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Andy Murray beats Thanasi Kokkinakis in near-six-hour Australian Open epic

Andy Murray beats Thanasi Kokkinakis in near-six-hour Australian Open epic

  • Murray battles back from two sets down in his longest match
  • 4-6, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-5 win finishes at 4am in Melbourne

As Thanasi Kokkinakis stepped up to the baseline with a two-set lead to serve out one of the best performances of his life, he would have been confident against most other players in the world. But almost nobody battles like Andy Murray when in trouble. He furiously scours for solutions, he fights with whatever he has and he has so often found a way through.

From the brink of defeat, Murray somehow pulled off one of the greatest feats of his exceptional career, recovering from a two-set deficit against Kokkinakis in his second consecutive five-set match – with a metal hip. This time he triumphed 4-6, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-5 in a five-hour, 45-minute epic that lasted until 4.05am.

It is the third latest finish in the history of tennis at tour level and the longest match of Murray’s 18-year career. The reward for the Scot’s victory is a place in the third round of the Australian Open for the first time in six years.

For the packed crowd that descended on Margaret Court Arena, this had always been the most anticipated match of the day. They soundtracked the players’ arrival at 10.10pm to loud, incessant cries of “Come on Kokk” and they antagonised both players in turn.

For his part, Kokkinakis was buoyed by the occasion. The 26-year-old Australian began the match attempting to obliterate every single return he could put a racket on. Some flew far long and others blew past Murray before he could even put his feet in place, but his intent was clear. He was going to take the initiative as quickly as possible.

Across the net, the Scot was flat. He looked a half step slower, his groundstrokes far less potent. Kokkinakis breezed through the opening set and he continued to serve spectacularly as he established a two-set lead.

Despite the growing deficit, the five-time finalist here readied himself for a fight. After the Australian seethed following a time violation warning while leading 2-0 in the third set, Murray forced a break point and then pulled off a vintage steal, throwing up four defensive lobs and retrieving four overheads from Kokkinakis before eventually forcing an error to break back.

The home favourite served for the match at 5-3 in the third set, but Murray pulled him back again. This time, Murray had finally managed to impose himself from inside the baseline, forcing the younger man on to the defence as he dragged himself to set point in the tie-break. At 5-6, Kokkinakis gagged on a desperately easy overhead, sending it far wide and pulling Murray back into the match.

Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia looks frustrated during his second round match against Andy Murray

With the momentum at his back, Murray kept on moving, flitting through the fourth set to level the match. Murray’s visible, growing fatigue did not stop him from chasing every last ball and playing boldly under pressure. At 5-5 in the fifth set, his courage was rewarded as he slotted a forehand winner and secured the decisive break. Minutes later, Murray drilled a backhand down-the-line winner to close off one of the greatest recoveries of his career.

Two days earlier, Murray had already pulled off an incredible achievement by recovering from match point down to defeat Matteo Berrettini, the 13th seed, in five sets. Murray’s performance on Rod Laver Arena had demonstrated that he can still play tennis of the highest level in a single contest, but as he returned to Melbourne Park it remained to be seen if, with his age and his physical state, he had the bandwidth to sufficiently recover in order to perform at the highest level once more.

Recent history suggested that it was not the case. In 2020, after a five-set battle with Yoshihito Nishioka at the US Open, Murray was eviscerated by Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round. Last year in Melbourne, Murray followed up his five-set win over Nikoloz Basilashvili, the 21st seed, by being dismantled in straight sets by the world No 120, Taro Daniel, the worst grand slam loss of his career. This time, he was ready. Even after spending 10 hours, 34 minutes on the court across two matches, he stood tall and triumphed.

Four years ago, Murray departed his 2019 five-set first-round match against Roberto Bautista Agut believing it could have marked the end of his career as he struggled to find a solution to his chronic hip injury. On Saturday, they will face each other again for a place in the fourth round.

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