Nishikori was the first top 10 opponent Murray had faced in the Davis Cup and the 26-year-old Japanese, a magnificent shot-maker, pushed him to the very edge with a stunning comeback from two sets down.
Dan Evans was waiting in the wings of the Barclaycard Arena, ready for a possible fifth rubber, but he was not required thanks to Murray’s phenomenal display of guts.
Djokovic last lost in the tournament in 2011 – against Juan Martin del Potro through a retirement in the semi-finals that Serbia lost 3-2 to Argentina and alongside Zimonjic in a 4-1 win over Sweden in the first round that year.
The four hour and 54-minute tussle was the joint-longest of Murray’s career, tied with his five-set win in the 2012 US Open final over Novak Djokovic.
“I was nervous”, Troicki said.
“I’m pretty much lost for words at this stage”, said Smith.
“It’s quite astonishing considering Andy hasn’t played since the Australian Open final”. I was quite down on myself. In the fifth I chose to grit my teeth and give everything, and managed to get the win. I was getting frustrated when I wasn’t taking opportunities I should have.
From the start, the standard of the tennis was exceptional.
The impression on Friday had been that Nishikori would also step in but instead he had a watching brief as Japan opted to keep him fresh for Sunday. “I tried everything, but today I don’t know what I could do”. “Novak plays great on all surfaces – I am not suggesting he does not play well on clay”. Asked about the loss, the world’s best tennis player was quick to praise Kazahstan “They showed real quality today and deservedly won”, said Djokovic. After an early exchange of breaks in the second set, Murray saved a set point in the tie-break with an ace and then took the next two points to win it 8-6.
Nishikori, ranked sixth in the world, fired a superb backhand victor to take the third set and served out the fourth at the second attempt as he threatened to become only the second man to recover from two sets down against Murray.
Murray subsequently admitted he struggled with his fitness levels during the match before finally overcoming Nishikori’s stern challenge.
When Nishikori broke in the opening game of the decider it seemed that the momentum might have shifted decisively. Although Andy is higher in the rankings, I feel the indoor surface gives Kei more of a chance. I was a little bit calmer’.
Murray can now head home to Surrey to spend a bit more time with daughter Sophia before flying to Indian Wells for the first Masters event of the year.
After his exertions, Murray said he was keen to get back to his family. “I’ll try to get back for bath time and put her to sleep – the baby, not Kim”.
This win saw Murray steal yet another line from Fred Perry in the record books.
3-6, 4-6, 6-3 for his 14th straight victory in the Davis Cup, digging deep in his third match in as many days.
That drew Serbia level at 2-2 against Kazakhstan before Viktor Troicki finished off the tie by beating Aleksandr Nedovyesov in the deciding rubber.
Andy Murray is becoming as close as you can get to a sure thing in the Davis Cup.
The momentum was with the red-shirted visitor now and although he twice survived break points on his own serve, it was he who drew first blood, breaking to go 3-2 up and again to move 5-2 ahead. He’s just a man of steel.