Upon entering Suzanne Lenglen Court on Sunday, Andy Murray must have been thinking he should not have even been there.
Normally, he is extremely adept at closing out matches; it is a quality that has seen him win many a big match during his career, two Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal at London 2012.
So when he found himself cruising up two sets to one and 4-2 in the fourth against Philipp Kohlschreiber on Saturday evening, the seventh seed seemed headed for a fairly routine victory. Sure, he had had some dicey moments earlier that night; he had dropped the first set following a rather sloppy performance to open this third-round match. But after settling into a rhythm to take the next two, order appeared restored.
Not so. What followed was an epic that reached 7-7 in the fifth set before fading light caused the cancellation of play. When they returned today in brighter conditions, Murray finally wrapped up the four-hour, seven-minute match 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 12-10.
"Today is a very good win for me to beat a player like him on this surface. Hopefully I can keep improving, keep learning," Murray said. "There are certain things I can learn from today's match that if I do take on board the things that I didn't do so well at times and hopefully I can make some adjustments for the next match and play better."
He’ll play Fernando Verdasco, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 winner over 12th seed Richard Gasquet earlier on Sunday.
That was a match also held over from the previous night, with Verdasco holding a commanding two-sets-to-love lead over Gasquet on Philippe Chatrier Court. Yet when play resumed at 2-2 in the third set on Sunday, it was the Frenchman who made the first move to break the deadlock and wrest the momentum back.
That chance lasted all of a single point – with a break opportunity leading 30-40 in the seventh game, Gasquet stretched for an overhead after an epic point, but dumped it into the net. Verdasco, having avoided that scare, promptly replied with two winners to hold, broke serve in the very next game, and served out the match with little fuss over the ailing Frenchman, who was taking his first tentative steps back on court following a back injury.
But back to Murray. A day earlier, consecutive double faults in that seventh game of the fourth set had given the German a sniff, and when he broke to get games back on service at 3-4, it began a run of four straight games that saw the No.28 seed take the set and force the match into a fifth and deciding stanza.
Impressively, Murray refocused, breaking service immediately to open the fifth set en route to a 2-0 lead. But again, the wobbles returned. Kohlschreiber played a delightful drop shot winner to hold for 1-2 – a chase which left Murray grimacing and clutching his left hamstring – and after the Scot failed to put away a volley and then sent an approach shot long in the fifth game, Kohlschreiber drove a forehand return winner to break for a 3-2 lead. Murray broke back in the very next game despite his tightening hamstring – which required medical attention at several changeovers – and games progressed on service until play was suspended.
"I was cramping. That was what it was. It wasn't something I went into the match with," Murray explained. "It was the first five-set match I played since my surgery (last year). Obviously playing late, heavy conditions, is tough on the legs in the evening."
When they returned, both players had their chances. Murray reached match point in the 18th game, yet Kohlschreiber – who had botched a number of overheads already – finally connected with one to save it and level at 9-9. And in the very next game, the German reached break point, only for the seventh seed to produce his own clutch winner.
Ultimately, and somewhat expectedly, it was Kohlschreiber who cracked first. Having been so consistent, he sprayed some ground-strokes, including a forehand wide, to give Murray match points. The Scot would need just one; he belted a backhand return winner and celebrated intensely, the job finally complete. "Today was a pretty high standard, I thought, for probably the best standard of the match I think from both of us," Murray said.
"He came up with some great shots when he was behind in games today. I thought both of us served a little bit better. It was a good finish to the match."
Better late than never.