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Grit and grind: Murray takes the long road to second round

  • Alex Sharp

It just had to be a rollercoaster, and it just had to be on John Cain Arena. 

Three years on from his emotional 'retirement' departure at Melbourne Park, former world No.1 Andy Murray treated his legion of fans to another trademark five-set thriller on Tuesday, taking down world No.23 Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1 3-6 6-4 6-7(5) 6-4. 

Cue an almighty Murray roar.  

"It's amazing. It's been a tough, tough three, four years. Put in a lot of work to get back here," said the relieved three-time Grand Slam champion. 
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"This is the one where I thought potentially I played my last match, but amazing to be back winning a five-set battle like that. Couldn't ask for any more." 

It's been a well-documented and turbulent journey for the 34-year-old to somehow return to the upper echelons off the back of hip resurfacing surgery in 2019. 
It's been a concoction of patience and perseverance with a sprinkling of joy, which most wouldn't take. But Murray has always been a different breed of competitor.  

Murray's trademark ferocity and grit saw him survive Tuesday's battle

The current world No.113 hasn't had a straight-sets win at the majors since his fourth-round victory over Benoit Paire at Wimbledon in 2017. There have been various niggles and setbacks, and the men's scene is a totally different, more youthful landscape now. Murray still won't back down.  
"When I look back at a lot of my matches in like 2015, 2016, I was sort of efficient and clinical, when I had opportunities and when I was ahead of guys, I'd finish them off quickly," said the Scot, through to meet qualifier Taro Daniel in the second round.  
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"Right now, because I'm not quite playing at that level, the matches are maybe a little bit tighter. So hopefully if I can continue to improve my level, I'll be able to shorten some of the matches." 

Murray inched past Basilashvili in a three-hour tussle in Sydney just last week, where the British talisman featured in his first final since 2019. It was the same again on Tuesday, a match brimming with insane rallies, astonishing retrieval skills and an abundance of Murray grit.  
Remarkably, insights powered by Infosys indicate that Murray is generating faster average serving speeds and quicker top-end movement than when he last won a match at the Australian Open, as a world No.1 in 2017.  
"I won the tournament in Antwerp (2019) I felt like I moved well. But then I had some setbacks after that, and I've had various different issues around that sort of hip, groin area which has affected my movement at times," said Murray, who has had razor-sharp movement so far this Australian summer.  
"The direction is to try to maintain that, and the best way for me to do that is staying healthy for a long time." 

Murray rode the rollercoaster, but finished on top

Ever the perfectionist, Murray is far from satisfied to just celebrate a gutsy win. He is striving for more in 2022; titles, a rise up the rankings. This is not farewell tour mark two.  
"There has been certainly parts of it, since I started playing again, I have been really pleased with," he said. 

"There has been other parts where I feel like I could have done better. 
"I think like winning matches like today and competing against guys that are around (number) 20-25, I'm proud of that. 
"It's not easy. I put a lot of work and effort in. Kept going, and days like today make it worthwhile." 

How about a run towards the latter stages for the five-time finalist at Melbourne Park? 
"I would like to have a deep run," he said. 

"It's something that I've not had in one of the slams since I came back from the injury.
"It's something that's motivating me, and I've played some of my best tennis here over the years. I feel comfortable here and I hope I can do this (in) this tournament."