It’s a match that might change the rules, or at least the scheduling, of tennis, with renewed calls after it for earlier starts to prevent other players from having to compete until 4 am. But where does the five-set classic that Andy Murray won at Thanasi Kokkinakis’ expense at the Australian Open yesterday, which at five hours and 45 minutes is the longest match of his career, rank among his greatest marathon matches? Martin Keady, our resident tennis historian, has been looking back at Murray’s remarkable career to try and make that judgement.
Here, then, are Andy Murray’s five greatest marathon matches, in reverse order.
- David Nalbandian beats Murray in the third round of Wimbledon 2005: 6-7 (1-7) 1-6 6-0 6-4 6-1
This was a truly historic match for Murray, even if it came in his very first Wimbledon. On the down side, it remains the only match in his entire career that he has lost after winning the first two sets. On the up side, it effectively represented his introduction to the British tennis fans who would go on to cheer him to two Wimbledon Men’s Singles titles in the next decade.
The previous September, Murray had confirmed all the enormous potential he had shown as a junior by winning the Junior US Open, which led many to believe that he would become the natural successor to Tim Henman, who by the mid-noughties was on the downslope of his own legendary Wimbledon career. However, in the match against Nalbandian, who had been a Wimbledon Runner-Up three years earlier against Lleyton Hewitt, Murray showed that he had enough ability ultimately to outstrip Henman’s achievements and actually win Wimbledon.
He played brilliantly for two sets against Nalbandian, winning the first set on a tie-break and then racing through the second set to win it 6-1. Eventually, he ran out of steam, as he often did early in his career before building up his match fitness, losing the last three sets while winning just five more games. Nevertheless, Andy Murray had officially arrived.
- Roberto Bautista Agut beats Murray in the first round of the Australian Open 2019: 6-4 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-7 (4-7) 6-2
This weekend in Melbourne, Murray will not so much return to the scene of the crime as revisit an old opponent who had seemed to end his career. In the third round of this year’s Australian Open, Murray will again face Roberto Bautista Agut, the Spanish clay-court specialist and metronomic baseliner who defeated him in the first round of the 2019 Australian Open, dashing Murray’s hopes of a remarkable comeback after he fought back from two sets down to level the match before finally losing 6-2 in the fifth.
So great was the disappointment for Murray after losing that match that it did indeed seem as if it might be his last ever match, at least at a Major. He talked openly about retiring after the injuries that had plagued him since his second Wimbledon triumph in 2016; other players (including The Big Three) paid their respects to his remarkable career; and the Australian Open itself even put together a highlights montage of his career in Melbourne, where he reached the final five times (four times against Novak Djokovic and once against Roger Federer) but never won. Nevertheless, such has been the Great Scot’s unrivalled fighting spirit that four years on from his supposed “retirement” he is enjoying probably his finest run at a Major since that second Wimbledon win in 2016.
- Murray beats Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round of Wimbledon 2009: 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3
After the 2005 loss to Nalbandian on his Wimbledon debut, this 2009 victory against Stan Wawrinka probably marked the start of the second act of Murray’s epic Wimbledon drama. It was also the first great match under the roof on Centre Court, as 2009 was the first year that the retractable roof was in use. Wimbledon immediately received a repayment on the millions it had invested in the new technology as Murray beat Stan Wawrinka in a five-set classic in the fourth round, finishing the match just before the 11 pm curfew imposed by the local council, which continues to this day.
In addition, this encounter probably marked the real arrival of Stan Wawrinka on the Grand Slam stage. He had already won Olympic Doubles Gold with his far more famous compatriot, Roger Federer, in Beijing the year before, but he had never really translated all his great potential (especially that incredible backhand) into singles success until his 2009 run at Wimbledon. Eventually, he would rival Murray for the title of “Fourth Man” in the era of The Big Three. However, despite both men winning three Majors, Murray definitely edges Wawrinka for that accolade, as he was the only man other than the members of The Big Three to reach World No.1 in their period of domination.
- Murray beats Kokkinakis in second round of 2023 Australian Open: 4-6, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 7-5
Murray’s victory over Kokkinakis on the Australian’s home hardcourt in Melbourne was the 11th time in his career that he has come back from being two sets down against an opponent at a Major to win in five sets. However, even this late in his career it can be considered the best of those 11. That is because Murray had already played a five-set classic in the first round that lasted for nearly five hours when he beat Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (10-6), resisting the Italian’s comeback from two sets down to level the match before winning a fifth-set match tiebreak.
To beat Kokkinakis in an even longer five-set match immediately after beating Berrettini, who was the first top 20 player Murray had beaten at a Major since winning Wimbledon again in 2016, was the ultimate testament to the Scot’s sheer competitiveness. Nevertheless, he may yet struggle in his next match in Melbourne against Roberto Bautista Agut, especially as the Kokkinakis match finished the day after it began. But whatever the outcome of the third-round match-up with the Spaniard, Murray has surely proved, to himself as much as to other people, that he is still capable of going deep in a Major. That stands him in good stead for other Major runs in Paris, London and New York later this year.
- Murray beats Novak Djokovic in the 2012 US Open Final: 7–6 (12–10), 7–5, 2–6, 3–6, 6–2
If the Kokkinakis classic is the best comeback from being two sets down in a Major in Murray’s career, the greatest five-set match he has ever played surely remains the 2012 US Open final, when he somehow withstood an incredible comeback by Novak Djokovic (then, as now, the best player in the world) to close out the match 6-2 in the fifth set and become the first British man to win a Major Singles title since Fred Perry’s victory at the same tournament in 1936.
It may seem counter-intuitive to argue that winning in five sets after being two sets up is more impressive than coming back from two sets down to win in five, but context is everything. For all that Murray was magnificent against Kokkinakis in Melbourne this week, it was only a second-round match. In 2012, Murray was in a Grand Slam final, the fifth of his career, and he had lost all of the previous four over the previous four years.
To somehow resist a Djokovic comeback to win a Major final at the fifth attempt, with all the pressure weighing on him of becoming the first British man to win a Major in nearly a century, and with two of the other Greatest Scots ever (Sean Connery and Alex Ferguson) in the crowd to watch him play proved beyond doubt that Murray possesses cojones as big as boulders.
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