In their fifth meeting at tour-level, two-time Madrid champion Andy Murray beat Austrian Dominic Thiem, advancing to the second round of the Masters 1000 tournament in his first appearance on clay in nearly two years.
The Scot, who accepted a wild card to contest the event, earned victory over Thiem in straight sets 6-3, 6-4 after one hour and 42 minutes.
In his on-court interview, he stated: “I enjoyed it. I prepared really hard before coming here. I worked hard and really wanted to go out and put a good performance out there. I feel like I did that.
“When I played a couple of years ago on the clay, I was struggling a little bit with my groin. My body felt really good in the last few weeks, and tonight I felt like I moved well, and I played a really good match.”
The top-level encounter marked the Glasgow native’s first match on a clay court since Roland-Garros 2020.
After competing in Indian Wells last March, the three-time Grand Slam champion announced he would be skipping the European clay swing to focus on the grass season alongside coach Ivan Lendl.
However, the two-time Olympic gold medalist reviewed his decision, accepting a wild card to play in Madrid.
For his part, Thiem made his seventh appearance at the tournament, his first since sustaining a wrist injury last June, which sidelined the 2020 U.S. Open champion from the tennis courts until late in March.
A long recovery process and the setbacks experienced on the way have challenged the talented Austrian, who has always kept a positive mind in facing adversity.
He first tested himself at the ATP Challenger Anytech365 Andalucia Open held in Marbella, Spain.
In April, he contested two ATP 250 venues, the Serbia Open in Belgrade and the Millennium Estoril Open in Portugal.
Despite exiting in the first round at both events, each match marked a pivotal step the Austrian player took towards gathering strength, targeting to recover his best form.
Once their match concluded, Murray, who knows the road into recovery lane by experience following his two hip surgeries between 2018 and 2019, shared encouraging words at the net with his on-court rival.
“It will take time, but you will be fine,” the former world number one told Thiem.
The highly-anticipated clash unfolded into an entertaining tennis display that, in the first set, saw both players playing with great intensity, creating a highly competitive atmosphere.
Following a seven-minute fifth game, Murray broke his adversary for the first time to take a 4-2 lead. He would hold to open a 5-2 advantage, sealing the game with an ace, building from there to close out 6-3 after 47 minutes.
The unforced errors made the difference in a tight opener battle, with Thiem hitting 16 compared to only three from the Brit.
The second set was still close, albeit the 2020 Australian Open finalist’s lack of consistency and confidence, as he continued to fire too many unforced errors with his forehand, would cost him high.
During a 10-minute second game, the 17-time ATP titlist failed to convert any of the three breakpoint opportunities he had, chances Murray would not let slip, leveling up at 1-1.
The 34-year-old dominated, breaking the World No. 91 serve to lead 2-1, fighting back all efforts made by his opponent to narrow the gap, sealing a 6-4 win.
In addition, he won 78 percent of his first-service points to Thiem’s 67 percent, hitting 20 winners to 26 from his rival, who fired a total of 33 unforced errors (24 with his forehand) to 13 overall from Murray.
After the match, Thiem shared his thoughts about Madrid, writing on Twitter: “I had a few very successful and especially instructive days in Madrid. The training, the atmosphere, and the people were amazing.”
“Of course, I wanted to win this match, but I still lack the consistency that I can get back with a lot of work!”
He further outlined: “My team and I know exactly what needs improvement, and we will work on it every day. I will continue to work and train to achieve my goals. I am and remain positive.
“I approach every practice and every game so that I can always learn from my mistakes, so that I can go one step further every day than yesterday.
“I am overjoyed to be able to stand on the court every day without pain and worries and to be able to do what I love.”
On Tuesday, Murray will face 14th seed Denis Shapovalov for a place in the third round.