The marquee matchup of the Australian Open first round far exceeded the hype, as Andy Murray edged 13th seed Matteo Berrettini in an instant classic decided by a fifth-set tie-break. With a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(10-6) win, Murray earned his first Top 20 victory at a Grand Slam in more than five years, requiring four hours, 49 minutes to secure the statement result Tuesday in Rod Laver Arena.

“I’ll be feeling this this evening and tomorrow, but right now I’m just unbelievably happy, very proud of myself,” Murray said in an on-court interview. “I’ve put a lot of work into the past few months with my team here to give me the opportunity to perform on stadiums like this and in matches like this against players like Matteo, and it paid off tonight.”

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Murray upset the returning Melbourne semi-finalist with a gutsy display full of shotmaking and clever tactics — along with a small slice of luck, as Berrettini netted a backhand passing shot on match point at 5-4 in the fifth with the court gaping.

The 35-year-old blunted the Italian’s powerful forehand by combining slice with power, making his opponent uncomfortable as he attacked the Berrettini backhand throughout the match. With neither man able to break serve after Berrettini made his lone breakthrough to lead 3-2 in the third set, the result hinged on late drama in the final two sets.

After nearly five epic hours @andy_murray has done it!@wwos@espn@eurosport@wowowtennis#AusOpen#AO2023 pic.twitter.com/00FgZbPb5g

— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2023

Murray came tantalisingly close to match point twice in the fourth-set tie-break, only to be thwarted by moments of Berrettini brilliance. A desperate one-handed pass from the Italian drew an error from a diving Murray at 6/6, before Berrettini handled a vicious Murray pass attempt and forced another miss two points later.

But the Briton left nothing to chance in the fifth set, racing out to a 5/0 lead in the tie-break before clinching victory.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever played one of those 10-point tie-breaks. It’s a bit different. When you’re up 6/1, or 7/1 or whatever, it feels like you’re still quite far away,” Murray said, before commenting on his return on match point, which dribbled over the net. “He came back really strong and I was just a bit lucky at the end with the net cord.”

“I think at the end some of the tennis was really good. It felt like that playing, I don’t know what it looked like,” he continued, sparking cheers from the crowd. “He was serving unbelievable and he’s a brilliant competitor as well, one of the best competitors on the Tour. He always fights right to the end, so I did well to get through.”

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As tight as the final two sets were, each of the first three sets were decided by early breaks. Murray scored an instant break in sets one and two as he dominated the early stages, but Berrettini began to find more purchase with his ground game as the match wore on. The Italian combined his power with just enough defending and patience in the crucial moments to win the fourth set, but found himself on the back foot too often in the decisive tie-break.

Prior to the fifth set, Berrettini had won his past nine tie-breaks at the Australian Open, including a fifth-set tie-break against Carlos Alcaraz last year. By closing out the match, Murray extended a streak of his own: It has been 18 years since he has lost from two-sets-to-love up.

Murray’s 50th Australian Open win earned him a measure of revenge against Berrettini, who beat him at the 2022 US Open and brought a three-match ATP Head2Head win streak into Melbourne. The fifth man in the Open Era to reach the 50-wins mark at the season’s first major, Murray is through to the AO second round for the second consecutive year and 12th time overall. He is a five-time finalist at the event, with all five of those runs coming from 2010-16.

Next up for Murray is either another Italian in Fabio Fognini or home favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Berrettini, who earned Top 10 wins against Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz as he helped Team Italy reach the final at the inaugural United Cup, had not lost in the first round of a major since the 2019 Australian Open. Prior to this fortnight, he had reached the quarter-finals or better in each of his past five Grand Slam appearances, including a run to the Wimbledon final in 2021.

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