Friday, March 24, 2023

Murray survives comeback to down Berrettini in 5-set epic

Murray weathered a gallant fightback from Matteo Berrettini before dumping the 13th-seeded Italian out of the Australian Open first round on Tuesday.

• January 18, 2023
Andy Murray and Matteo Berrettini
Andy Murray and Matteo Berrettini

A vintage Andy Murray weathered a gallant fightback from Matteo Berrettini before dumping the 13th-seeded Italian out of the Australian Open first round on Tuesday.

The Scot triumphed with an epic 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-7(7) 7-6 (10-6) win.

With the crowd largely in the palm of his hand, the 35-year-old raced out of the blocks to take the first two sets under the roof at Rod Laver Arena. He then fell, almost inevitably, into a long, attritional scrap.

A five-times runner-up in the tournament but never the winner, little has come easy for Murray at Melbourne Park. And so it proved again as Berrettini emerged from a long off-court break between sets, ready to level the match.

Murray’s determination never wavered, though, and after saving a match point, he held his nerve in the deciding 10-point tie-break.

He closed out the contest with incredible fortune, with a bunted forehand return that caught the net and gave Berrettini no chance.

“I’ll be feeling (something) this evening and tomorrow, but right now I’m just unbelievably happy, just proud of myself. I put a lot of work into the last few months with my team who are here to give me the opportunity to perform in stadiums like this … and it paid off tonight,” Murray said on court after the four-hour 49-minute slog.

Murray will play the winner of the fixture between Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis and Italian veteran Fabio Fognini for a place in the third round.

The 35-year-old might have saved his legs a couple of hours’ work had he converted a break-point when up 2-1 in the third set. But the golden chance went begging when he meekly netted a forehand, and Berrettini went on to make the most of his reprieve.

He served like a machine to put the match on level terms, even as a hard-running Murray channelled his halcyon days of 2016 and produced a highlight reel of angled winners.

For a moment, it appeared Berrettini was set to prove Murray’s Grand Slam nemesis once again, having knocked him out of the third round of the U.S. Open four months ago.

The Italian, a semi-finalist last year, unleashed a thumping return at 5-4 up in the fifth set to bring up match-point. More out of hope than design, Murray lobbed over an ill-judged drop-shot that Berrettini swooped on, only to hit his passing shot straight into the net and leave fans gasping.

The match then slid through the Italian’s fingers as Murray raced to a 6-1 lead in the tie-break before savouring a helpful kiss from the net to advance.

Having won seven out of eight of his previous five-set matches, it was a cruel way for Berrettini to go out, especially after clawing back to 8-6 in the tie-break.

But the 26-year-old could only doff his cap to the seasoned Scot, who gave his metal hip a proper workout.

“Could have been, you know, different just with a different ball,” he said.

“It’s impressive what he could do after so many surgeries, after all the kilometres that he ran in his career. It just shows how much he loves the game, how much he loves these kinds of matches.”


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