Andy Murray Sacrifices His Body And Sleep To Deliver Another Classic Win
4:16 PM EST on January 19, 2023
So jacked up was the Australian Open scheduling, and so epic was the match, that it was possible to watch the bulk of Andy Murray's second-round win over Thanasi Kokkinakis in the sane light of the Eastern Time Zone. It was a good thing for me, since it's been difficult to convert to goblin hours for this Open. Perhaps it was less good for the players, whose five-hour, 45-minute struggle—the longest of Murray's career, and second-longest in this tournament's history—concluded just past 4 a.m. local time.
No pro sport should have its athletes toil in the middle of the night, for reasons both commercial and humane, so credit these two players for maintaining an exceptional level of play in the cruel and unusual circumstances. It'll be a tough loss to stomach for Kokkinakis, who served for the match in the third set, only for Murray to wrench it back open and win 4-6, 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-3, 7-5, his second consecutive mind-altering five-setter. Murray said he was returning to the sport to contend again for big titles, but if he has to settle for making strangers feel inexplicably fierce emotions before noon, there's no shame in that.
If I had to locate just one specific moment of Kokkinakis heartbreak, it might be his service game at 2-0 in the third, where he was broken by a preposterous series of retrievals from Murray. No fewer than three of these shots should've been putaways, but some combination of Kokkinakis's lack of conviction and Andy's demented doggedness yielded this absurd result. The spiked racquet and demand for crowd noise, respectively, say everything about the emotional turn the match would eventually take.
Kokkinakis, a talented 26-year-old whose power tennis has been toggled on and off by multiple serious injuries, started this season with promise, notching wins over higher-ranked players like No. 6 Andrey Rublev. At his best he can generate huge advantages with his serve and forehand while covering the court just well enough to make it work, and that's roughly how he handled the first two sets, filling them with 39 winners. It wasn't so much that Kokkinakis's level significantly dropped in the final three sets; Murray gradually rounded out his own game with time, hitting cleaner and cleaner in spite of this week's cumulative fatigue. Murray might've also been helped by cooling overnight conditions, which slowed the court and sapped some of the bite from Kokkinakis's would-be winners. Collectively they tallied impeccable numbers: 171 winners, 107 unforced errors. Not bad for two guys who should've been asleep. No time for honk-shoo—just staggering clutch execution.
Murray notched his 11th career win from a 2-0 set deficit, which puts him first among active players in this inspiring if not totally flattering metric. He's now played two such matches in a three-day span, and it has been impossible for me to wrench my eyeballs away from them. It's captivating to watch this man spit, scrape, and grimace his way through these victories, as if he'd laid out in advance the most miserable possible task for himself and then slogged through it as punishment. It's captivating even without taking another step back to acknowledge how medically improbable it is to see him competing at this level at all.
The madman will enter his third-round match against Roberto Bautista Agut with 10 hours and 34 minutes of tennis already on his legs. True to form, Murray's looked outwardly miserable for much of it. But as he said on court after this match, "I'm aware I don't look particularly happy when I'm playing a lot of the time. But that's when I'm my happiest on the inside." The world has been gifted a generational tennis player with the dour spirit of a blogger. Don't let him leave.