In one of the best matches of the year so far, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori battled it out for almost five hours in Birmingham in the fourth rubber of the Davis Cup first round, with the Briton emerging triumphant in an incredible final set which had multiple breaks of serve.
— Ed Auden (@Ed_Auden) March 6, 2016
Murray took the first two sets but began to fatigue and was pegged back to two-all, before somehow finding a way in the decider to clinch a 7-5 7-6(6) 3-6 4-6 6-3 victory over the Japanese #1 and the world #6 Nishikori.
With the volatile prospect of a fifth and deciding rubber looming large in the deciding set, Murray dug deep amidst some phenomenal tennis in the final set to clinch the tie 3-1 in Great Britain’s favour, and not only allow Britain to progress to the quarter-finals but also to avoid playing a relegation playoff just months after winning the title.
The Brit was pushed hard in the opening two sets, with Nishikori seeming full of energy and vibrancy in contrast to the Brit – perhaps a hangover from Murray’s doubles exertions yesterday and his lack of competitive tennis for almost five weeks. Despite seeming the most petulant and frustrated player on court, the Brit broke late in the first set before forcing a tiebreak in the second.
The Brit raced to a 4-0 lead in the breaker before Nishikori took five points in a row of his own. Murray steadied the ship to force a second changeover at 6-6, at which point his sheer willpower ground the Japanese player down, taking a two-sets-to-love lead and looking comfortable.
However, despite the lead, Murray continued to express his frustration any time he lost a point, and his energy seemed to be visibly sapping: Nishikori broke not long afterwards before pulling a set back.
Nishikori, devoid of emotion on court, remained calm while Murray’s temper flared, and the Japanese pulled ahead by two breaks in the fourth set, serving to take the tie into a decider at 5-2. Murray pulled one of the breaks back but couldn’t find the energy for the next, and into a decider they went.
“[In the fifth set] Nishikori’s backhand became a major weapon, while Murray rediscovered his ability to chase down each and every lost cause, leading to some incredible tennis.”
The fifth set was one of the best sets of tennis in years. Both players were visibly flagging after over four hours of gruelling action, but some of the shot selection and shot making was absolutely sublime: Nishikori’s backhand became a major weapon, while Murray rediscovered his ability to chase down each and every lost cause, leading to some incredible tennis.
Breaks of serve abounded, with both players seemingly battling break points in every service game, but once Murray had opened up a 5-2 lead after what seemed like an eternity, there was no going back for Nishikori. Murray selaed the deal and held his hands up in the air with a mixture of relief, disbelief and exhaustion as Nishikori’s final forehand went long.
The result meant Dan Evans was denied the opportunity to clinch the tie in his home town in the final rubber, but it’s unlikely he or the crowd will care one bit: five hours of exceptional tennis later, and everyone will be looking forward to a lie down later this evening.