Andy Murray soldiered deep into the night to conjure another extraordinary win at the Australian Open.
Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis served for victory at 5-3 in the third set of their second-round encounter on a rowdy, partisan Margaret Court Arena only for Murray to show once again that his greatest asset is a stubborn refusal to lose.
The 35-year-old, who had battled for nearly five hours to upset Matteo Berrettini on Tuesday in his best result since 2017, forced a deciding set and finally prevailed 4-6 6-7 (4) 7-6 (5) 6-3 7-5 at 4.05am.
At five hours and 45 minutes, it was the longest match of Murray’s whole career and the third latest finish to a tennis match ever.
It was a contest that had everything, not least the quality of the rallies, which somehow did not diminish as the clock ticked on.
Both men were unhappy to be given time violations by umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore, while Kokkinakis, who racked up 102 winners, also received a warning for smashing his racket after a ridiculous point in the third set where Murray retrieved three smashes.
A sizeable number of fans stuck it out to the bitter end but Murray railed to Asderaki-Moore about the lateness of the hour, branding it “disrespectful”, and the increasing number of post-midnight finishes will surely focus attention on tennis’ scheduling.
Having spent more than 10 hours on court, Murray must now somehow try to recover for a third-round clash with Roberto Bautista Agut, the player he lost to in 2019 when it appeared his career was over.
World number 159 Kokkinakis, who won the Australian Open doubles title last year with his great friend Nick Kyrgios, was bidding to become the lowest-ranked player ever to beat Murray at a grand slam, although the level he played at here was far superior to that number.
The match did not begin until after 10pm, and the atmosphere was tasty from the start – if ever there was a name to inspire chants from an Australian crowd, it is surely Kokkinakis.
The 26-year-old, like his opponent, has dealt with more than his fair share of injury troubles but has shown before he can rise to a big occasion, boasting wins over Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Kokkinakis made a nervous start but Murray was unable to take any of three break points in the second game and from there the Australian began to dictate with his big serve and forehand.
He broke serve to lead 3-2, going on to take the first set and then looked in complete control when he forged ahead at 5-4 in the second.
It was in that game that Murray received a time violation for taking too long on his serve, leading to complaints from the Scot about the impact of the crowd noise.
He clawed his way back into the set in typically gritty fashion, saving three set points in the next game, but was immediately on the back foot in the tie-break and could not recover.
The 35-year-old cut a frustrated figure throughout and at the beginning of the third set appeared to rail against the empty seat temporarily vacated by coach Ivan Lendl.
Murray’s powers of defence helped him pull back after dropping serve, with Kokkinakis engaging in an expletive-laden rant at Asderaki-Moore over a time violation and then reacting to Murray’s incredible retrieving skills by pounding his racket into the ground in disgust.
The Scot just could not get on the front foot, though, and Kokkinakis broke again, setting up the chance to serve for the match.
But – as in the second set – Kokkinakis tightened up a little at the vital moment and Murray seized his opportunity before clinching the tie-break when his opponent sent a smash horribly wide of the open court.
It had been his one Achilles heel all night and it finally gave Murray something to work with.
He began to take control of more of the baseline rallies and finally broke for 4-2 in the fourth set before clinching it with an ace after saving two break points as the clock reached 3am.
Kokkinakis’ serve kept him in it in the decider, including recovering from 0-40 at 3-3, but at 5-5 Murray finally found a way through and he served out one of the most memorable victories of his life.