Merciless Murray looks in rude health

Scot shrugs off illness to destroy Austrian and set up last-16 clash with Verdasco
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The Independent Online

Heaven help the opposition when Andy Murray starts to feel well again. The world No 4 went into his match against Jürgen Melzer at the Australian Open here last night having spent most of the previous day in bed taking medication for a sore throat and headache. Within an hour and 40 minutes he had swept the Austrian aside, winning 7-5 6-0 6-3 to set up a fourth-round tie with Fernando Verdasco.

Melzer went within two points of beating Murray at the US Open five months ago, but this time the world No 32 was battered into submission by a merciless display from the21-year-old Scot. From 5-5 in a tight first set Murray won 11 games in a row to run away with the match.

"He showed why he is No 4 in the world and why he's one of the top three guys to win the tournament," Melzer said afterwards, putting Murray in a category alongside Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. "From 1-0 in the second set he didn't miss. He was playing perfect tennis. From my point of view you can't play better than that."

Twenty-four hours earlier, Murray's physio had called the tournament doctor for advice after the Scot fell ill following his second-round victory over Marcel Granollers. He was forced to scrap a practice session on Friday and eventually made it on court for only 45 minutes in the evening. A combination of paracetamol, throat lozenges and gargling left him in better shape yesterday, though he was still feeling tight in the chest.

"By the next match I'm sure I'll be feeling fine," Murray said. "I felt much better today. I've got a bit of a cough, but I'll take some more medication."

Murray's three matches against Melzer since last summer are a good indication of his recent progress. At the US Open he came back from two sets down to triumph in five sets, while at Wimbledon in the Davis Cup a month later he won in four. Last night, for the first time in four meetings with the Austrian, he did not drop a set.

Given Murray's state of health, it helped that the match was played in the evening. Conditions were cool and the Hisense Arena, the second show court, was only half full, though there was a significant and vocal Scottish presence in the crowd.

The contest was close until the second game of the second set. Until that point Murray had played cautiously, slowing the rallies down and inviting his opponent to attack. Melzer, a naturally aggressive player who attacks at every opportunity, might have won the first set but for his 18 unforced errors. Breaks of serve were exchanged before the Austrian made three errors in a row when serving at 5-6 to hand Murray the first set.

More hit-and-hope from Melzer cost him dearly in the first game of the second set as Murray recovered from 0-40 down to hold serve. Everything changed from 30-15 in the next game, however, as Murray upped his game with the apparent ease of someone flicking a light switch. A superb forehand pass down the line when under pressure, a forehand cross-court winner and two brutal attacking shots won the game and turned the course of the match.

Thereafter Murray was almost unplayable. Caution was thrown to the wind as Melzer was pummelled to the floor under a barrage of attacking shots. Returns of serve were hit with such power that the Austrian sometimes did not have time to move. Murray was striking the ball so fiercelythat there was little margin for error, yet by the end of three sets his unforced error count stood at just 10.

When Melzer came to the net he was passed, and when he drew Murray forward he managed only to highlight the Scot's speed of foot and thought. One beautifully executed drop shot looked certain to win the point, but not only did Murray get to it he also hit a sublime winning lob.

"I thought I hit the ball really well," Murray said. "I took a lot of my chances. I made him do a lot of running and was very confident from the second set onwards. From early in the second set I was dictating everything."

Murray's next opponent, Verdasco, beat Radek Stepanek 6-4 6-0 6-0. He has dropped fewer games than any other player – a total of just 12 – en route to the fourth round, and reached the final of his only other tournament this year in Brisbane a fortnight ago.

Verdasco's confidence has soared since he played a key role in Spain's Davis Cup triumph away to Argentinalast month, when he partnered Feliciano Lopez to victory over David Nalbandian and Agustin Calleri in the doubles and then clinched the trophy by beating Jose Acasuso from two sets to one down.

Murray, however, has lost only one set to the 25-year-old world No 15 in their five meetings. "I have a very good record against left-handers," he said.

"The only one I've lost to on the tour has been Nadal. I need to use my head against Verdasco, make him do a lot of thinking and moving. If I play like I did tonight, I can definitely win."

Nadal has been in similarly impressive form and recovered from a shaky start to beat Tommy Haas 6-4 6-2 6-2. The world No 1 dropped his serve for the first time in the tournament as he lost the first two games, but by the end he had hit 53 winners and made just eight unforced errors. Nadal now plays Fernando Gonzalez, who came back from two sets and match point down to beat Richard Gasquet 3-6 3-6 7-6 6-2 12-10 after a marathon lasting more than four hours.

Gasquet's defeat was the only blemish on a good day for the French, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils and Gilles Simon all reaching the last 16. Tsonga beat Dudi Sela 6-4 6-2 1-6 6-1 to set up a meeting with the American James Blake, with the winner going on to meet Murray or Verdasco.

Meanwhile, Greg Rusedski, the 35-year-old former British No 1, has confirmed that he is coming out of retirement and has requested wild cards to play in a number of ATP tournaments.