For nearly four hours under the glaring spotlight of Rod Laver Arena, Andy Murray had weaved together a joyful, vintage performance that positioned him on the verge of his best result in the past five years of his career. First he established an emphatic two-set lead over Matteo Berrettini, then in a breathless tie-break Murray stood two points from victory.
Even as it all seemed to be coming undone, as Berrettini dragged Murray back to a fifth set and stood even closer to victory, at no point did Murray allow his intensity to drop. He fought with everything he had until the death and at the end of a brilliant, rousing and high quality match, Murray closed off his best performance in half a decade with a classic victory.
After four hours 49 minutes on-court and one match point saved, Murray recovered to defeat 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 of the Australian Open.
Despite a brutal draw against one of the most successful grand slam players of the younger generation, Murray was unfazed by the prospect of facing Berrettini. Before the match, he had underlined how fruitful his preparation had been and he firmly believed he was finding form.
Murray backed up his confidence immediately. Throughout the 43 minute opening set, under the Rod Laver Arena roof due to the heat, he flew around the court. Murray broke Berrettini’s serve at the first opportunity, deflecting the Italian’s bombs with ease. In his own service games, Murray served well under pressure and he struck his forehand as forcefully as he has done for a long time, exploiting Berrettini’s lesser backhand and movement. He served out the set with an ace.
The onslaught continued into the second set. Murray broke serve in the opening game with an outrageous angled backhand passing shot winner after flitting across the width of the court. Even when Berrettini began to impose himself, Murray always had an answer. He found big first serves on key points, weaved in his typical delicate touch and established a two sets to love lead.
Even though he was far from his best, Berrettini was never going to leave without making life uncomfortable for Murray. He finally worked his way into the match in the third set. He began to serve incredibly well, connecting with his forehand and showing off his delicate touches around the net. Berrettini broke serve early on and held on, pulling one set back.
Throughout the fourth set duel, both played at a high level and intensity. They played free, attacking tennis on their serves and they gave nothing at all away. They converged in a ballistic tie-break filled with breathless points, several aces from Berrettini and a dramatic dive volley from Murray at 6-6 that just sailed long. But Berrettini remained firm and levelled things up at two sets all.
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Berrettini had wrestled control of the match. He was a fortress on his serve and he charged Murray with keeping up. His opportunity came at 4-5 when he generated a match point on Murray’s serve – he had Murray stranded at the net with an easy mid-court backhand to hit, only to comically dump the ball into the bottom of the net. Murray rode his luck, held serve and snatched the momentum.
For much of 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 disappointments, and there have been periods when others in his position would have questioned their future. But few players have ever persevered like Murray and on his return to Rod Laver Arena after five years away, he reaped the rewards of his legendary toughness. – Guardian