Exhausted Andy Murray runs out of miracles as he loses to Roberto Bautista Agut

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By Simon Briggs, Tennis Correspondent, in Melbourne

Even Andy Murray doesn’t have unlimited miracles at his disposal. After a back-breaking workload of 14hr 3min over the first three rounds of this Australian Open, Murray finally bowed out – but not before another extraordinary display of guts.

Drawn against Roberto Bautista Agut – tennis’s Mr Consistency – Murray was clearly in agony from the first point to the last. He had only had 39 hours’ recovery time since the longest match of his career, which finished at 4.05am on Friday. Yet he grimaced and grunted his way through another 3hr 29min of hand-to-hand combat, extending Bautista Agut to four sets before finally going down 6-1, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4.

For Murrayphiles, this was another heroic effort, but not an easy watch. Between points, he was limping like a man who had just crossed the Outback on a camel. After the longer rallies, he would double over in exhaustion – and then pull at the tongue of his left shoe as if to pretend that he was actually just adjusting his laces.

And yet, when the ball was in play, he kept finding new, untapped reserves of energy, like an oil company drilling ever deeper beneath the sea-bed. It seems unthinkable that a man in his condition could strike 49 winners against an opponent who moves as well as Bautista Agut. But that’s what Murray did, even snatching the second set against the run of play.

Andy Murray battled back to win the second set Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

His surges came in waves, but when he was feeling the power, he struck the ball with real venom. If he had been able to move his body as smoothly as he shaped his groundstrokes, Bautista Agut would have been in serious trouble. But for all Murray’s ability to soak up suffering, there were still limits to what a body in this condition could achieve. When he was forced to sprint from side to side, he lurched so alarmingly that you feared one of the cogs might fall out of his metal hip.

Murray said: “I mean, I slept from 6 until 9 the morning I played the match with Kokkinakis, which obviously isn’t enough . Then I had to come in here. 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.

“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.

“I feel like I gave everything that I had to this event. So I’m proud of that. I gave everything that I had the last three matches. I’m very proud of that.”

Murray’s game is usually based on explosive movement and particularly on his return. Both were completely absent in a first set in which he couldn’t get his feet going at all. Neither did he show any emotion, apparently lost in despair at his own creaking bones.

When Bautista Agut ripped through that first set in 29 minutes, dropping only a single game, we feared this could be a rout. But we underestimated Murray’s monstrous mongrel. He began to throw himself into his shots, looking to score some quick kills. From a break down in the second set, he somehow earned a tie-break, then saved two set points before levelling when Bautista Agut netted a forehand.

Murray was now using the partisan crowd on Margaret Court Arena in his favour. He had abandoned his impassive manner and was fist-pumping at every opportunity, especially towards the fans carrying Saltire flags. As the match progressed, he fixed his attention on a woman wearing a yellow dress, who was sitting in the front row. He often likes to focus on a single fan when he is looking for energy, and this fan stood up and roared right back at him in encouragement.

Bautista Agut had been rattled by Murray’s comeback, but to his credit he refocused and settled back into his relentless rhythm. He deployed the drop-shot with almost sadistic brilliance, and soaked up the power that Murray threw at him. He also maintained a blank exterior while Murray was now emoting in all directions, manifesting defiance one moment and frustration the next.

Roberto Bautista Agut had to weather a storm from Andy Murray Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

Murray’s level of effort was never going to be sustainable over five sets, and in the end it felt like a mercy when Bautista Agut broke him at 4-4 in the fourth, then served out for a win. The Spaniard celebrated like a madman, releasing his own relief, while Murray hefted his bag onto his shoulder and limped from the court. He deserved to find a porter for this last, weary slog back to the locker-room. But when he sits back to reflect on his achievements this week, he will feel a deep sense of pride.

Andy Murray vs Roberto Bautista Agut, as it happened

Source: telegraph.co.uk