Murray grinds down Kokkinakis in late-night epic
MELBOURNE, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Former world number one Andy Murray produced one of his greatest ever comebacks to sink home hope Thanasi Kokkinakis in a titanic second-round thriller at the Australian Open in the early hours of Friday morning.
The 35-year-old Scot looked down and out against an inspired Kokkinakis as he trailed by two sets and 2-5 but displayed his trademark warrior spirit to somehow claw out a 4-6 6-7(4) 7-6(5) 6-3 7-5 victory after five hours and 45 minutes.
When Murray finally got the job done in what was the 250th and longest Grand Slam match of his career, the clock was showing 4.05am local time but a sizeable and vociferous crowd had remained glued to their seats in the Margaret Court Arena.
It was another stupendous effort from the three-time Grand Slam champion whose career has been littered by such battles and who has stubbornly refused to call it a day since having a partly metal hip inserted in 2019.
Bizarrely he will now play Roberto Bautista Agut, the man who beat him at the 2019 Australian Open, after which Murray was given an emotional on-court tribute with his career apparently over because of his crumbling hip.
Four years later, a period during which he has often struggled for form and results, Murray retains his insatiable appetite for a battle and while it felt absurd to be watching elite sport at such an hour, Murray cared not a jot.
"It's unbelievable how I managed to turn that around because Thanasi was serving unbelievable and hitting his forehand huge," world number 66 Murray, who now has won a record 11 Grand Slam matches from two sets down, said on court.
"Yeah, I have a big heart. I rely on my love and my drive and my respect for the game, that's why I kept going."
Murray, back with coach Ivan Lendl who guided him to his Grand Slam titles and to world number one in 2016, has not gone past the third round of a Grand Slam since 2017 when his hip condition first surfaced.
After stunning Italian Matteo Berrettini in round one in a match lasting almost five hours, a rejuvenated Murray was favourite against Kokkinakis, a player who once looked destined for the top but who has been plagued by injuries.
But the 26-year-old Kokkinakis came out firing, dominating the opening two sets with the kind of aggressive tennis and ball-striking that made a mockery of his world ranking of 159.
Kokkinakis, who thumped 102 winners during the scrap, briefly lost his focus when leading by a break early in the third set, arguing with the umpire over a time violation and destroying a racket after losing a point in which Murray retrieved three successive smashes.
But when he surged into a 5-2 lead he was on the verge of his biggest career win. Murray, however, would not go away.
Kokkinakis tightened with the finishing line in sight and the venom gradually went out of his shots as Murray threw caution to the wind and locked on to his target.
Relentlessly Murray ground his way back into the contest to set up a deciding fifth set, sealing the fourth set with a second-serve ace.
A weary-looking Kokkinakis did not capitulate and the raucous atmosphere inside the stadium revived him early in set five as he kept his nose in front.
There was pandemonium when he saved four break points at 3-3 and Kokkinakis was within two points of victory when Murray served at 4-5 in the decider.
But Murray's greater experience of such duels enabled him to get the crucial break of serve in the following game with a stunning forehand winner before sealing victory in the next game on his first match point with a clinical backhand.
With so many seeds out in the bottom half, Murray has a genuine shot at a deep run, although after nearly 11 hours on court so far, recovery was the only thing on his mind.
"Thanks for staying, but now I think we should all get off to bed," Murray said.
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