Andy Murray shows old school steel to win Australian opener in five sets

Scot grinds it out against Nikoloz Basilashvili to reach second round after gruelling epic

Andy Murray celebrates his five-set win over Nikoloz Basilashvili. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Andy Murray celebrates his five-set win over Nikoloz Basilashvili. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty

 

As a new day of first round matches began at the Australian Open on Tuesday morning, the big screen situated at Garden Square in the shadow of Rod Laver Arena had transported back three years to around the same time in 2019.

The subject was Andy Murray’s last appearance on these shores, starting with his tearful press conference as he announced that retirement could be imminent, before he somehow defied his crumbling hip to battle with a top 25 player, Roberto Bautista Agut, for over four hours on the Melbourne Arena. The last time he was seen at the Australian Open, he was being shown a video of his peers wishing him well in the next chapter of his life.

Three years later, much in the sport has changed, but Murray has stubbornly remained. On Tuesday, he returned to the exact same stadium and he found himself deep in another five setter, but this time he rose to defeat Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4, securing his first victory at the Australian Open since 2017.

“It is amazing,” said Murray. “It has been a tough three or four years. It is a lot of hard work to get back here. I have played on this court many times. The atmosphere is always incredible. This is where I thought I had potentially played my last match three years ago. It is great to be back. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Basilashvili is one of biggest ball strikers in the world, but he is so erratic that while he has spent much of the past few years in and around the top 20, he still has a losing win-loss record in his career. Just a week ago, Murray picked Basilashvili off after three dramatic hours of play in their second round match at the Sydney International.

Murray entered the match with the goal of digging a trench behind the baseline, mixing up his game with slices and changes of pace, and eking out as many errors from the Georgian as possible. He played an extremely clean opening set, serving well as Basilashvili haemorrhaged unforced errors and then he struggled with his own serve in the second set. As the match endured and both players settled, an enormous amount of running followed for Murray.

Andy Murray has a breather after his gruelling win over Nikoloz Basilashvili. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty
Andy Murray has a breather after his gruelling win over Nikoloz Basilashvili. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Murray struck just eight groundstroke winners across the five sets on Tuesday. For some, his overly defensive play is inefficient and unsustainable for a 34-year-old with a metal hip that he has frequently noted, with a chuckle, was not built for the type of activities he is using it for.

But it remained an impressive sight. Throughout the third set, Murray resolved to retrieve every last ball. He chased down bullet after bullet, he scythed forehand slices and threw up ample rally-resetting defensive lobs. Many points ended with supreme, destructive groundstroke winners from Basilashvili, but even more were decided by Murray’s movement and court sense as he continually elicited mistakes from his opponent.

Three years ago, Murray could not even dress himself in the morning without suffering through excruciating hip pain, yet here he was against the 21st seed, covering every single part of the court and maddening his opponent in the process.

Afterwards, Murray said that the countless injury setbacks he has suffered over the past two years that have affected his movement in turn. Now he must ensure that he remains healthy and his movement remains at this level: “The direction is to try to maintain that, and the best way for me to do that is staying healthy for a long time. It’s not as easy for those things just to come back as quickly as they used to when I was younger,” he said.

As the pair traded sets and ended up in a decider, Murray played with his most urgency under the pressure of a final set. He took an early break with some of his most enterprising tennis and when he lost it he never stopped fighting. At 4-4, 30-30, with the match in the balance, Basilashvili’s shot struck a net cord and the ball died. Murray reacted, changed directions and then placed a sweet drop shot.

After Murray held serve for a 5-4 lead, the pressure on Basilashvili’s shoulders, Murray smothered the Georgian by taking his return of serve early and he broke serve with ease to seize the match: “Now I want to keep improving,” he said afterwards. “I would love to have a deep run here if possible. It is not something I have done in Slams since I have come back and it is motivating me.”

Three years on from what had seemed to be the end, Murray conjured up more of the grit that has come to define his career and this time he moved on. - Guardian

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.