By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Mischa Zverev first faced Andy Murray across the net when they were both in their mid-teens but it is fair to say their paths have diverged somewhat since.
On Sunday, they were reunited on Rod Laver Arena and the German produced what he rated as the best match of his life to send the world number one and top seed out of the Australian Open in the fourth round.
In the intervening years, the 29-year-old had endured a fractured wrist, fractured ribs, a herniated disc and a period where he freely admits he did not focus as much on his game as he should have.
It was his 19-year-old brother Sascha, rated by John McEnroe among others as a future grand slam champion, who convinced him to give tennis another go after he had wrist surgery two years ago.
“It wasn’t easy. I dropped to, like, 1,100 I think beginning of 2015. I was ranked very, very low. It wasn’t easy,” he said.
“It was my brother who said, ‘You can make it back, you can be top 100 again’, be a great player. I have to say thank you to him quite a lot.
“I think I needed to drop to the bottom, like with the wrist injury, where I started basically from scratch. Then all that actually helped me to understand how much tennis means to me.”
On Sunday, Zverev unleashed a serve-volley assault on Murray, coming to the net 118 times in the three and a half hour contest to claim a 7-5 5-7 6-2 6-4 victory.
“Definitely the best match of my life, not only because it was a best-of-five set match, it was at a slam. It was just incredible,” he said.
“I believed in my game. I believed that playing serve and volley against him and slicing a lot, trying to destroy his rhythm was going to work, which it did in the end.
“I feel like everything just worked out well.”
It also helped that he knew there was no other way he was going to beat the Wimbledon and Olympic champion.
“I can’t stay on the baseline, a couple feet behind the baseline, try to out-rally him,” he said.
“I knew I had to come in. That was my only chance to win. So honestly there was no Plan B for me, so that’s all I could do.”
Zverev admitted he had suffered a few nerves when serving for the match but having his family, including Sascha, in the courtside box had helped him keep his composure.
“You try to distract yourself by doing the right thing on the court. I kept looking at my box. My mom was always smiling. That helps. My dad’s focused. Everybody else was just chilling,” he said.
“I feel like there’s a good atmosphere going on, which keeps me entertained and focused on the court, and then tried to stay positive, which worked out.”
Zverev will face 17-times grand slam champion Roger Federer or Japan’s number five seed Kei Nishikori in his first grand slam quarter-final.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by ….)