Five hours after engineering one of the most spectacular finishes of his 18-year career, exerting every ounce of energy he had to topple Thanasi Kokkinakis from two sets down in a near-six-hour, five-set marathon that finished at 4.05am, Andy Murray was already back in the corridors of Melbourne Park. At 9.30am, he walked down the tunnel beneath Rod Laver Arena to warm congratulations and high fives from colleagues and admirers, but also to confused stares.
“I saw him today before my match,” said the No 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. “I was thinking to myself: ‘What is he doing here? He should be in bed.’”
Murray had returned only briefly to continue his recovery from the 10 and a half hours he spent on court in just two rounds, but it was also a statement of intent. Despite all that he had achieved the previous day, he was already looking forward to his next match.
What he pulled off in the early hours of Friday morning is another reflection of the persistence and resilience that has driven him for so long, another unforgettable moment in a career filled with them. As he fell down two sets against his 26-year-old opponent, Murray seemed to be running on fumes but his fatigue only provoked greater focus, eliminating stray thoughts from his mind and allowing him to play freely and instinctively as he turned the match around .
His recovery was consolidated in a series of spectacular moments. He broke serve after some unforgettable defence, throwing up four defensive lobs and retrieving four overheads before forcing a forehand error from Kokkinakis. He was supremely tough in the fourth set, finding a big serve and then refusing to miss while two points from defeat at 5-5 in the tie-break. By the end of the match, he was inside the baseline and chasing down victory as he snapped one final, spectacular backhand down-the-line winner to seal it.
Surviving one exhausting five-set match at 35 years old and with a resurfaced metal hip is an exceptional achievement alone, but the marathon came on the back of his four-hour-and-49-minute first-round contest with Matteo Berrettini. “It’s just amazing that he can still go to those lengths to win a tennis match,” said Jamie Murray.
Judy Murray, their mother, competed. “I didn’t get to bed till about 5.30 – [it] is really remarkable what he is doing. He is just an incredible fighter and his resilience is second to none,” she said in an interview with Channel Nine.
It is also a reflection of his preparation. After three hard weeks of training in Boca Raton, Florida, during the off-season, where his focus was solely on his craft with no distractions, he has built a level of trust in his body, and his hip, that he has not had since he was at the top of his sport six years ago.
The progress he has made is underlined by his history with his next opponent. Four years ago, Murray was staggering around the John Cain Arena, hobbled from his hip injury and barely holding on as he somehow forced Roberto Bautista Agut to a fifth set. They will meet again on Saturday in the third round. While Murray’s first two opponents were big servers with powerful forehands, with many shorter points, Bautista Agut will use his metronomic consistency to exploit any physical weaknesses across the net.
“I believe it’s the passion, the love for tennis, for the sport that he plays that keeps him doing all that he does and achieving all that he achieves and has achieved,” said Bautista Agut on Murray’s enduring career. “There is no other explanation. He loves tennis, he does everything he can to continue being here. He loves competing, he loves playing tennis. There are people who share [that passion] and people who don’t, no?”
But Murray is also here to win, which is why he dragged himself back to Melbourne Park on Friday. Fourteen hours after his departure, Murray returned to Margaret Court Arena for a low intensity, 20-minute training session with his coach, Ivan Lendl.
Since Friday morning, Tennis Australia has received criticism for allowing him to be in such a difficult position. Craig Tiley, the tournament director, said that the Australian Open would not adapt its schedule.
“At this point there is no need to alter the schedule,” Tiley told Channel Nine. “We always look at it when we do the debrief like we do every year. At this point we’ve got to fit the matches in the 14 days. You don’t have many options”
Murray will do everything in his power to be physically prepared but the challenge awaiting him is great. “Andy was finishing at a ridiculous hour,” said Cameron Norrie. “It can be brutal for him. It’s going to be a tough turnaround but he looks ready and he is moving well. If anyone can do it, he can keep going.”