Andy Murray rolled back the years with an epic five-set win over Matteo Berrettini in the opening round of the Australian Open.
Bidding to beat a top 20 player at a grand slam for the first time since his hip problems began in 2017, Murray won the opening two sets before Berrettini fought back to level in a dramatic fourth-set tie-break.
The Italian 13th seed created a match point in the 10th game of the deciding set but dumped a simple backhand into the net with the court wide open and Murray held on to force a deciding tie-break.
A gruelling first point won by the Scot set the tone and Murray, who moved superbly, got the luck his performance deserved with a netcord on his first match point before celebrating a stunning 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (6) victory after four hours and 49 minutes.
While such matches would have usually been contested in later rounds in his heyday, this will surely mean almost as much four years after the tearful press conference at Melbourne Park that seemed to herald the end of his career.
Murray said: “I’ll be feeling this this evening and tomorrow but right now I’m just unbelievably happy and very proud of myself.
“I’ve put a lot of work into the last three months with my team, to give me the opportunity to perform in stadiums like this and matches like this and it paid off tonight.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever played one of those 10-point tie-breakers and it’s a bit different. He came back really strong and I was a bit lucky at the end with the net-cord.
“He was serving unbelievably and he’s a brilliant competitor as well, he always fights right to the end. I did well to get through.”
The former world number one spoke ahead of the match about how much better he was feeling about his game and fitness, and it was evident from the start that this was a different Murray to the player who has scrapped for wins since returning from hip surgery in 2019.
With the roof closed due to extreme heat, Murray was right on his game from the start and took full advantage of a sluggish opening from Berrettini, who made the Wimbledon final in 2021 and the semi-finals here last year and is known as one of the toughest competitors on tour.
Had Murray converted two break points in the fourth game of the third set, he may have been off the court a lot earlier, but Berrettini held on and from there began to play much better, hammering down aces and cranking his big forehand into gear.
The fourth set was decided in a captivating tie-break, where Murray was an inch away from carving out a match point with a diving volley before Berrettini, who had tightened up horribly on two set points, freed himself to take the third.
He looked in control of the decider, his serve untouchable as the pressure gradually increased on Murray, but Berrettini missed his chance and the Scot held on for a deciding tie-break.
He was half way to the 10 points needed before Berrettini got on the scoreboard and, although the Italian threatened to create a grandstand finish, Murray got his moment of fortune.
He admitted late last year amid persistent problems with cramping that he had allowed his famously stringent standards regarding his physical condition to slide.
The 35-year-old was also unhappy with aspects of his game but addressed both during a period training with coach Ivan Lendl in the US during pre-season.
He confidently served out the opening set after breaking in the second game and then made the perfect start to the second with another break, sending a cross-court backhand dipping beyond the helpless Berrettini in vintage fashion.
By the time he was broken again at the end of the second set, Berrettini looked thoroughly disheartened, but, as with so many of Murray’s most memorable moments, he had to do it the hard way.