Andy Murray claimed his first ATP Tour singles victory since January by beating Tennys Sandgren in the opening round of the Zhuhai Championships.
Murray faced American Sandgren in the second singles match of his comeback last month, losing in two close sets, and this 6-3 6-7 (6-8) 6-1 victory was a demonstration of the progress he has made since.
Not since a first-round win over James Duckworth in Brisbane right at the start of the season, prior to the hip resurfacing operation he underwent at the end of January, had the former world No 1 won a contest at this level.
Murray played his first tournament at second-tier Challenger level in 14 years in Majorca while his rivals were doing battle at the US Open, and was training hard ahead of four consecutive tournament weeks.
In Zhuhai the improvements were clear, with Murray moving by far the best he has in any of his singles matches so far and serving strongly.
Hip hip Murray! @ATP_Tour #Zuhai pic.twitter.com/i48Qq4Mv34
— judy murray (@JudyMurray) September 24, 2019
There were also classic Murray touches – a deep defensive lob from a seemingly impossible position to win one point in the second set, and a handful of flicked winners after chasing down drop shots.
Murray, who did not face a break point during the match, took the first set with a break of serve in the sixth game and had a match point at 6-5 in the second-set tie-break.
But Sandgren, ranked 69, saved it and made it three points in a row to take the contest to a third set.
In humid conditions, this was a test of Murray’s physical condition but it was Sandgren who was found wanting.
After Murray broke to lead 3-0, the American took a long medical time-out to have strapping applied to his foot and then dropped serve again after a mammoth game.
Murray was unable to take two chances to finish the match with a bagel set but polished things off in his next service game and will take on Australia’s Alex De Minaur in the second round.
“I think that in some ways it’s one of the best wins that I’ve had, not in terms of just getting through that today, but everything that’s gone into getting back to this point,” said Murray about his opening-round victory.
“You don’t necessarily appreciate what it’s like to be healthy and stuff at the beginning of your career, it’s something that you take for granted and it’s quite easy.