Briton Andy Murray showed his quality and fought to beat Frances Tiafoe in a thrilling European Open first round match in Antwerp.
Murray saved two match points before taking a second to win 7-6 (7-2) 6-7 (7-9) 7-6 (10-8) in a tense three-hour-45-minute battle.
The Scotsman, 34, came from two failures – and one set point – to win the opener before his American opponent fought back.
Momentum fluctuated in the deciding tiebreaker, but Murray edged home.
From 8-7, he maintained his serve points before sealing the victory with a backhand dropshot that a fleeing Tiafoe could only push back into the net.
In a sign of mutual respect, the pair enjoyed a warm hug at the net before Murray interrupted his post-game interview to warmly applaud his opponent off the field.
Murray will face second seed from Argentina Diego Schwartzman, who received a first-round bypass, in the second round on Thursday.
“I think this is the first time in my career that I have played a 7-6 6-7 7-6. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game like this,” said Murray, who added that he would be happy to have a day off before his next game.
“I think it’s the longest three-set game I’ve played by far. I’m tired, obviously.
“It was an incredible battle. He kept coming up with brilliant serves and great shots when I had chances.
“I don’t mind playing long games, but it takes it to another level. “
The three-time Grand Slam champion fell to 172nd in the world after his points for win this event in 2019 – which occurred just nine months after undergoing major surgery to leave him with a metal hip – coming out of the rankings.
But Murray has again shown against Tiafoe – a former Australian Open quarter-finalist now ranked 48th – why he still thinks he can win more titles on the ATP Tour.
After losing to German world number four Alexander Zverev in the third round at Indian Wells, Murray showed his frustration at losing and later said he felt his level was “50 or 60 in the world”.
Murray proved it in the win over Tiafoe, serving particularly well throughout his career, as he managed 21 aces and backed him up with a solid second serve.