Andy Murray has played many better matches than his second-round win over Vincent Millot at the Australian Open – but he has never had a better finish.
The world No 4 was taken by surprise when French qualifier Millot suddenly began to play well above his ranking of 267, smashing winners from all sides as he raced into a 5-1 lead in the third set.
Millot had a set point but Murray saved it, and from then on won every single point – a run of 23 in succession – to triumph 6-2 6-2 7-5.
He said: “It was 6-5 when I went to serve for it, and someone shouted out, ‘You won 19 in a row’. I would say that’s probably the most I’d ever won in my career by far.
“It’s very difficult to do. I don’t really know how I did it. But I didn’t realise until I went to serve for the match. It was a good way to finish.
“He was obviously almost going for broke on a lot of shots. He was hitting the ball so early, and flat and low.
“It was very humid, so the ball really wasn’t flying much.
“He came up with some great shots in the third set. Then when he didn’t get his set point – I played a good point on his set point – I guess it’s normal he got a little bit nervous, which helped.
“He started missing a few balls and I adjusted my tactics a little bit.”
The importance of the winning streak to Murray was that it enabled him to complete the match in straight sets and get off the court.
Even though he knew he had won 19 points in a row going into the final game, he said: “I just wanted to win the game. It was obviously fairly late.
“The way that set had gone, I just wanted to try to get through that game.
“I didn’t really care about winning 23 points in a row. I wanted to win the match. I’m glad I finished it there, because they were very, very hard conditions.
“Even in the evening it was so humid. After they closed the roof they obviously had the rain and the thunderstorms.
“It changed the way the court and the balls played a lot. It was heavier. I hit a lot of balls in the net. It slowed everything down a bit. I just was glad to get off.”
It was a strange match that took a long time to catch fire.
Although the extreme heat that had caused the roof on Rod Laver Arena to be shut during the afternoon had subsided, it was still warm and very humid.
Millot, who had never won a grand slam match before his first-round win over Wayne Odesnik on Tuesday, initially looked hopelessly outclassed and Murray cruised into a 3-0 lead without having to hit a winner.
The 26-year-old did not look to be enjoying the experience too much but he eased to the first set and it was a very similar story in the second.
Millot had been warming to his task, though, and in the third set he suddenly unleashed a flurry of winners.
A fourth set looked inevitable but Murray dug in and then came up with his incredible finale.
The Scot admitted before the match that the only thing he knew about his opponent was that he was left-handed, and he said: “It didn’t really affect me at the start.
“I was up 6-2 6-2. Then out of nowhere he started playing unbelievable. Sometimes you need to remind yourself that it’s going to be hard for him to keep that up. It’s low percentage tennis.
“He hasn’t done it for a long period before, so that’s what I was trying to remind myself when I was 5-1 down. ‘If I can just hang in and weather the storm a little bit, I might be able to come back’.
“I needed to raise my intensity a little bit.
“I didn’t really respond as quick as I would have liked to him playing that well.”
Next up for Murray is a familiar foe, 26th seed Feliciano Lopez, who defeated German Michael Berrer in straight sets to reach the third round.
Elsewhere, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer matched each other stroke for stroke on their way to the third round.
Unusually for the two biggest stars in tennis, they found themselves playing at exactly the same time, under the roofs on Rod Laver and Hisense Arena.
And, after starting their matches together, they also finished them within a couple of minutes of each other, both securing straight-sets wins.
Top seed Nadal faced the lowest-ranked player in the draw, 17-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis, the world No 570.
The Australian gave a very good account of himself but, not surprisingly, found Nadal too tough, the Spaniard winning 6-2 6-4 6-2.
Federer raced through the first two sets against Slovenian Blaz Kavcic and eventually went through 6-2 6-1 7-6 (7/4).
Tenth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is a potential fourth-round opponent for Federer and he was in fine form in a 7-6 (8/6) 6-4 6-4 win over Thomaz Bellucci.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori, the 16th seed, eased past qualifier Dusan Lajovic while America’s Donald Young upset Lleyton Hewitt’s conqueror Andreas Seppi in five sets.