Qatar Open: After Sonego scalp, Murray produces another nailbiting three-set win against Zverev

Andy Murray of Great Britain celebrates after winning against Alexander Zverev of Germany in their Men's Singles match on day three of the Qatar...

If only he could get the job done in straight-sets. Andy Murray doesn’t do things the easy way, but that makes his tennis more pulsating – win or lose – as the former world no. 1 was clutch again: rallying from 5-4 down in the deciding set to beat Olympic champion Alexander Zverev, earning a Qatar Open quarterfinal where he’ll play French qualifier Alexandre Muller tomorrow.

Zverev was two points from victory – Murray had other ideas

Andy Murray of Britain in action against Alexander Zverev of Germany during the Qatar ExxonMobil Open 2023 Tennis Tournament Men's singles round...
Zverev’s return from ankle surgery has predictably not been smooth sailing

Murray [WC] bt. Zverev [4] 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 7-5

  • Murray’s latest win sets up quarter-final matchup against French qualifier Alexandre Muller, who served well and kept his errors down – 12 winners and 10 unforced errors – against world no. 33 Botic van de Zandschulp
  • “He’s obviously had a good week this week, likes these conditions, my coach will watch some video to get more familiar with his game… it’s an opportunity for me,” Murray is into the last-eight at ATP 250 event
  • Andrey Rublev vs. Jiri Lehecka, Chris O’Connell vs. Daniil Medvedev, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime – the other QFs to be played on Thursday, from 11.30am BST throughout the day

Andy Murray’s defiance against scoreboard pressure proved decisive, en route to a turnaround victory in three sets against former world no. 2 Alexander Zverev tonight.

Keeping in theme with the Brit’s recent renaissance on tour, this matchup was another rollercoaster ride.

He seized set one at the third time of asking, after enduring a back-and-forth tiebreak where both produced moments they wish they could replay.

Zverev’s errors intensified as it seemed as though Murray just wouldn’t miss groundstrokes during their rallies, and he had the last laugh.

The 35-year-old held firm to earn a one set advantage and really needed to.

It would’ve been far more taxing both mentally and physically, had he needed to quickly regroup from losing a set that felt in his grasp after breaking the German’s serve, levelling the score at five games apiece.

So it proved in set two, as Zverev cleaned up his unforced error count and raced into a commanding lead. Losing just two points behind a formidable first serve (14/16), the German was blasting rally balls at all angles, keeping Murray pinned back.

The set had quickly evaded him.

He repeatedly chuntered away to himself after missing shots or indecisive decision-making during some of their longer exchanges, aware his level needed to increase again – and quickly – to swing Zverev’s momentum back in his favour.

As was the case at last month’s Australian Open, in thrilling five-set wins against Matteo Berrettini and Thanasi Kokkinakis, Murray found his second wind.

Buoyed on by the crowd, who cheered every pulsating rally and were similarly energised by Zverev’s errors, he rose again.

He’s his own biggest critic, armed with exceedingly high expectations of himself, but Murray can sense the slightest chink in the armour against anyone.

Just when he appears resigned to a valiant defeat, the three-time Major champion replies with a ridiculous shot to create doubt.

He saved two match points against Lorenzo Sonego, replicating what he did against the aforementioned duo – smart, astute serving when pressure was at its peak.

Whether fizzing serves out wide and forcing opponents to beat him from the baseline, or going down the t and baiting them to come forward, it’s a tactic many can’t answer.

After ten service holds between them, including two Zverev break point, Murray found a breakthrough.

He rarely had breathing space on serve by contrast, but responded perfectly when down 5-4, 30-15 – two points from defeat – upping his aggression, keeping the 25-year-old guessing.

Approaching the net, smart shot selection with slices and loopy groundstrokes, he wrestled control back from a world-class player still lacking confidence after ankle surgery last summer.

In the very next game, Zverev was down 0-30 for the third time in the match and it was the last. The other two instances, he was broken and would be again.

Having produced similar down that same end of the court at Murray’s expense three games earlier, how about a beautifully disguised drop shot for your troubles midway through another nailbiting rally exchange?

A netted slice and backhand error spilled off his racquet, and Murray’s sneaky anticipation helped him finish the job with a backhand passing winner on match point in the final game.

What’s next for both? 

Andy Murray of Great Britain looks on against Alexander Zverev of Germany in their Men's Singles match on day three of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open at...
Murray’s got less than 24 hours’ recovery time before a French qualifier awaits in the QFs

4-2 on the season so far, Murray’s latest victory has seen him climb four places to world no. 66: the rankings movement speaks volumes for what has been a slow but steady return among the world’s best players again.

It’s easy to brush over the fact he has a metal hip, but even still…

Given the muscular issues that have soured his chances of staying competitive over consecutive matchdays, the 35-year-old faces another test of his recovery powers against a relatively unknown quarter-final opponent in Alexandre Muller.

The 26-year-old French qualifier essentially has a free hit, having earned wins over lucky loser Nikoloz Basilashvili and eighth seed Botic van de Zandschulp.

That was after three-set victories to knock out two qualifying seeds, so the onus will be on Murray to back up another impressive result.

The last time he won more than two three-set matches – best-of-three format – in a week was Antwerp four years ago, his only title since returning from hip surgery.

Murray has to win in fairly straightforward fashion, if he’s to embark on a deep run in Doha the rest of this week.

Andy Murray of Britain in action against Alexander Zverev of Germany during the Qatar ExxonMobil Open 2023 Tennis Tournament Men's singles round...

The manner of this defeat, especially having performed so well to take it into a deciding set – and being so close to victory – will sting for Zverev.

He displayed more than enough in spells here to suggest he’ll return to the sort of form that had him knocking on the door of world no. 1 contention.

11 aces and 73% first serve percentage doesn’t do justice to just how untouchable his serving was at times.

As one of his biggest weapons, it’s encouraging to see it got progressively better over three hours here – firing on all cylinders like it had to be against Novak Djokovic in Tokyo en route to Olympic gold two summers ago.

There’s no question over whether he can produce the levels required, but rather how long it’ll take to get back to his best.

A high unforced error count is to be expected given his style of tennis, but he can’t afford to be passive during big points – Murray pounced, and others will too.

Dominic Thiem has endured a slow build and is currently just inside the world’s top 100, while Zverev – who the Austrian beat to win the 2020 US Open – will continue to slide down the rankings after early tournament exits like this.

Now sitting at world no. 16, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares at the upcoming pair of Masters 1000 events: Indian Wells and Miami next month.

Given this result means he’s now at a 3-5 win/loss record for 2023, perhaps lower expectations will benefit him heading into March.

Picture source: Getty Images


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