Yoshihito Nishioka came within a point of eliminating former world No. 1 Andy Murray in the first round of the U.S. Open on Tuesday but was denied a memorable victory as the 2012 champion fought back to win in five sets.
The Japanese world No. 49 jumped out to a 2-set lead and was up 2-0 in the third before Murray, who is making his way back from hip surgery, battled to a marathon 4-6, 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(4), 6-4 victory in four hours and 38 minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The 24-year-old Nishioka looked poised to claim one of the highest-profile victims of his career when he broke Murray for a fourth time early in the third set.
Despite the Briton clawing his way back to lead 4-3, Nishioka kept up the pressure but was unable to convert three break-point chances at 5-5 or capitalize on a 4-3 lead in the tie-break.
Nishioka came to the brink of victory at 6-5 in the fourth set but Murray saved match point on his serve at ad-out. The three-time Grand Slam winner then won four of the first five points in the tie-breaker to seize the momentum.
"My opponent was tenacious at the end of the tie-breakers, while I was mostly passive," said Nishioka, who last played in Dubai in February, before the coronavirus pandemic brought tennis to a standstill.
"Maybe I lacked the competitive fire after the half-year away from the tour," he said.
Murray, who said he would seek out an "emergency" ice bath after the marathon match, will play No. 15 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round.
"For me this is an emergency right now. My body hurts and I need to recover as best as possible," the 33-year-old Murray said.
Among other Japanese players, Taro Daniel lost 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to Gregoire Barrere of France, while in the women's draw, Nao Hibino was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by 10th seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain.
The U.S. Open is the first Grand Slam tennis tournament since the coronavirus disrupted the sport, with the Aug. 31-Sept. 13 event being played entirely behind closed doors to prevent the further spread of the virus.