That a man called Zverev would make the headlines at this year’s Australian Open was no surprise. That the Zverev in question would be Mischa Zverev, the 29-year-old older brother of Sascha was a shock. That Mischa should outplay Andy Murray, the world No.1
But outplay him Zverev did. He was quite simply brilliant for more than three and a half hours to win 7-5 5-7 6-2 6-4. Murray could not stop him, no matter how hard he tried. This was the stuff of dreams for Zverev.
“I don’t know how I did it,” Zverev said. “I was like in a little coma and serve and volleying my way through it. I think you should tell me how I did it because honestly there were a few points where I don’t know how I pulled it off, I don’t know how I won some points but somehow I made it.
It means the world to me. And it means the world to me that my whole family is here. My box is full. So many people are here to support me. It’s amazing.”
The serve and volley we were all expecting – that is what Zverev does. It is what he has always done. No one else does it, but he does. Yet it was the way he was also solid from the baseline that came as a surprise. The forehand in particular was flummoxing the world No.1. There is almost no backswing on the shot which gave Murray no hint as to where it was going and as a result he was left rooted to the spot as the ball flew into spaces he could not possibly reach.
But when he was up at the net, there was no passing him. His serve was fearsome, his shot making was spectacular and his timing was immaculate. He took the ball early, he took it on the rise and he made magic out of nothing.
AO Expert: Zverev's old-school approach
Murray is one of the best returners in the game but he could not put enough pressure on the German’s serve to make a difference. He loves to have a target to pass but he could not find an unguarded spot to place the ball. Zverev had everything covered.
The world No.1 did not have a hope of out-muscling his tormentor: he could not get enough racquet strings on the ball to do that. His second serve, the shot that improved so dramatically last year and shored up the last crack in his defences, deserted him. He only won 25 per cent of his second serve points in the first set – and lost the set – improved it to 45 per cent in the second set and then growled and grumbled and howled at his box as it slumped back to 25 per cent in the third.
Everything that Murray normally does so well – serve, return, invent, change tactics – did not work against Zverev. The only regulation Murray trait was the movement but so often that merely helped him accelerate after shadows. And the lob, that shot that Murray can land on a sixpence seemingly with his eyes shut, simply gave Zverev the chance to put away a smash winner. After a couple of sets, the Scot stopped trying with that one, screaming at himself: “No!!! No for the lob!!!”