For nearly five hours under the glaring spotlight of Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday, Andy Murray knitted together a vintage performance that took him to his best result in the past five years.
He established an emphatic two-set lead over Matteo Berrettini, then it all seemed to be coming undone, as Berrettini dragged Murray back to a fifth set and stood a point from victory. But Murray refused to relinquish the match. He fought with everything he had and at the end of a brilliant, rousing and high quality match, Murray was victorious.
After four hours 49 minutes on-court and one match point saved, Murray defeated Berrettini, the 13th seed and last year’s semi-finalist, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (10-6) to reach the second round. Murray will face either Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis or Fabio Fognini of Italy.
“I’m hard on myself usually,” he said. “I need to give myself some credit because the last few years have been tough. I’ve lost a few of those matches, those type of matches, in the slams the last couple of years, whether that’s the [Stefanos] Tsitsipas match [at the 2021 US Open] or Isner at Wimbledon.
“That one could have gone the other way tonight, but I stayed strong and I deserved to win.”
Despite a brutal draw against one of the most successful grand slam players of the younger generation, Murray was unfazed. Before the match, he underlined how fruitful his preparation had been and he firmly believed he was finding form.
Murray backed up his confidence immediately. Throughout the opening two sets, under the roof because of the heat, the 35-year-old soared. He moved seamlessly around the court, deflecting the 26-year-old’s service bombs with ease and serving well under pressure. He struck his forehand as cleanly as he has done for a long time, exploiting Berrettini’s vulnerable backhand and movement.
Berrettini worked his way into the match during the third set by serving incredibly well, connecting with his forehand and showing off his delicate touches around the net. After the Italian pulled one set back, the pair went serve for serve in the fourth set, the level hitting the stratosphere. They contested a quality tie-break filled with breathless points, several aces from Berrettini and a dramatic dive volley from Murray at 6-6, two points from victory, that just sailed long. Berrettini’s flawless serving was the difference as he snatched the fourth set.
By the final set, Berrettini had wrestled control of the match, slamming the door on all of his service games. Murray finally stuttered at 4-5, allowing Berrettini to generate a match point on Murray’s serve. Berrettini had Murray stranded at the net with an easy mid-court backhand to hit, only for him to dump the ball into the bottom of the net.
Murray rode his luck, held serve and after so many tough breaks, he was victorious via a deserved slice of luck, a net cord winner.
Murray cited a long off-season training stint at a country club in Boca Raton, nearby to coach Ivan Lendl’s residence in Florida, as a reason for his improved form. He had spent three weeks focused almost entirely on tennis and the work had paid off. The difference was clear to Berrettini who said Murray’s movement, ball-striking and general level far exceeded what he produced in their third-round match at the US Open in September
“It’s impressive what he could do after so many surgeries, after all the kilometres that he ran in his career. It just shows how much he loves the game, how much he loves these kind of matches,” said Berrettini.
Over the past 14 months, as Murray finally began to compete regularly after innumerable injury niggles related to his metal hip, he has been convinced that it was only a matter of time before he would be making deep runs in big tournaments once more.
But so often the strides forward have been accompanied by disappointment and there have been numerous periods when others in his position would have seriously questioned their future. But few players have ever persevered like Murray and he reaped the rewards of his legendary toughness.
“The last few years, I’ve questioned myself at times,” he said. “There’s certainly a lot of people who questioned me and my ability, whether I could still perform at the biggest events and the biggest matches.
“I felt very proud of myself. That’s not something I generally felt over the years at the end of matches.”