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Report: Murray hangs tough to bounce Berrettini

  • Gill Tan

Andy Murray turned back time on Tuesday, saving a match point on his way to a stunning 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-7(7) 7-6 [10-6] upset over 13th seed Matteo Berrettini to reach the second round of Australian Open 2023. 

Never one to hide his emotions, the British legend roared with delight after securing his 50th win at Melbourne Park.

The build-up 

We've been counting down the minutes to this tantalising first-round collision since the main draw dropped. Berrettini, fresh off United Cup upsets over Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz, has form that Murray, bounced out of the first round of the Adelaide International, has been searching for.

MORE: All the scores from Day 2 at AO 2023

The three-time Grand Slam champion has spent six years hunting for a top 20 scalp with unwavering belief in his ability to compete against the best. But could the popular Scot, metal hip and all, avenge a disappointing four-set loss to Berrettini in New York last September?

When he's the favourite, Berrettini rarely misses a beat. In fact, the Italian has stormed to the final eight of the last five majors he'd contested and hadn't been upset by a player outside the top 50 at a Grand Slam since a surprise three-set rout by Daniel Altmaier, then world number 186, at Roland Garros 2016.

Story of the match 

Just before Murray and Berrettini took to court, the Australian Open heat-stress scale clicked to five, sparking the closure of Rod Laver Arena's roof.

The 35-year-old Scotsman seized a break chance in the second game, and the master of defence carried the advantage to close out the set, urged on by coach and two-time champion Ivan Lendl. The second set unfolded much like the first, with the former world No.1 scoring breaks in both the opening and closing games.

The only time Murray, a father of four, has lost a Grand Slam match from a two-sets-to-love lead was almost a generation of tennis players ago, at Wimbledon 2005. But the 26-year-old Italian isn't one to fade without a fight – he levelled up with well-placed groundstrokes, and snared two breaks and the third set.

Berrettini turned the tide after Murray made the early running (Getty Images)

Both competitors dug deep in during the fourth, but after untimely misfires from Murray, it was Berrettini who gained the upper hand, clinching the dramatic tiebreak 9-7 after fumbling two earlier set points.

Looking every bit the wounded warrior with blood trickling down his right shin following a tumble, the Scot settled in for his 40th-ever fifth set. Serving at 4-5, Murray saved match point as a Berrettini backhand found its way into the middle of the net. He held his neve – and serve – to force a decisive match tie-break.

Racing to a quick 5-0 lead, Murray steeled himself to victory with a net-cord winner as the crowd erupted in scenes reminiscent of his glory days.

"Tonight I need to give myself some credit because the last few years have been tough," he said, recollecting brutal a five-set tough loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas at the 2021 US Open and four-set defeat at the hands of John Isner at Wimbledon last year.

"I stayed strong and I deserved to win," admitted the humble veteran. "I was impressed with myself, which again is not something ... I'm hard on myself usually."

Key stats

Berrettini, smacking first and second serves that were both on average 20km/h faster than his more decorated rival, won easy points in the form of 31 aces, 21 more than Murray. Those contributed to the Italian's 72 winners, outweighing Murray's 40, but Berrettini was undone by a staggering 59 unforced errors to his elder's 34.

Murray was part elated, part exhausted after his marathon win (Getty Images)

Showing entirely how close the battle was, Murray won 166 points, just five more than Berrettini. Salvaging four of five break points, and winning 67 per cent of second serve points to his foe's 43 per cent, proved critical to victory.

"He was serving unbelievable and he's a brilliant competitor as well. He's of the best competitors on the tour, he always fights right to the end so I did well to get through," said the five-time Melbourne finalist. 

"I made a couple of tweaks right at the end of the fifth set, maybe I could have done that sooner to get a few more returns back in play."

What this means for Murray 

Following the win, the 35-year-old can silence doubts in his own mind and those of often outspoken critics.

"I've certainly questioned myself at times. There's certainly a lot of people [that have] questioned me and my ability, whether I could still perform at the biggest events and [in] the biggest matches."

Murray now assumes the 13th seed's place in the draw, and faces either Thanasi Kokkinakis or Fabio Fognini in the second round. 

After four hours and 49 minutes on court, the veteran will need to focus on recovery to ensure he's fresh. 

"I wouldn't expect myself to feel perfect on Thursday, but hopefully I'll be in a good place."

MORE: AO 2023 men's singles draw

What's next for Berrettini? 

"Last year I won 7-6 in the fifth, this year I lost 7-6 in the fifth. It's just tennis," said a pragmatic Berrettini. The silver lining, he said, is that he's proved to himself he's ready for five-set battles after struggling with injuries last year.

Defending points from a run to the AO 2022 semifinal, the Rome-born right-hander is set to tumble in the ranks. Tuesday's result marked just his second five-set loss in nine efforts and his first loss in the earliest stage of a major since AO 2019. But as tennis seasons go, it's early – and he'll relish the chance to rebuild in the sunshine of Indian Wells and Miami.