An emotional Andy Murray claimed his first ATP Tour title for more than two-and-a-half years at the European Open in Antwerp.
In just his sixth singles tournament since returning from the hip resurfacing operation he underwent in January, Murray had significantly exceeded expectations by making it all the way to the final.
There he faced his old rival Stan Wawrinka, who was in the ascendancy for the vast majority of the match.
But Murray dug in superbly, saving eight of the 12 break points he faced, including several at crucial times, and battled to a 6-3 4-6 6-4 victory.
The last time he lifted silverware in singles came in Dubai in March 2017, so it was no surprise that the tears quickly flowed.
In an on-court interview broadcast by Amazon Prime, Murray said: “Obviously it means a lot, the last few years have been extremely difficult, both me and Stan have had a lot of injury problems the last couple of years.
“It’s amazing to be back playing him in a final. I think it was a great match, Stan was playing unbelievable, hitting winners from all over the court.
“I just managed to hang in a bit at the end of the second set and the third set was extremely close again. I didn’t expect to be in this position so I’m very happy.
“This is one of the biggest wins that I’ve had after everything so I’m very proud.”
It was fitting that these two men should be facing each other given it was their gruelling French Open semi-final two years ago that exacerbated physical issues for both.
Murray spent the next 18 months trying to find a solution to his hip problems that would enable him to live without pain, while Wawrinka underwent two knee operations.
The 34-year-old is further down the comeback trail than Murray, but it is only this season that he has really returned to something like his old form, with his ranking dropping outside 200 last summer.
It is now back up to 18, while Murray’s will leap more than 100 places to 127 on Monday.
Murray saved two break points in the second game but not a third and, after the Scot was unable to take two chances of his own in the next game, Wawrinka held comfortably through the rest of the set.
Of all Murray’s many attributes, his sheer bloody-mindedness has probably won him more matches than any other, and that was much in evidence as he somehow took the second set.
An astonishing effort @andy_murray . So so proud of you!!!!— Leon Smith (@LeonSmith) October 20, 2019
He was on the ropes at 1-3 and two break points down but dug in and then got his reward as Wawrinka’s serve went off the boil and his level dipped, with Murray breaking back to 3-3.
Wawrinka had two more chances at 4-4 but again Murray fought off the danger and more shaky serving from the Swiss put him in trouble in the next game.
Murray was furious when, as he looked set to win a long rally at 30-30, an erroneous line call forced the point to be replayed, but he duly played two of his best points of the match to send it to a decider.
Murray was twice a break down early in the third as well but both times hit back straight away and then saved two more break points at 4-4.
That left Wawrinka serving for the match and, although he led 40-15, Murray willed himself back into the game and took his first match point.
The 32-year-old is now expected to take a break until the Davis Cup finals next month while he waits for the birth of his third child.
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Andy Murray expressed his surprise at reaching the European Open final in Antwerp on Saturday saying ‘I certainly didn’t expect it to come so soon.’
The three-time Grand Slam champion will play Stan Wawrinka in Sunday’s final after beating Ugo Humbert 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 to reach his first ATP final for two years.
Murray had career-saving hip surgery in January and thought his time at the top might be over.
Murray said: “Yeah, I mean, Stan’s (Wawrinka) a brilliant player. You know, we’ve played against each other and some some big matches in the past and big tournaments. He’s had his injury troubles as well in the last couple of years and done great to get back to the top of the game.
“It was actually my match with him at the French Open in 2017 where my hip problems really, really started. It was a tough five set match in the semis and I never recovered from that. So it’s cool to be back playing against him in a final and hopefully it’s a good one.”
Greg Rusedski has warned Andy Murray still has a long road ahead if he is to return to the top of the game.
The former world number one has surprised many, including Rusedski, with the level at which he has been able to play only eight and a half months after hip resurfacing surgery.
In a three-week stint in China, Murray beat now world number 11 Matteo Berrettini and pushed Dominic Thiem and Fabio Fognini hard in close defeats.
It was a big step up from the performances Murray produced on his return to singles action in America in August and gave hope to his fans, as well as the Scot, that he could perhaps again challenge for tennis’ biggest titles.
But, after two years of struggles with his right hip and at the age of 32, Rusedski believes it is too early to make future predictions.
The former British number one told the PA News Agency: “I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I thought it would be much more difficult for him, I thought it would take a little bit longer, but he’s played very, very well.
“The question mark is still how much can his body take week in, week out. There’s still a long road back.
“He’s played two matches back to back, but can he play three, four, five days in a row? It’s too hard to predict. I think we’ll know more when he plays the Australian Open and a three-out-of-five-set match.
“It’s not his mentality or his tennis, it’s what the body will allow him to do. But the signs are very positive.”
Rusedski and Murray are on a list that now includes Dan Evans, who at 43 in the world is the top-ranked player in Britain for the first time.
Evans’ stellar form since returning unranked from a year-long drugs ban last spring coupled with Kyle Edmund’s slide has left the 29-year-old in top spot, and Rusedski believes he can climb significantly higher.
“Sometimes you go through difficult situations and it forces you to grow up and take stock and do all those things that Dan has done,” said Rusedski.
“We’ve always known he had the talent and the ability and I had a feeling at the beginning of this year when I saw him in Australia that he was going to have a fantastic season.
“I think top 20 would be a realistic goal for him if he can keep on the momentum he’s had this season.”
Edmund will find himself outside the top 70 on Monday having started the season ranked 14.
A knee injury plagued him for the first half of the season and Edmund is currently on a seven-match losing run dating back to early August.
Rusedski also cited the split from coach Fredrik Rosengren, who retired abruptly in February.
“He’s got to reset, look at what he needs to do and really use this off season to push forward and improve his game,” said Rusedski, a former coach of Edmund.
“It’s hard to get up to the top 15 but it’s even harder to stay there because you’ve got to continually get better, you have to be healthy and you have to have the right team around you.
“The second year when you get there is always the toughest, which Kyle’s gone through, and year three is usually the rebound year so there’s no reason why Kyle shouldn’t be back in the top 50 in 2020.”
Rusedski was speaking while he helped out at a Cancer Research UK shop to launch the charity’s partnership with the Nitto ATP Finals in London next month.
A treasure hunt across several Cancer Research UK shops in London and on the charity’s EBay shop from October 18 to November 10 will offer fans the chance to claim prizes including signed items from leading players.
Rusedski said: “Everybody in their life has been affected with cancer somehow or another, so I think it’s a great cause and a great partnership.”
The tournament at the O2 is shaping up to be a battle of the young challengers versus the old guard, with US Open finalist Daniil Medvedev the current front runner to be the best of the next generation.
Medvedev’s success has reignited the debate about when a new face is going to win a grand slam.
“It’s getting closer,” said Rusedski. “I thought it was either going to be next year or the year after. Medvedev is the guy you’re looking at who could possibly win one. It’ll be a very exciting end of the season, which will set up 2020 beautifully.”