Stefanos Tsitsipas surprised to see Andy Murray hours after epic match

Stefanos Tsitsipas expressed the thoughts of all who witnessed Andy Murray’s incredible late-night exploits against Thanasi Kokkinakis at Melbourne Park on Friday.

The sun was almost rising when Murray left the stage for the longest game of his career, an epic five-hour, 45-minute game.

Eight hours had passed when the metal-hipped man was seen walking cautiously down the aisles, accepting congratulations along the way, and already dealing with the damage to his body.

“I saw him before my match today,” Tsitsipas said. I said to myself, ‘What is he doing here? He should be in bed’.”

Sitting in one of the same corridors right after his 4-6 6-7 (4) 7-6 (5) 6-3 7-5 win, Murray expressed his unhappiness at having to play at such a late hour.

It was the third-last finish in a tennis match ever recorded and the second-last finish at the Australian Open in 2008, after the famous clash between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis, which ended at 4:34 am.

This match is well remembered because it was an outlier but increasingly that is no longer the case.

Andy Murray leaves Margaret Court Arena early

Andy Murray leaves Margaret Court Arena early (Ng Han Guan/AP)

A change in playstyles, slower surfaces and balls – a special talking point here – and fantastically high conditioning levels across nearly the entire board meant longer and longer matches, but the programs haven’t evolved to take that into account.

Nothing seems likely to change, though, as tournament director Craig Tiley told Channel Nine: “There’s no need to change the schedule at this point.

“It was an epic game, and when you schedule a game like this just before 10pm, you don’t expect it to be close to six hours.

“There’s always one, and it’s hard to plan the whole event based on the potential once realized. If you only do one game at night and there’s an injury, you’ve got nothing for the fans or the broadcasters.”

Jamie Murray took to Twitter to suggest a one-night-only match – a path taken by the French Open, which was later criticized for not scheduling women’s matches in the slot.

Jamie said on Friday: “I think they have issues with value for money for ticket holders when entering a match, but more importantly, is it the players competing there or the amount of money they get for a ticket?

“And isn’t it a disaster for everyone else involved? I’m sure you guys had to stay up so late. Ball boys, referees, transportation personnel. How could that be the best way to go about these events? It just can’t be.

Andy probably feels like he has a hangover today. I’m sure her body is a complete mess. Whereas if he plays during the day and gets a decent night’s sleep, recovers properly, and does all those things, maybe he’d have a better chance of being in better shape physically to go to the competition tomorrow.

While some call for change in tennis, the prevailing attitude seems to be acceptance and even celebration.

“That’s the nature of this business,” Tsitsipas said. “You have to deal with it. I would say it started at a reasonable time. Kokkinakis made it long. Murray took a long time too.

“I think tennis likes this kind of game. There is a great story behind this game and it will be remembered. I remember very vividly the game Baghdatis played with Hewitt.”

Combined with his similarly epic victory over Matteo Berrettini in the first round, Murray spent 10 hours and 34 minutes on the field – longer than some players need to win a grand slam title.

He improved physically as the match continued against Kokkinakis and both managed to maintain a remarkable level as the hours passed.

But standing in the way of his further progress, and possibly the last man he would want to see across the net, is 24th seeded Roberto Bautista Agut, equivalent to a brick wall in tennis.

Andy Murray leaning on his racket

Andy Murray leaning on his racket (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Murray would know he’d have to run hard again, and Friday night’s short and hard-seeming workout at Margaret Court Arena offered little reason for optimism.

This will be their first time at a grand slam since their emotional first-round match in 2019 after Murray talked about the extent of his hip problems and said he fears his career may be over.

The tournament, as it turned out, played a video montage of fellow players’ compliments after battling for a five-set loss very early on.

Bautista Agut, who easily beat Murray twice last year, said: “I don’t know what he wanted to do in that game, but I’m happy for him, he’s in good shape, he’s winning games and he’s in good shape. He’s enjoying the court again.

Andy Murray will play Roberto Bautista Agut from now on

Andy Murray will now play Roberto Bautista Agut (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP)

“It seems appropriate. He’s a good fighter. He loves the game and is a good tennis player.”

Murray even managed to surprise his older brother, who went to bed after the first set to prepare for his matches.

“I woke up at six and went to the bathroom,” Jamie said. “I checked my phone and was like, ‘Oh no, I can’t believe it. Mental, really mental.

“The level of tennis he played did not surprise me. For me, I still think he has a great opportunity to go forward in these tournaments.”

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