Andy Murray battled to his first win at the Australian Open since 2017 with an epic five-set victory over 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili on Tuesday.
The three-time Grand Slam champion, playing with a metal hip following career-saving surgery in 2019, wrestled with the Georgian for almost four hours before claiming his place in the second round.
Scotland’s Murray, ranked 113 and playing as a tournament wild card, showed his trademark fighting spirit to edge home in the gripping final set and clinch a 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 victory in 3hr 52 min on John Cain Arena.
It was the 34-year-old’s first match at the Australian Open since 2019, when he went out in the first round. He made a tearful exit and it was thought that it might be his farewell. He had surgery on his hip weeks later.
“Amazing, been a tough three or four years. Put in a lot work to get back here,” a relieved Murray said on court Tuesday.
“I’ve played on this court many times and the atmosphere is incredible.
“It’s amazing to be back and winning a five-set battle like that, I couldn’t ask for any more.”
It continued a keen rivalry between the pair with Murray rallying from a set down to defeat the big-hitting Georgian last week in Sydney and also prevailing over four sets in the first round at Wimbledon last year.
– Thundering groundstrokes –
Murray grabbed the opening set with the loss of just one game, but Basilashvili levelled it up with the second set, before trading blows with the wily Scot in the third.
Basilashvili was pounding his groundstrokes and Murray had to use all his guile to get the ball back in play and work for an opening.
Murray, a five-time finalist in Melbourne, had three set points at 5-3 but the Georgian fought them all off to cling on to his service.
Murray again worked his way to two more set points in his next service game as Basilashvili overhit a couple of volleys, before the Scot took the third set when the Georgian whacked a backhand wide.
Basilashvili broke Murray’s serve in the sixth game of the fourth set but the indomitable Scot fought back from 0-30 down to break back in the next game when the Georgian’s lob was long.
But Basilashvili would not go away and won a titanic tiebreaker to force the match into a fifth set.
The Georgian began the final set poorly, falling behind 0-40 on serve and netting a backhand to hand Murray a break.
But yet again Basilashvili refused to give in and broke back to level at 4-4.
Murray held serve and then got to 0-40 on Basilashvili’s service in the 10th game before taking the epic, to crowd pandemonium inside the arena.
Murray has lost Roger Federer once in the final of the Australian Open and four times to Novak Djokovic.
But Murray is a three-time Grand Slam champion, winning the 2012 US Open, and the following year he became the first British man to win the Wimbledon singles crown in 77 years. He won it again in 2016.