Andy Murray’s eventful run at Indian Wells is over following a straight sets defeat to Olympic champion Alexander Zverev in round three.
The 34-year-old Brit had his opportunities but ultimately succumbed to a first loss in three meetings with the 24-year-old German, who triumphed 6-4 7-6 to make it 19 wins from his last 20 matches.
Zverev, who will now face 14th seed Gael Monfils or Kevin Anderson in the last 16, was delighted to edge a tight affair.
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“The match was a very high level," he said during his on-court interview. "The way he played in the second set, Andy was so aggressive, it was incredible. I haven’t seen him play this aggressive in a long time and I think that’s why the match turned out this way. I’m happy to be through."
Murray was clearly disappointed to end up empty-handed after one of his finest displays since returning from hip resurfacing surgery and threw his racket to the floor before offering his opponent a lukewarm handshake.
Mark Petchey, who has worked closely with the two-time Wimbledon champion at different stages of his career, was courtside along with Martina Navratilova and understands why the Scot will feel down despite a number of positive signs.
"He will be frustrated," said Petchey. "The way he moved was so good, the way he served for the majority of the match was excellent. Those aren’t excuses in his own mind anymore. The quality of his tennis in the big moments will be frustrating for a former world No.1."
Navratilova added: "Andy played better than he has for the whole time since he’s come back but he still fell short. But it was against arguably the hottest player on the tour at the moment other than Medvedev, perhaps, and he held his own. Those margins are so small, he had belief but maybe not enough matches under his belt at this level. I think it’s just a matter of time until he gets there if his body holds up. It was just a couple of points and he could have won the second set and then who knows?"
Murray started brightly and showed no signs of any fatigue from the exertions of his draining three-hour battle with Carlos Alcaraz.
The Scot nailed a pair of aces in the opening game and then set about turning the heat up on Zverev with a close-up return position on the German’s suspect second serve. It earned an immediate reward via a double fault and clearly unsettled the world number four as Murray secured an instant break with a superb crosscourt backhand pass the pick of his points.
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Ahead of the match Zverev had spoken of his desire to claim a first ever win over Murray to complete the set of having beaten all of the so-called ‘Big Four’ and he rallied hard from 3-0 down to ensure that dream would become a reality.
Zverev slowly took charge of the baseline exchanges and overwhelmed the three-time Grand Slam champion with precision power. The German’s first serve did plenty of heavy lifting too as he turned the tables to win five games in a row before comfortably closing out a 49-minute set to love.
Murray had been hoping to beat a top five opponent for the first time since he defeated Novak Djokovic at the 2016 ATP finals and he responded strongly to the setback.
The Scot made quick work of his first few service games in Set 2 and after seeing two break points go begging in the second game he got the reward his proactive approach deserved. Some quick footwork allowed him pick up a drop shot to earn him two more opportunities and this time Zverev crumbled to hand his opponent a 3-1 lead with a third double fault of the contest.
Murray appeared on course to consolidate with a quite sublime drop-shot-lob combination but then came unstuck as Zverev chased down another drop shot and found the line with a winner on the run to break right back.
A tense finale ensued with Zverev’s travails in taking an eternity to re-lace some shoes adding to the drama. However, it was the German who made the breakthrough in Game 11 as Murray double faulted on break point.
Zverev served for the match but completely capitulated with a shocking miss at the net and an overhead long which allowed Murray a brief reprieve.
The former world number one could not force a decider in the tie break though as Zverev came through it by a 7-4 scoreline to complete victory in two hours and eight minutes.
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