Andy Murray may have a metal hip, but it was tough to tell based on his effort Tuesday at the European Open.
Murray battled past Frances Tiafoe 7-6(2), 6-7(7), 7-6(8) in a three-hour, 45-minute marathon to reach the second round in Antwerp. It was the longest best-of-three-set match of 2021, breaking the mark set by Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Barcelona final (3:38).
“I think that’s the first time in my career I’ve played a 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 [match]. I don’t think I’ve ever played a match like that,” Murray said in his on-court interview. “I think it’s the longest three-set match I’ve played by quite a distance. I’m tired right now, obviously it was an unbelievable battle.”
The former World No. 1 clinched the victory on his second match point. He hit a backhand drop shot that Tiafoe was unable to retrieve. The 23-year-old’s sprint took him to the Scot’s side of the net, where the pair shared a warm embrace.
“Nowadays obviously my body is old now. I’ve played a lot of matches on the Tour. I don’t mind playing long matches, but that was taking it to another level,” Murray said. “Brilliant match, amazing atmosphere, thanks to everyone who came and supported. It’s just so nice to be back and playing in front of crowds again.”
Murray has now won his opening match in five consecutive tournaments at all levels. He had to scratch and claw throughout against Tiafoe, who was the better player for a good portion of the match.
The American served for the opening set twice, needed six set points to win the second set, led by a break in the decider and held two match points in the final-set tie-break. But Tiafoe failed to put a return in play on those two match points, and Murray took full advantage.
“He kept coming up with brilliant serves and great shots when I was getting chances,” Murray said.
Tiafoe was the more aggressive player and he frequented the net to finish points against the 46-time tour-level titlist, who raised his level in the important moments. Murray over the years has proven himself one of the best players on the ATP Tour in cat-and-mouse points, but the American showed no fear of entering those patterns, either.
But Murray struck 21 aces to stay in contact with his opponent and saved seven of the 10 break points he faces to set a second-round clash against second seed Diego Schwartzman for a place in the Antwerp quarter-finals.
Murray memorably won the European Open in 2019 following his most recent hip surgery. In that edition, he defeated former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in the final.
FOLLOW THIS WEEK’S ACTION
In the final match of the evening in Antwerp, seventh seed Lloyd Harris beat home favourite Zizou Bergs, a wild card, 7-6(4), 6-3.
The South African will face big-hitting Jan-Lennard Struff for a place in the quarter-finals. The German beat Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.