Andy Murray overcomes Kei Nishikori to put Great Britain into Davis Cup quarterfinals

Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images for LTA

BIRMINGHAM, England -- Andy Murray is becoming as close as you can get to a sure thing in the Davis Cup.

Murray looked down and out, a break down at the start of the fifth set against Kei Nishikori and on course to lose his first match from two sets up since 2005 as an 18-year-old at Wimbledon.

But somehow he dragged himself and his country over the line to a 7-5, 7-6(6), 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory that completed a 3-1 win over Japan. It was a marathon contest that lasted two minutes shy of five hours; a spectacular war of attrition. The fifth set alone lasted 81 minutes.

"He's just a man of steel, isn't he?" was Great Britain captain Leon Smith's verdict. The world No.2 was certainly Superman at the Barclaycard Arena on Sunday.

Murray looked like he was running on fumes, but, he said in his on-court interview between gasps for breath: "The crowd helped for sure.

"I was struggling a little bit at the end of the third, little bit throughout the fourth. There were long rallies, he was pushing my quite far off the baseline. I was trying to keep the points short. In the fifth I decided to grit my teeth and give everything, and managed to get the win.

"I was a little bit calmer in the fifth. I was getting very frustrated and panicking a bit in the third when I was struggling a bit physically. I was quite down on myself. In the fifth I went back to what I was doing in the first. I was pumped up, had more positive energy. I fought for every point."

Murray's feats this weekend in helping Great Britain win three more rubbers are all the more incredible given he hadn't played since the Australian Open, following the birth of daughter Sophia last month.

"It's Kim's first Mother's Day, so it's nice to get to see her this evening," he added. "I'll try to get back for bath time, I'll try to put her to sleep -- not Kim, the baby!"

This was the first time Murray had played a five-setter in Davis Cup singles since he beat Marin Cilic in September 2007. He is now 18-7 when it has gone to a decider.

This was the highest-ranked opponent Murray had ever faced in the Davis Cup, but he dug deep to come through this toughest of tests and put defending champions Great Britain into the quarterfinals, where they will play Novak Djokovic's Serbia, who overcame Kazakhstan 3-2. The first day of the tie will be played on July 15 -- just five days after the Wimbledon final.

"He's just a man of steel, isn't he?"

GB captain Leon Smith on Andy Murray

It was Great Britain's 150th tie win in the competition, and Murray's 14th consecutive victory over singles and doubles rubbers.

That run comprised 11 points in 2015 as the Scot drove Great Britain to its first Davis Cup title for 79 years. He has already helped deliver three more to back up his defiant vow that he will do everything in his power to help retain the trophy.

"Last year's experience was incredible for everyone on the team," added Murray. "Every time I've played I've really enjoyed it. This team has done something special last year. I would like to try and do the same again this year if we can. The next match will be extremely tough but if we all stick together and fight, we have a chance."

Murray certainly showing spades of fighting spirit here. Nishikori set the tone for the day in the very first game, with Murray forced to produce a big second serve to save break point. Great Britain had a fight on their hands.

In a first set punctuated by a series of mammoth rallies, Murray edged one more to take it after an hour and two minutes.

He was warned for racket abuse having gone a break down at the start of the second set but gave the perfect response by reeling off two games in a row to lead 3-2.

Failing to take two set points at 6-5, Murray burst into a 4-0 lead in the tie-break but was swiftly 5-4, before having to save set point with a thunderous ace.

Murray then brought up a set point of his own and Nishikori cracked under the pressure, dumping a forehand into the net. The world No.6 was visibly devastated, hunching over and staring at the floor while Murray bounced back to his seat.

However, Nishikori refused to lie down and quietened the usually-raucous Stirling Uni Barmy Army by pouncing on a tiring Murray to reel off the third and fourth sets.

It looked like Dan Evans was going to required to rescue Great Britain in a fifth rubber against Yoshihito Nishioka with Murray broken immediately at the start of the decider.

An incredible fifth set saw four more breaks of serve, with Murray striking the vital blow to move 4-2 ahead.

"One more game," shouted the Barmy Army at 5-2, then not long after, "one more point" after Murray brought up three match points. He took the second and the Barclaycard Arena emitted an almighty roar.

"It would've been a great chance for Dan to play the fifth match here, but thankfully I managed to get through. I think everyone's seen enough tennis, they can go home and rest."

If the quality of tennis had been as high as it was in this match, the crowd may not have minded a fifth rubber at all.

"I'm pretty much lost for words at this stage," said Smith. "We have to give a lot of credit to Kei, he played a great match, one of the best matches of his life for sure. But you look at Andy, not just today, the other two matches, it's quite astonishing given he hasn't played since the Australian Open final.

"It's a privilege to sit here for a match like that, I'll remember this one for a long time."