Scot Evans is starting to step out of Murray's shadow
Andy Murray won impressively in straight sets for the second round in a row here at the Australian Open only to find himself upstaged once again by Dan Evans, his fellow countryman.
After the World No.1 secured a place in the fourth round for the ninth year in succession by beating Sam Querrey 6-4 6-2 6-4, Evans made the last 16 of a Grand Slam for the first time by defeating Bernard Tomic 7-5 7-6 7-6.
Since the men's draw at this tournament was expanded to 128 players in 1988, the only previous occasion when two Britons reached the last 16 was when Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski did so in 2001. Both men lost their next matches.
In the fourth round tomorrow, Murray will take on the World No.50, Germany's Mischa Zverev, who has never gone this far in a Grand Slam, while Evans will meet the World No.12, France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who was runner-up here in 2008.
It has been a remarkable start to the year for Evans, who will climb to a career-high position in the world's top 50 at the end of this tournament. The 26-year-old from Birmingham reached his first tour final last week in Sydney and has gone from strength to strength here.
If Evans' second-round win over Marin Cilic, the World No.7, was the best of his career, the circumstances of his victory over Tomic made it just as commendable. The 24-year-old Australian was the last home player left in the men's singles and enjoyed loud support from the crowd.
With rain in the air and a stiff breeze blowing on a chilly day by Melbourne's standards, the conditions were not easy. The match was stopped for five minutes with Evans serving at 5-5 and deuce in the third set, but he held his nerve.
The World No.51, who does not even have a shirt sponsor at the moment, attacked intelligently and played well at the net.
A break of serve at 5-5 helped Evans win the first set, but he was broken when he served for the second at 5-4. His frustration was evident when he was given a warning for an audible obscenity as he served at 5-6, but he held firm and played superbly in the tie-break, which he won 7-2.
At 4-4 in the third set, Evans saved three break points and once again was much the better player in the tie-break. From 2-1 down he won six of the last seven points to claim victory after two hours and 48 minutes.
"It was tough," Evans said afterwards. "Bernie's difficult. He's unorthodox. He plays aggressively and then sometimes slows it down. I found it hard at the start. I'm happy to have come through. It was three tight sets. It could have gone either way."
Novak Djokovic's shocking defeat to Denis Istomin on Thursday has left Murray as the clear favourite to win this title for the first time following his five previous defeats in finals, but the Scot's third-round opponent was a reminder of the potential banana skins ahead. At Wimbledon last summer, Querrey beat Djokovic in the third round.
The match was tight until Murray saved a break point at 3-4 and then broke in the following game after playing three points in a row which encapsulated many of his finest qualities.
The first demonstrated his brilliant defensive abilities as two superb lobs from difficult positions kept him in the point before Querrey hit a backhand wide. A thumping forehand cross-court return winner took Murray to break point, which he converted with another stunning lob as Querrey attacked the net.
In the early stages Murray was still feeling the ankle injury he sustained in the previous round, but he was soon flying. The Scot took the second set with two breaks of serve, though the third was closer. It turned when Querrey dropped serve at 4-4.
"The start of the match was hard," Murray said afterwards. "Sam came out serving big. He was really going for his shots. The end of that first set was important. He had a break point at 4-3. When I saved that and broke the next game, the momentum was with me. I started to serve a bit better and put a lot more returns back in play after that. I played some good stuff.
"I've played a little bit better with each match. I thought I moved much better than I did in the first two matches."
Asked about his ankle, Murray said: "It was sore yesterday and a little bit stiff this morning, but it feels good. I moved really well towards the end of the first set and in the second and third."
The Scot's 48th win at the Australian Open takes him to joint fourth on the Open era list alongside his coach, Ivan Lendl, and Andre Agassi. Only Roger Federer, Djokovic and Stefan Edberg have won more here.
Murray had been surprised by Djokovic's defeat, but stressed that the Serb's results over the last seven months, while moderate by his standards, would be very good by anyone else's.
"He has played some really good stuff over the last six or seven months," Murray said. "It's just not been as consistent as what it was the three years before. But it's just unreasonable to expect anyone to keep up that level for their whole career."
Zverev, Murray's next opponent, beat Tunisia's Malek Jaziri 6-1 4-6 6-3 6-0. "He plays a very different game," Murray said. "He's serve-volleying, coming forward as much as possible, not with the most powerful game."