Andy Murray rallies against Reilly Opelka to reach first ATP final since 2019

·4-min read
Andy Murray Sydney Tennis Classic - GETTY IMAGES
Andy Murray Sydney Tennis Classic - GETTY IMAGES

Andy Murray walked into the centre of the Ken Rosewall Arena, held his arms aloft and then punched the air, roaring at the crowd that was standing in ovation. He was into his first ATP Tour final for more than two years, after a three-set win over giant American Reilly Opelka at the Sydney Tennis Classic.

It was a brilliant comeback, after he narrowly lost the first set tie-break despite rallying back from 5-1 down, eventually winning 6-7(6) 6-4 6-4 in arguably his biggest victory since winning his last title in Antwerp in 2019.

Murray said earlier this week that one of his long term goals was to reach a milestone 50 career titles, and will now bid for a 47th on Saturday against Aslan Karatsev after the Russian beat Dan Evans in the second semi-final to prevent a first all-British ATP Tour final.

"It's obviously great to be in another final," Murray said. "A tough match again. It was always going to be tight against him. There is not many chances either way usually. Obviously after losing the first set, it felt like quite a long way back but I stayed tight on my serve. I served well the last couple of sets and I think overall I played a pretty smart match. I didn't really give him loads of opportunities."

Even though he was chasing after the opening set, Murray held the cards for most of the match. He won nearly 90 per cent of points on his first serve, facing only one break point throughout the whole match, and created numerous chances to break 6ft 11in Opelka's serve with some trademark returning.

It marked his fourth consecutive win, his longest streak since 2019, and sixth over a top 30 opponent since Wimbledon last July. Getting to a final will prove a huge boost to his confidence ahead of the Australian Open, which begins on Monday, and also pushes him closer to breaking back into the top 100, moving him up to 112th in the live rankings.

Meanwhile world no. 20 Karatsev, his opponent in Saturday's final, may well have heavy legs after being pushed to the brink by Evans in a three hour six-minute thriller, which finished just shy of midnight.

Though Evans squandered the opportunity to reach the final, it was largely because his Russian opponent refused to be beaten, hitting 57 winners over three brutal sets of tennis to win 6-3 6-7(13) 6-3.

After losing the opener, and with Karatsev making expert shot selections early in the second, Evans mused that he "might as well go to bed". But it turned out there was still more than two hours left in the contest. They played a mesmerising tie-break, where Evans saved three match points and rattled through six set points of his own before he eventually won the tie-break 15-13, forcing the decider.

Dan Evans Sydney Tennis Classic - SHUTTERSTOCK
Dan Evans Sydney Tennis Classic - SHUTTERSTOCK

There was more drama to come, as Evans immediately lost his focus when Karatsev opted to take a toilet break between sets to change his clothes. New rules introduced this season allow players three minutes for toilet breaks between sets, plus two minutes to change clothes, with the clock running from when they enter the facility. Evans took umbrage with the extra couple of minutes it took for Karatsev to get to and from the bathroom though, despite it being well within the rules.

When he promptly went down a break, he was incensed, directing his anger at officials. "Yes, you like that huh? Bull****," he shouted in the direction of the referee, earning a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct before adding, "Seven minutes off the court? You're a f***ing embarrassment to the sport."

Evans continued to rant between points, accusing the umpire of failing to apply the rules, and Karatsev powered to a 3-0 lead. Somehow, he managed to refocus though, and won three games in a row to even things up, but was broken again at a crucial moment to give Karatsev a 5-3 lead. The Russian served out the match, and later Evans declined to attend his press conference.