Men's singles third round
Roberto Bautista Agut halted the heroics of Andy Murray over four absorbing sets under the lights at Margaret Court Arena on Saturday night.
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The No.24 seed posted a 6-1 6-7(7) 6-3 6-4 victory to return to the Australian Open fourth round for the first time since 2019.
Four years ago, Murray was reduced to tears during his Australian Open pre-tournament press conference. The three-time Grand Slam champion thought it was the end of the road.
His 'final' match was an archetypal five-set rollercoaster, just missing out against Bautista Agut. What a full-circle moment to take on the Spaniard once again at Melbourne Park.
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A five-set epic over Matteo Berrettini followed by the longest match of his career to finish at 4am versus Thanasi Kokkinakis; it had already been some ride for the former world No.1 at AO 2023.
Meanwhile, Bautista Agut needed five sets to overcome American qualifier Brandon Holt. The world No.25 had claimed the past three bouts with Murray, tying their head-to-head at 3-3.
After 10-plus hours on court across two matches, did Murray have enough in the tank?
Story of the match
Murray's movement was understandably a challenge in stark contrast to the razor-sharp start from the Spaniard.
Bautista Agut's backhand pass, outstretched from over the tramlines in the second game, set the tone, as the roadrunner 34-year-old rapidly raced to a set and 4-2 advantage.
Five-time finalist Murray was being urged on by a rocking MCA crowd. Edging a gruelling 29-shot rally, the Scot raised his racquet in a show of defiance.
With every point that went in his favour, Murray would roar towards the fans – it was a special atmosphere.
The former world No.1 produced some equally special shots, pinging a collection of piercing backhand winners, while one scooping acute forehand pick-up had his mother Judy standing applauding, shaking her head in disbelief.
Bautista Agut played an assured tiebreak to carve out two set points. Somehow Murray prevailed in pulsating net duels and restored parity at one set apiece, calling to the fully engaged crowd "get up!"
Murray would be hunched over after every prolonged point, wincing from his exertions. On the other side of the net, Bautista Agut was seemingly fresh. It began to tell, the No.24 seed proving his resilience to claim the third.
Murray's ultra-dogged defence and canny shot-making snatched away a 2-0 lead in the fourth, but this time the rollercoaster ran out of track. It was a boxing-style bout, and Murray couldn't have given any more.
"Always playing Andy at a Grand Slam is very tough. He knows the game very well, he knows very well how to play a Grand Slam match," said Bautista Agut.
"I'm very happy with how I held the nerves and tension. I'm very happy with the win.
"I'm feeling well on the court, I'm competing well, I'm doing everything I can outside the court to play good matches.
"Was obviously very tough but I enjoyed the match, the atmosphere. I think I'm prepared to play a good match in the next round."
Bautista Agut joined countryman Carlos Moya in seventh place on the Open era list for the most Grand Slam last 16 appearances by a Spanish man.
It's a 13th fourth round for 'RBA', and that is supreme consistency.
Saturday night was an edge-of-the-seat battle at close quarters, with Murray winning 25 of 41 points at net, Bautista Agut managing 29 of 41.
What this means for Bautista Agut
Bautista Agut moves on to tackle Tommy Paul, with whom he has a 3-1 favourable head-to-head record. Despite that, the world No.35 American chalked up a 6-4 6-4 win in their most recent clash at the Paris Masters two months ago.
With three relatively inexperienced Americans left in his quarter of the draw, Bautista Agut has a brilliant chance to claim another semifinal spot, which he achieved at Wimbledon 2019.
What's next for Murray?
The level is definitely there for Murray, who has been bamboozling fans with his braveheart commitment to the sport.
Across three matches in Melbourne, the 35-year-old proved he can still mix it with the elite players.
"Lots of mixed emotions. I feel like I gave everything that I had to this event. So I'm proud of that," stated Murray.
"I'm also disappointed because I put loads of work into the beginning of this year and was playing well enough to have a really good run, have a deep run.
"I think even tonight I'm competing against a guy (number) 20 in the world, and it's still very tight considering the circumstances."