World No2 Andy Murray has vowed to do everything in his power to fire defending champions Great Britain to successive Davis Cup titles after dispatching Kei Nishikori and ultimately rivals Japan in a gruelling five-set showdown in Birmingham.
The 28-year-old’s 7-5, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory in four hours and 54 minutes – the joint longest clash of his career – gave Great Britain an unassailable 3-1 in the first-round clash, while Kazakhstan or Serbia await in July’s quarter-finals.
Murray has only lost one match in his career after being two sets up, to Argentina’s David Nalbandian at Wimbledon in 2005, but had to dig deep to overcome battling world No6 Nishikori after he had drawn level in the tense fourth rubber.
“Last year was incredible every time I played in the Davis Cup. This team did something special and I would like to do the same again this year,” said Murray. “Obviously the next match will be extremely tough and if we stick together and fight we have a chance.”
Murray’s heroics followed a mini sabbatical following the birth of his first child Sophia, having not played competitively since the Australian Open final in late January, and saved team-mate Dan Evans from a decisive fifth rubber.
But by overpowering the stubborn Nishikori and helping Great Britain reach the quarter-final for a third straight year, Murray overtook Fred Perry’s winning sequence of 14 consecutive Davis Cup points in both singles and doubles.
“In the fifth set, I had to grit my teeth and give everything,” added Murray. “But I was a little bit calmer in the fifth set. I was panicking a little bit at the end of the third when I was struggling physically. I didn’t quite know what to do.
“In the fifth set I went back to what I was doing in the first set. Positive energy, fight for every single point and that was enough.”
Murray almost single-handedly led Great Britain to Davis Cup glory last year for the first time since 1936, and team captain Leon Smith was once again in awe of the London 2012 Olympic champion.
“I’m pretty much lost for words. He’s just a man of steel,” said Smith. “You have to give credit to Kei. He played a great match, one of the best of his life, I’m sure.
“It’s quite astonishing considering Andy hasn’t played since the Australian Open final. He’s amazing. It’s an absolute privilege to sit with him for a match like that and we’ll remember that one for a very long time.”
Nishikori was the highest ranked player Murray had ever faced in the competition and led by a break in the fifth and decisive set before the Scot’s retaliation ended with victory in two epic service games to seal a memorable victory.