Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis served for victory at 5-3 in the third set of their second-round encounter on a rowdy, partisan Margaret Court Arena only for Murray to show once again that his greatest asset is a stubborn refusal to lose.
The 35-year-old, who had battled for nearly five hours to upset Matteo Berrettini on Tuesday in his best result since 2017, forced a deciding set and finally prevailed 4-6 6-7 (4) 7-6 (5) 6-3 7-5 at 4.05am.
At five hours and 45 minutes, it was the longest match of Murray’s whole career, the second longest in the tournament’s history and the third latest finish to a tennis match ever.
The US Open saw its latest finish last year at 2.50am and this was the 32nd match to extend beyond 2am.
“I don’t know who it’s beneficial for,” said Murray as he sat in a corridor in the bowels of Melbourne Park.
“We come here after the match and that’s what the discussion is, rather than it being like, ‘epic Murray-Kokkinakis match’. It ends in a bit of a farce.
“Amazingly people stayed until the end, and I really appreciate people doing that and creating an atmosphere for us. Some people obviously need to work the following day and everything.
“But if my child was a ball kid for a tournament and they’re coming home at five in the morning, as a parent, I’m snapping at that. It’s not beneficial for them. It’s not beneficial for the umpires, the officials. I don’t think it’s amazing for the fans. It’s not good for the players.
“We talk about it all the time, and it’s been spoken about for years. But when you start the night matches late and have conditions like that, these things are going to happen.”
The last comment referred to the balls being used for the tournament this year, which have drawn numerous complaints from the players for being too slow, while Murray was also unhappy at not being allowed an additional toilet break.
This was a contest that had everything, not least the quality of the rallies, which somehow did not diminish as the clock ticked on.
Both men were unhappy to be given time violations by umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore, while Kokkinakis, who racked up 102 winners, also received a warning for smashing his racket after a ridiculous point in the third set where Murray retrieved three smashes.
Having spent more than 10 hours on court in two matches, Murray must now somehow try to recover for a third-round clash with Roberto Bautista Agut, the player he lost to in 2019 when it appeared his career was over.
“The match was obviously very up and down,” he said. “There was frustration and there was tension, there was excitement and all of that stuff. It’s obviously amazing to win the match but I also want to go to bed now. I’m like, ‘It’s great, but I want to sleep’.”
Having almost lost from two sets up on Tuesday, this was the 11th time Murray has fought back from two sets down to win, an open era record.
“I have done it before, I have experience of it, and I just rely on that experience and that drive and that fight, and my love of the game and competing and my respect for this event and the competition,” said the former world number one. “That’s why I kept going.”
World number 159 Kokkinakis, who won the Australian Open doubles title last year with his great friend Nick Kyrgios, was bidding to become the lowest-ranked player ever to beat Murray at a grand slam, although the level he played at here was far superior to that number.
The match did not begin until after 10pm, and the atmosphere was tasty from the start.
The 26-year-old, like his opponent, has dealt with more than his fair share of injury troubles but has shown before he can rise to a big occasion, boasting wins over Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Kokkinakis made a nervous start but Murray was unable to take any of three break points in the second game and from there the Australian began to dictate with his big serve and forehand.
Murray gave himself a lifeline by saving three set points when Kokkinakis served for the second at 5-4 but he lost it anyway on a tie-break.
When Kokkinakis moved 5-2 ahead in the third, the match looked all but over, but Murray refused to give in, breaking back when the Australian served for it and then clinching the tie-break thanks to a horrible missed smash from his opponent.
From then on the Sot was the better player from the baseline but Kokkinakis showed huge powers of resilience himself to stay in the contest until Murray finally made the breakthrough in the 11th game of the decider.