MELBOURNE - Wimbledon champion Andy Murray was taken to four sets and smashed his racquet in frustration before finally ending 'lucky loser' Stephane Robert's dream run at the Australian Open on Monday.
Murray easily won the first two sets but passed up three match points in the third - and totalled a racquet in a fit of pique - before beating the Frenchman 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (6/8), 6-2 to reach the last eight.
Robert, who at 119 has a ranking 115 places below Murray, exited with his head held high after taking the first set off the world number four all tournament.
The 33-year-old was the first lucky loser - someone who loses in qualifying, but gains a place via a withdrawal - to reach the tournament's last 16, and the oldest man since Andre Agassi in 2005.
"He's a fun player to watch but not fun to play against," said Murray, as the departing Robert milked applause from the crowd. "He made it very tricky for me, he plays all the shots very unorthodox."
The match-up looked like a gift for Murray, who is seeking his third Grand Slam title and has contested three finals in Melbourne. But the Scot didn't have it all his own way.
It took him three games to get the first break, when Robert sent a forehand long, and he had the Frenchman's serve under severe pressure again at 4-1, when another error gave up a second break.
The Scot's retrieving was exceptional and Robert was a mere onlooker as Murray set up three set points on his own serve, pouncing on the first with a simple forehand winner.
Murray started the second with another two breaks and as the contest degenerated, there were big cheers when Robert held for only the second time in the match to make it 4-1.
Despite the gap in quality, Murray became agitated enough to berate himself and he faced a break point and needed four set points - two wasted with double-faults - before he could confirm a two-set lead.
Robert was finding his feet and drew cheers when he lobbed Murray on his way to winning his first service game, and even louder applause when he held his next serve to love.
Murray raised his intensity and showed his desire with an acrobatic, back-to-the-net smash en route to keeping it on serve at 3-3.
And after seven break points, and more audible self-talk from Murray, the Briton finally got the break he needed to control the third set when he drilled a backhand return down the line for 4-3.
But it was far from over, and Murray blew two match points - the first with a double-fault - on the way to being broken back for 5-5 before Robert forced a tiebreaker.
The Scot found himself 0-3 down in the breaker before hauling himself back into it and conjuring a third match point at 6-4, which Robert bravely saved.
And Robert made no mistake on his first set point, and when he successfully challenged a line call to take it into four sets, Murray's racquet bore the brunt of his frustration.
With his coach Ivan Lendl looking grim in the stands, Murray soon went ahead in the fourth when Robert double-faulted to hand over an early break.
The Frenchman folded quickly and although he saved another match point at 5-2, Murray finally converted to get off court in two hours and 42 minutes.