Britain’s Andy Murray showed all of his quality and fight to edge past Frances Tiafoe in a thrilling European Open first-round match in Antwerp.
Murray saved two match points before taking a second of his own to win 7-6 (7-2) 6-7 (7-9) 7-6 (10-8) in a tense battle lasting three hours 45 minutes.
The Scot, 34, came from two breaks down – and a set point – to win the opener before his American opponent hit back.
Momentum fluctuated in the deciding tie-break but Murray edged home.
From 8-7 down, he held his service points before sealing victory with a backhand dropshot which a scampering Tiafoe could only bat back into the net.
In a mark of their mutual respect, the pair enjoyed a warm hug at the net before Murray stopped his post-match interview to heartily clap his opponent off the court.
Murray will play Argentine second seed Diego Schwartzman, who received a first-round bye, in the second round on Thursday.
“I think that’s the first time in my career I’ve played a 7-6 6-7 7-6. I don’t think I’ve ever played a match like that,” said Murray, who added he would be glad to have a day off before his next match.
“I think it’s the longest three-set match I’ve played by a distance. I’m tired, obviously.
“It was an unbelievable battle. He kept coming up with brilliant serves and great shots when I was getting chances.
“I don’t mind playing long matches but that was taking it to another level.”
The three-time Grand Slam champion has dropped to 172nd in the world after his points for winning this event in 2019 – which came just nine months after he had major surgery to leave him with a metal hip – coming off the rankings.
But Murray again showed against Tiafoe – a former Australian Open quarter-finalist now ranked 48th – why he still believes he can win more titles on the ATP Tour.
After losing to German world number four Alexander Zverev in the Indian Wells third round, Murray showed his frustration at losing and said afterwards he felt his level was “50 or 60 in the world”.
Murray proved that in the victory against Tiafoe, serving particularly well throughout as he hit 21 aces and backed that up with a solid second serve.