PARIS (Reuters) - Andy Murray survived a nervy fifth-set decider against Czech veteran Radek Stepanek to complete a 3-6 3-6 6-0 6-3 7-5 comeback win and scrape into the French Open second round on Tuesday.
The second seed had been tormented by his 37-year-old opponent in the previous evening’s gloom, being outplayed in the opening two sets before repairing some of the damage by the time bad light intervened with him leading 4-2 in the fourth set.
If he hoped things would be less complicated when the match resumed on Philippe Chatrier Court, he was sadly mistaken as a reinvigorated and inspired Stepanek came within two points of an unlikley upset.
Feeding off the crowd, Stepanek conjured numerous moments of magic, out-foxing Murray with crafty drop-shots and slices and throwing in some classic serve and volley to keep his 29-year-old opponent off balance.
But Murray has a few tricks up his sleeve too, not too mention his renowned fighting qualities and he never panicked, even when defeat looked a distinct possibility.
Stepanek, bidding to become the oldest man to win a match at Roland Garros since Jimmy Connors (38 years 280 days) in 1991, finally relented and Murray, not without a few more alarms, finished the two-day duel.
There was plenty of respect from Murray, though, as he warmly consoled the 128th-ranked Czech and applauded him off court.
“It is unbelievable what he is doing. He had a bad injury last year yet at 37 is still coming out and fighting like he is,” Murray, who overturned two-set deficits nine times in his career and three times in Paris, said in an interview on court.
”He has always been extremely difficult to play. He hardly missed any volleys -- until the one on match point and even that nearly got over -- hit a lot of drop shots and hit the ball very flat and that made it very hard for me.
“I don’t expect to be doing that at his age! I am just pleased to have got through.”
Murray won 10 of the last 12 games on Monday to seize the momentum and after fending off a couple of break points in Tuesday’s first game he levelled the contest.
But Stepanek, a former top-10 player, was in no mood to go away quietly and the fifth set was an engrossing battle of wits.
Twice Stepanek extricated himself from trouble on serve to stay ahead as the crowd roared their approval.
When he held to love to lead 5-4 he scented victory and the alarm bells were ringing in the Murray camp when he trailed 15-30 in the next game.
Even when Murray got his nose in front and served for the match the nerves were still jangling as he double-faulted on his first match point.
But he sealed victory when Stepanek netted an attempted drop-volley and, with a kind-looking draw, can now look forward to another deep run at a venue where he has reached the semis three times.
“I had a bit of momentum yesterday. But I had to fight extremely hard today,” Murray said, before walking off to prepare for French wildcard Mathias Bourge.
Editing by Ed Osmond