Andy Murray’s extraordinary Davis Cup story goes on. The 28-year-old Scot secured his most remarkable win yet in national colours when he beat Kei Nishikori 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 to seal Britain’s World Group first-round victory over Japan.
The first defence of the title Britain regained four months ago, after a wait of 79 years, turned into a spell-binding contest between two of the world’s finest players. Nishikori was the first top 10 opponent Murray had faced in the Davis Cup and the 26-year-old Japanese, a magnificent shot-maker, pushed him to the very edge with a stunning comeback from two sets down.
At the end, the most relieved man in the pulsating 9,000-capacity Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham was probably Britain’s Dan Evans, who was spared the task of trying to go out and salvage victory by winning a deciding fifth rubber.
Murray’s win, which sets up an enticing quarter-final away to Novak Djokovic’s Serbia the weekend after the Wimbledon finals in July, was secured after four hours and 54 minutes. That equalled the record for the longest match Murray has played, which he set when he beat Djokovic in the US Open final four years ago.
What made this victory all the more remarkable was that Murray had played on all three days here – he won his opening singles on Friday and the doubles alongside his brother Jamie on Saturday – despite going into it having not competed for five weeks following the birth of his first child.
“I am lost for words,” Leon Smith, Britain’s captain, said. “He’s a man of steel, isn’t he? What Andy managed to do was astonishing since he hasn’t played since the Australian Open final.”
Murray, who looked so tired at the end that he was barely able to join in the team’s celebrations, said later: “My body is very sore just now. I have put myself through a lot this weekend. I have volunteered for all three days and I really, really wanted to win today. I maybe wanted to win too much today. I was getting frustrated when I wasn’t taking opportunities I should have.”
From the start, the standard of the tennis was exceptional. Nishikori may lack the physical prowess of many of his rivals but he is a superb ball-striker, capable of hitting winners from almost anywhere on the court. Murray, who with his sliced backhand and ability at the net is the more rounded player, used his habitual creativity to construct some memorable points.
The first two sets were desperately tight. Both men had five break points in the opening set: Nishikori converted one and Murray two, the second of them after some bold attacking play on the very last point. After an early exchange of breaks in the second set, Murray saved a set point in the tie-break with an ace and then took the next two points to win it 8-6.
Towards the end of the third set, however, the Scot began to tire and Nishikori took it with a magnificent, Murray-like backhand pass down the line. The Japanese clung on to his serve at the start of the fourth set but levelled the match after breaking Murray twice in a row.
When Nishikori broke in the opening game of the decider it seemed that the momentum might have shifted decisively. Was Murray about to lose a match after winning the first two sets for the first time since he was beaten by David Nalbandian on his Centre Court debut at Wimbledon 11 years ago?
Murray, however, responded in typical teeth-gritting fashion to win the next three games and take a grip on the match. “I do think it was a really good effort to come through that, after going down a break at the beginning of the fifth, and how I was feeling physically,” the Scot said. “I thought I did really well to win that fifth set, with everything that has gone on over the last few weeks and over the weekend.”
Murray, who will now head for the Indian Wells Masters in the United States, said that he was looking forward to a brief reunion with his wife and child. “It’s Kim’s first Mother’s Day, so it will be nice to see her this evening,” he said. “I’ll try to get back for bath time – not Kim’s, the baby’s.”
This win saw Murray steal yet another line from Fred Perry in the record books. It was the Scot’s 14th successive Davis Cup victory in singles and doubles, which is the longest winning sequence by a British player. Perry previously held the record, having won the first 13 rubbers of his Davis Cup career in 1931.
Djokovic and Viktor Troicki completed an even more dramatic victory for Serbia over Kazakhstan by winning both of the final day’s reverse singles in Belgrade. Djokovic, who had lost the doubles on Saturday alongside Nenad Zimonjic, had to come from two sets to one down to beat Mikhail Kukushkin after four hours and 57 minutes -– which was three minutes longer than Murray’s win – before Troicki rounded off the triumph by beating Aleksandr Nedovyesov in straight sets.
Murray says he will play in the quarter-final, if fit, despite the gruelling summer schedule. In the space of two months he faces two Grand Slam tournaments, the Olympics, a Davis Cup quarter-final and two Masters Series competitions. Just as well he is Britain’s man of steel.
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