Andy Murray today squeaked past Robin Haase to reach the third round of the US Open. The match, won by the Scot with the improbable scoreline of 6-7 2-6 6-2 6-0 6-4, perfectly illustrated the mental dynamics of five-set tennis.
Murray's second serve is only the 64th best on tour this year, with a success rate of just 47%, and the Scot's second delivery stood throughout in stark contrast to the Dutchman's ballistic deliveries.
Haase, with a game as wild and unpredictable as the curls on his head, repeatedly fired down serves straight out of the Dutch nuclear weapons programme, while Murray's rope-a-dope tactics and passive play were his undoing as he dropped his serve at 3-3.
The Dutchman duly held for 5-3, but Murray's smart all-court play secured his own serve. Then, with Haase serving for the set at 5-4 and Murray having won just three points against the world number 41's serve all afternoon, the Scot suddenly discovered his game.
With Haase needing to serve up meat-and-two-veg tennis, he instead lifted the cloche to reveal seared fillet of beef with potato-leak Napoleon, glazed shallots and tomato-pepper vinaigrette. Murray broke for 5-5.
The match stumbled into a tiebreak with Haase's game all over the five boroughs. You want two consecutive double faults? No problem. How about a pair of wildly fluffed drop shots? Yep. A brilliant 105mph forehand winner? Sure, man, pass the ganja.Read more (620 words)
When Murray went 4-1 up in the tiebreak, it seemed that the natural order had been restored and Haase looked like he needed a trip to his local coffee shop. But there was never going to be anything natural about this match.
With the Scot serving up a series of hallucinogenically bad errors off the ground, he slipped to a 4-6 deficit. Although a bizarre net cord saved the next point, a wild forehand sealed the first set for Haase.
The second continued in much the same vein, with unforced errors spewing off Murray's strings in a grim set of ugly, tentative tennis. With Murray trailing 0-3, so intense was the Scot's love affair with the net that it would have been no surprise had he gone down on bended knee before it.
The Dutchman continued to lace winning forehands past the British number one, with Murray's best shots flicking on and off like the red lights in the dodgiest parts of Amsterdam.
Although he broke back for 2-3, Murray squandered his serve once more and the set petered out in a litany of groundshot errors.
Although Haase's game was proving tougher to read than a Dutch philosopher's autobiography, Murray began to find his form in the third and fourth sets. Where once his forehands had been limp, the Scot now powered through the ball.
At 2-5 down, Haase began a tactic that would ultimately wreak havoc with his game – saving his energy for the following set by contemptuously firing groundshots high into the stands.
No longer able to keep his finger in the dyke, the Dutchman then conceded a flood of games. Murray sealed the third set 6-2 and, with Haase again saving himself for the next set by exploring the outer limits of the stratosphere with his groundshots, wrapped up the fourth with a bagel.
With little rhythm carrying him into the deciding set, Haase was immediately broken and soon found himself 4-0 down. Murray, seemingly locked in on victory, at one point produced a three-lob and running-pass rally that echoed a famous Jimmy Connors sequence from this tournament in 1991 that had brought the house down.
But this astonishing match had a final twist. In an atmosphere resembling feeding time at the Bronx Zoo, the Dutchman, who received regular treatment to a back injury, suddenly found a well of adrenalin.
Haase hauled himself back to 4-4 with a series of agile volleys and pulsating forehands. But, as anyone who's levelled a set from a four-game deficit will testify, the dynamic of such a set will always change. With the hunter becoming the hunted and amid some dogged defence from Murray, the Scot broke again for 5-4.
However, as the world number four served for the match, caution took over and the Scot found himself 0-30 down. A service winner and a smoked backhand pulled the game level and an outrageous netcord winner brought up match point.
Murray was outmanoeuvred and pegged back to deuce. Then, when the British number one earned another match point, the Dutchman smoked a forehand that was called wide. With Murray removing his sweatbands, Haase appealed to Hawkeye and stared in disbelief when the monitor showed the ball had caught a piece of the line.
It was to be Haase's last success in a final set that recalled the scene at the climax of Fatal Attraction when the seemingly dead Glenn Close emerges from the bath, knife in hand.
When a service winner and a forced backhand error from a commendably gutsy Murray sealed the set and match, the Scot managed a wry smile and collapsed in his chair, to reflect on perhaps the most absurd and surreal match of his entire career.