned him at the same event 11 years ago.
But it was far from a capitulation by Murray. More a case of the better man won on the day as the Scot was left to concentrate on preparing for Team GB’s Cup tie against Canada next month.
Murray, in philosophical tones, said: I’ve had tough losses in my career in the past. I’ve come back from them. This is a tough one. I wanted to go far in this event. I’m sure I’ll come back okay from it
It’s the earliest I’ve lost here for, I don’t know, a long time. So I’m disappointed right now.
But credit to him. He came up with great, great shots and played a really, really good match. You know, you always finish matches you lose with things you maybe could have done a bit better, but he played some really good stuff. He deserved to win because he played great when he was down and also at the important moments. I was kind of behind in the last couple of sets the whole way.
I’m obviously down about it. It’s just tennis. I had great success for a number of months. In the biggest events you want to do your best. and that’s not been the case here. You know, it happens.
I don’t think I was flat. I was getting myself pumped up. Sometimes at the end of the sets I was trying to get a little more energy, show more positive body language. And I did that at the end of the match, at the end of the first and second sets.
Did I miss an opportunity? I don’t know. I mean, every year you come is a different chance, different opportunity. I mean, still, even had I got through this match, [Kei] Nishikori or Roger [Federer] are waiting. Stan [Wawrinka] is still in. Guys like [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga. There’s certainly no guarantees, even if I got through, that I would have gone further. I don’t feel like this is any more of an opportunity than other years.
I didn’t think about it (his own seeding and ranking) at all the whole time I was playing in the event and not at all when I was on the court in any of the matches.
Once you get out there, rankings are completely irrelevant, you know, in my opinion anyway. Yeah, that played no bearing on anything.
Murray, 29, hit 71 winners and only conceded 28 unforced errors. But he was largely undone by the aggressive serve and volley tactics of Zverev
He had two points for a 4-1 lead before his opponent battled back to take the first set but levelled the match.
Yet Zverev was not to be denied. He won five games in a row to take the third and go a break up. The momentum stayed with him, breaking Murray EIGHT times.
Zverev, 29, said to courtside to interviewer Jim Courier, a former Slam champion and world No.1: Honestly I donÈt know (how I did it). I was like in a little coma, just serve-and-volleying my way through it. I think you should tell me how I did it because honestly there were a few points when I donÈt know how I pulled it off.
I got excited, but the crowd is here. How can you not stay focused? It was easy to stay aggressive but it was definitely tough to stay calm and focus on your game and your first serve. Honestly, I was surprised I put so many first serves in in the last game because I was expecting maybe a double-fault of an easy unforced error at the net. But somehow I made it.
World No.51 Evans went down with a fight against 12th seeded Tsonga to miss out on a rematch with Stan Wawrinka against whom he held a match point with the Swiss on route to the 2016 US Open title.
Evans, who made his debut appearance in an ATP World Tour final going in, had stunned Croatian seventh seed Marin Cilic and would-be local hero Bernard Tomic before becoming the last Brit to fall in the menÈs singles.
He stunned Frenchman Tsonga to take the opening set, suggesting himself capable of another upset.
But Tsonga took charge, opening up a 4-0 lead in the second with strong and pin-point groundstrokes.
Evans, 26, refused to lie down against a player who made the final seven years ago – he hit 43 winners while Tsonga secured 59 but the Brummie eventually succumbed.
He said: "He was just a bit too strong for me. I played pretty well. I was pretty sore.
"He was so physical. To win the first set took too much out of me.
"I need to maybe get a bit fitter. I think today I was flagging pretty much after the first set. I did feel that.
"My body was sore. Maybe that’s something I can improve on a bit.
"But, you know, I’ve still come a long way from where I was last year."
Tsonga added: "Dan played good tennis and he had nothing to lose.
"It was difficult for me because he was hitting the ball really early. After that the game was pretty difficult, then I went over him and finished strong.
"I’ve played pretty good since the start of the tournament. It will be a good challenge against Stan Wawrinka – he’s playing unbelievably."
Konta, the British No.1 and ninth seed, meets Russian Ekaterina Makarova for a quarter-final spot tomorrow, Monday.
* Uncredited quotes from the BBC, Daily Telegraph