When a long-distance race becomes a marathon you can usually rely on Andy Murray to cross the finish line first. The longest match of Murray’s career in terms of the number of games played ended here at the French Open yesterday with the 27-year-old Scot beating Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 12-10. After play had been suspended because of fading light at 7-7 in the final set the previous evening, Kohlschreiber was the man who eventually cracked under the pressure of repeatedly having to serve to stay in the match.
Murray, who faces Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round on Monday, has one of the game’s outstanding records in five-set marathons, having won 13 of the last 15 matches in which he has been taken the distance. In most of those it has been Murray who has shown the greater strength both mentally and physically, but on this occasion it was the Scot who struggled to last the pace. At four hours and seven minutes it was the third longest match he has ever played in terms of time, exceeded only by his epic encounters with Novak Djokovic in 2012 at the Australian and US Opens.
Having led 4-2 and 30-0 in the fourth set, Murray was kicking himself on Saturday evening when he let Kohlschreiber back into the contest. The Scot suffered from cramp in the fifth set and had his legs massaged by the trainer during change-overs. He got no more than five hours’ sleep on Saturday night – “I kept waking up and I was ready to play at four or five in the morning”, he said – though he did not suffer the same physical problems on yesterday’s resumption.
This was the first five-set match Murray has played since he came back from two sets down at Wimbledon last summer to beat Verdasco. He pointed out that it was also the first five-setter he has played since he underwent back surgery last September.
“We were playing late on Saturday evening, in heavy conditions, so it was tough on the legs,” Murray said. “He makes you do a lot of running as well. He uses the angles extremely well. Once he’s in control of the point, it’s tough to get him out of that.”
The match resumed at 1.30pm on Sunday, nearly 16 hours after play had been curtailed the previous evening.
Kohlschreiber saved a match point when he was trailing 9-8 in the fifth set with a smash and created a break point in the following game, which Murray saved with a big serve. When the Scot served at 10-10 and 15-30 he had a slice of luck as his backhand shot hit the top of the net and toppled over the other side for a winner.
From that moment onwards Kohlschreiber won only two more points. Receiving serve in the next game Murray hit a forehand winner to lead 40-15 and went on to convert match point with a big backhand return. His victory roar was probably in relief as much as celebration.
Kohlschreiber said: “The momentum was maybe a little bit more on my side yesterday night, but I’ve seen him play many matches. He’s a huge fighter. He never gives up.”
The win extended Murray’s fine record of consistency at the highest level. He has reached the second week of 22 of the last 23 Grand Slam tournaments he has played and has now made it to the fourth round or better at the last five French Opens he has contested.
Spain’s Verdasco, who also had to return yesterday to complete a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory over the Frenchman Richard Gasquet, gave Murray his hardest match en route to the Wimbledon title last summer, winning the first two sets before losing in five. Verdasco has lost nine of their 10 meetings, but Murray agreed that playing on clay was to the 30-year-old Spaniard’s advantage.
“Not many people think I play particularly well on clay, so I would say that would give him an edge,” Murray said. “He’s the sort of guy who has the fire power to take the play away from you a bit. He can dictate the match because of the power he can generate. I’ll need to try to keep the ball away from the dangerous areas of the courts, the places where he’s most comfortable.”
Verdasco said he anticipated a tough match. “Playing Murray is never easy,” he admitted. “He plays wonderful tennis and has won Grand Slams so he deserves my respect.
“But you can’t compare the match in Wimbledon when he was playing at home on grass with a match here in Paris. It doesn’t mean I’m going to win. All I’m saying is it’s a totally different match.”