Murray Breaks Down Thiem In Madrid Clay Return

Shapovalov squeezes past Humbert, faces Murray next

Andy Murray owned the top spot in the ATP Rankings when he last took the court at the Mutua Madrid Open in 2017. His performance in a Monday victory over Dominic Thiem showed that his current level remains far closer to that mark than his current position of World No. 78.

Back on clay for the first time in nearly two years, the two-time Madrid champion looked right at home in a 6-3, 6-4 win. It was his first victory on the surface since the 2017 Roland Garros quarter-finals, when he beat Kei Nishikori.

"I enjoyed it. I prepared really hard before coming here," said Murray, who initially planned to skip this year's clay swing before accepting a wild card into the Spanish ATP Masters 1000 event.

"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."

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Murray's last clay-court match came at Roland Garros in 2020, and he had initially planned to continue his clay hiatus and compete in hard-court ATP Challenger Tour events during the European clay swing. But when those events were cancelled, Murray's plans changed.

Despite his time away from the surface, he showed very few signs of rust in a dominant display. In a strong serving performance that included nine aces, Murray saved all three break points he faced, with all three coming in in his opening service game of the second set. He won 78 per cent of his first-serve points in the one-hour, 42-minute contest.

Thiem, still seeking the first win of his comeback from a right-wrist injury, was brilliant in stretches on Manolo Santana Stadium — never more so than when he flicked a stunning backhand pass late in the opening set.

But the Austrian's powerful forehand misfired too often in what was just his third tour-level event of the year, and Murray zeroed in on that wing to break serve in both sets. Thiem finished with 33 unforced errors, 24 of them coming from the forehand.

"It's extremely difficult," Murray said of Thiem's comeback. "He obviously had the injury initially and has also had some setbacks along the way. Mentally, it will take time to feel confident, totally accelerating on the ball. I had a wrist injury when I was 20 years old and it was very difficult. It took me time before I started to feel comfortable on the forehand side again.

"He uses his wrist a lot when he plays. He plays with heavy topspin. It's obviously going to take him time, but he can still hit the ball great. He's serving well, moving well. It's just going to take time."

In addition to heavy hitting from the baseline, both men used the drop shot to great effect throughout the match, with Thiem creating his own personal highlight reel early in the early stages. But Murray showed his touch, too, and came up with the pick of the bunch in a smooth half-volley as he drove home an early-break advantage in the second set.

With the victory, Murray improves to 8-1 in first-round matches on the year. He next faces 14th seed Denis Shapovalov, who squeezed past lucky loser Ugo Humbert of France, 7-6(1), 6-3.

After an opening set that did not include a break point or even a deuce game, Shapovalov won seven straight points to run away with the tie-break.The second stanza was far more eventful, with the Canadian saving at least one break point in four of his five service games. Humbert created nine break chances in the set, but could not get level after dropping serve on the only break point against him at the start of the second.

Shapovalov saved four break points as he served out the match, finally advancing on his second match point.

The 23-year-old won his only previous meeting with Murray in straight sets one year ago in the Wimbledon third round. Their second ATP Head2Head meeting is set for Tuesday in Arantxa Sanchez Stadium.

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