Andy Murray’s brave Australian Open run ground to a halt against Roberto Bautista Agut, the Spaniard fending off the fatigued former world number one 6-1, 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-4 in the third round to advance on Saturday.
After back-to-back five-set wins over Matteo Berrettini and Thanasi Kokkinakis, a ragged Murray hung tough against the 24th seed but was gradually worn down over the course of the three-and-a-half hour slog at a floodlit Margaret Court Arena.
Murray’s previous match against Kokkinakis, which ended past four in the morning after nearly five hours of play, left him with little sleep, a bad back and a slew of blisters that needed draining from his feet.
Between points against Bautista Agut he shuffled around the baseline like a frail senior citizen but when the ball was in play he threw himself around the court to give the Spaniard a proper scare.
“My feet didn’t feel great. My legs were actually OK ... but I was struggling with my lower back,” Murray told reporters. “That was affecting my serve and that was really the main thing today.”
With the crowd firmly in his corner, Murray broke Bautista Agut in the first game of the fourth set to raise hopes of levelling the match but he ended up squandering a 2-0 lead before dropping serve in the ninth game.
The spent Scot soon fired a cross-court forehand long to concede match point and netted a weary backhand return to bow out, triggering manic celebrations by Bautista Agut, who will play American Tommy Paul for a place in the quarterfinals.
Bautista Agut knocked Murray out in the opening round of the tournament four years ago, after the tearful Scot said his hip was shot and his career might be over.
It has been a long and punishing road back for the three-time Grand Slam champion since being fitted with a metal hip.
But he was encouraged by his week at Melbourne Park, if disappointed not to reach the second week.
“Lots of mixed emotions, I feel like I gave everything I had to this event, so I’m proud of that,” he said.
“But, yeah, 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’m disappointed because I feel like I could have gone quite a bit further.”
At 35 and despite all the aches and pains, Murray’s court movement was impressive. He leaves Melbourne Park without an injury and confident of being ready for his next stop in Rotterdam.
“I felt good about the way that I was playing,” he said.
“It’s more enjoyable for me when I’m playing like that, when I’m coming into a major event and really believing that I can do some damage.”