Give Djokovic a break, Andy Murray defends Serb as he eases into last-16

Roger Federer annihilates Tomas Berdych, Bernard Tomic knocked out by Dan Evans

Andy Murray saw off the challenge of Sam Querrey during round three of the men’s singles at the Australian Open. Photograph: PA

Andy Murray saw off the challenge of Sam Querrey during round three of the men’s singles at the Australian Open. Photograph: PA

 

Andy Murray has sprung to the defence of his great rival Novak Djokovic after the Serb’s surprise exit at the Australian Open.

Djokovic, toppled as world number one by Murray at the end of last year, was sent packing by wildcard Denis Istomin in the second round to end his hopes of a seventh title at Melbourne Park.

It was 12-times grand slam champion Djokovic’s earliest loss at a grand slam in nearly a decade and fuelled talk that the 29-year-old is showing signs of a decline.

Murray, now clear favourite to claim his first Australian Open title having reached the last 16 without dropping a set, said people should not be too quick to judge Djokovic.

“I think everyone needs to give him a bit of a break. It is hard to keep up the intensity week after week, that’s why everyone has been so impressed by the group of players at the top of the game over the last few years,” Britain’s Murray said in his column on the BBC website on Friday.

“I think the players themselves are a lot more understanding, as we know how difficult it is and how incredible the consistency has been over the last few years. It’s almost inevitable it will drop off at some point.”

Standards

Murray, the reigning Wimbledon and Olympic champion, said he was surprised by Djokovic’s early defeat but said it hardly represented a crisis for a player who has so often been his nemesis.

“Everyone was surprised by Novak’s exit in Melbourne, for sure. But out of the last few grand slams he made the final of the US Open, the third round at Wimbledon and won the French Open,” Murray said.

“Every single player on the Tour, bar one or two, would sign up for those results. When you compare it to what his standards are, he’ll probably be disappointed.

“But if you compare it to every other tennis player in the world, his last 12-18 months have been phenomenal.”

Murray, who dispatched big-serving American Sam Querrey on Friday, next faces unseeded German Mischa Zverev.

Federer class

Meanwhile Roger Federer played the sort of tennis to suggest he could yet win an 18th grand slam title as he annihilated Tomas Berdych.

After six months out through injury, Federer had looked rusty in his opening two rounds here but the Swiss produced an awesome display to beat world number 10 Berdych 6-2 6-4 6-4.

He will now face Kei Nishikori for a place in the quarter-finals, where the winner could meet Murray.

A kind draw meant Federer was paired with qualifiers in both his first two matches in Melbourne but Berdych, a four-time grand slam semi-finalist and Wimbledon runner-up in 2010, represented his first real test.

The 35-year-old passed it with flying colours, hitting 40 winners and conceding not a single break point during an hour and a half of scintillating tennis.

“I did surprise myself,” Federer said on court afterwards. “I’m happy to do as well as I did, even though I struggled in the early rounds today was different.

“I served great, the court was fast, it’s been unbelievable.”

British duo

Dan Evans continued his extraordinary run at the Australian Open with a thrilling 7-5 7-6(2) 7-6(3) victory over Bernard Tomic on Friday to give Britain two men in the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the first time in 16 years.

Ranked in the high 700s a couple of years ago but heading for the top 50 after reaching the last 16 of a grand slam for the first time - the 26-year-old prevailed after two hours 48 minutes in a highly-charged atmosphere on Hisense Arena to end Australia’s interest in the men’s singles draw.

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