What are you made from, Andy Murray? What are you actually made from? Because there has to be more than just a metal hip holding you together, allowing you to still be producing these moments and matches that defy what should be possible. Even now, at the age of 35 and two days on from a five-hour epic that was his best win in years, Murray has conjured another, and a victory that will rank as perhaps the greatest and most extraordinary escape act of his entire career. Thanasi Kokkinakis played the match of his life, and it was not enough. For Murray, this was the ultimate trial of endurance and mentality, his odyssey, and he came through it.
It was already deep into the absurd stretches of the Melbourne night and at 2.59am when Murray clawed himself back and forced a fifth set. He had faced the storm Kokkinakis had whipped up on the Margaret Court Arena, amid a barrage of forehand assaults from a player who for two hours simply could not miss. It would have broken the will of most, but it did not begin to scratch the spirit of Murray. An extraordinary battle from the brink, sparked from a miracle point early in the third set, was just the start of the long road back – by the end, he had never played for longer, or later.
That, in itself, is insanity. Murray played for four hours and 45 minutes as he defeated Matteo Berrettini on Tuesday, he reached five hours and 45 minutes here, as the match finished at 4am. Murray was furious at the end of the fourth set – not at how he was playing, but that the sport of tennis itself could get to the point where a match of such intensity and commitment was being played at such a time, forcing not only the players, but fans, ball kids, and tournament staff to endure late into the night as well.
It did, though, create the stage for a scene of the most compelling drama, and a performance from Murray that somehow grew in quality, character and strength the longer the night progressed. Staggeringly, as the match entered into a fifth hour, Murray was contorting his weary body to retrieve shots that seemed unreachable, producing winners that were hit boldly and cleanly, as if from a fresh and rested mind. Indefatigable, he overturned an inspired Kokkinakis and the home crowd – many of whom remained despite the absurdity of the hour.
It was past 2am when the points began to fade into the blurry memory of a night already too long – and yet there would be a further two hours to come. The facts of the astonishing deciding set, though, were something like this: as the effort and tension remained as high as it had been to begin with, both players saw break points saved and spurned in the early stages, Murray had three break points at 0-40 2-3, only for Kokkinakis to save them all and then another for good measure. Murray was forced to serve to stay in the match at 4-5, where Kokkinakis got back to within two points of victory. Murray held on, and after seven previous opportunities slipped away – he finally found the break of serve.
The details, though, were iconic: the forehand that secured the crucial break of serve was a flying crosscourt winner, smacked with venom and aggression from a place deep within. That is perhaps what you find when you’ve seen the end, both during a match and a career. He served it out using a variety of tools; a dipping fade-away volley at the net, depth to the Kokkinakis forehand, and then, finally, a steely backhand winner down the line. The words at the net between Murray and Kokkinakis were sincere, the roar from Murray that followed was primal.
No one has done this more than him: now with 11 wins from two sets down, he moves ahead of Roger Federer and Boris Becker. While in his previous match against Berrettini he was a backhand from the Italian away from losing the fifth set, here the miraculous escape came when he stood facing Kokkinakis in the third set and the Australian served for the match. Even as he stayed alive to force the tiebreak, the path back appeared too improbable to even consider.
Against Kokkinakis’ imposing level, Murray had cut an increasingly frustrated figure. In the biggest match of his life, Kokkinakis took an all-or-nothing approach from the start and produced a brilliant attacking game that displayed power and unerring accuracy in equal measure. Murray had shrugged his shoulders in the second set, as if to ask what he could do, and to his increasing irritation, Kokkinakis’ level did not drop as he stormed into his lead. Even in the closing stages, the Australian remained red-hot at times. He finished with 102 winners, but lost.
The turning point came at a moment that perhaps summed up Murray’s career. As Kokkinakis broke early in the fourth, Murray was looking weary and his forehands were being floated almost apologetically over the baseline. Kokkinakis had control of the match but Murray belatedly found his spark in an act of defence and defiance that stretched the realms of possibility, in an explosive game that unravelled for the Australian after he reacted furiously to receiving a time violation on deuce. It came after Kokkinakis showed the first glimpses of a forehand that was getting out of control.
Still, when Murray had break point and Kokkinakis stood over a smash at the net, there should have been no chance. It was instead vintage Murray as he hunted down not one or two but three and four smashes from behind the baseline, each more improbable than the last. From there, Murray pointed to his ear, as Kokkinakis lost his cool and obliterated his racket. The sight would have delighted Murray: after such an onslaught, he finally had a crack in the Kokkinakis shell to work with.
Kokkinakis wrestled back the advantage by winning his own remarkable exchange, as Murray failed to put his opponent away at 15-30 on the Australian’s serve. It put Kokkinakis within touching distance of victory. He continued to fire for the lines and sealed an important hold with an ace, as Murray’s level noticeably slipped when he was then broken to trail 2-5 in the third. It allowed Kokkinakis to serve for the match – where he stood within two points of the third round. But Murray jumped on the most minor of errors from Kokkinakis to drag the contest to its scarcely believable depths of the Melbourne night. And yet, it would get crazier still.