Andy Murray toils past Thanasi Kokkinakis in near-six-hour marathon match

Players battle on the court at Melbourne until 4am local time

As Thanasi Kokkinakis stepped up to the baseline with a two-set lead to serve out perhaps the best performance of his life, defeat would have come quickly for most other players across the net. But Andy Murray does not wallow in doubt when in trouble. He furiously scours for solutions, he fights with whatever he has and throughout his career, he has so often found a way.

From the brink of defeat, Murray somehow pulled off one of the greatest feats of his exceptional career, recovering from a two sets deficit against Kokkinakis in his second consecutive five-set match – with a metal hip – to win 4-6, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-5 in a five hour 45 minute match that lasted until 4am. The victory marks Murray’s return to the third round of the Australian Open for the first time in five 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.

Kokkinakis began the match attempting to obliterate every single return he could cleanly get a racket on. Some flew far long, others blew past Murray before he could even put his feet in place. Most of all, it was a statement of Kokkinakis’ intent – he was going to take the initiative fast and early. He broke serve first, pressuring Murray’s serve to take a 3-2 lead.


Across the net, Murray was flat. He looked a half step slower, his groundstrokes far less potent. With the break secured, Kokkinakis breezed through the opening set. As Murray searched for a solution in the second, Kokkinakis served spectacularly, he was unfailingly aggressive, constantly looking to take the initiative and played a dominant tie-break to establish a clear lead.

Despite Murray’s inability to match Kokkinakis’s quality, he refused to leave without a fight. After Kokkinakis vaporised more forehands to establish a 2-0 lead in the third set, Murray continued to scrap. This time, as the Australian seethed following a time violation warning, Murray forced a break point and then pulled off a miracle recovery, flitting from side to side, throwing up four defensive lobs and retrieving four overheads from Kokkinakis before eventually forcing an error to break back.

As Kokkinakis served for the match at 5-3 in the third set, Murray pulled him back again, breaking his serve. This time, Murray had finally managed to impose himself from inside the baseline, dictating the exchanges and forcing Kokkinakis onto 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.

With the momentum at his back, Murray kept on moving, flitting through the fourth set to force a final set of an astounding day. As the set endured and both players dug out holds, Murray’s fatigue became increasingly visible. But he continued to drag himself across the court and he refused to offer up any free points. After generating, and failing to take, four break points at 3-3, at 5-5 Murray’s boldness was rewarded as he swiped 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.

Murray had already demonstrated that he can still play tennis of the highest level in a singular contest, but as he returned to Melbourne Park two days after toiling for nearly five hours to topple Matteo Berretttini it remained to be seen if he had the bandwidth to recover and perform again. He did.

Four years ago, Murray had reason to believe that his career was finished after he lost to Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round while desperately struggling to find a solution to his chronic hip injury. On Saturday, they will face each other again for a place in the fourth round.

- Guardian