Andy Murray defeated Stan Wawrinka in three sets to lift the European Open in Antwerp, his first singles title since March 2017
Andy Murray arrived in China four weeks ago with the humble hope of winning one or two matches per week, gradually building his match fitness while aspiring to feel a little more like himself by the end of it all.
On Sunday afternoon, after a frantic month on the road across two continents, he left Antwerp with so much more after defeating Stan Wawrinka 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to win the European Open, his first title since February 2017. The tears flowed as he sat in his courtside chair and took in his achievement.
It means a lot, he said. [The] last few years have been extremely difficult. Me and Stan have had a lot of injury problems in the last couple of years. Amazing to be back playing against him in a final like that.
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. Amazing. I didnt expect to be in this position at all so Im very happy.
There has never been a hint of doubt about Murrays fighting qualities but this four-week run had been a testament to his mentality. A few months ago, after Murray began his singles return in Cincinnati, he looked back at his performances and shook his head. It has been striking to see his improvement as he has gradually won more matches against top players. His movement and serve continue to strengthen.
None of that prepared him for the level at which Wawrinka played in this final. He was on a mission from the beginning, serving brilliantly and playing crushing shots indiscriminately off both wings. Murray moved well and constantly to put the Swiss into difficult positions, but each time excellence was required of Wawrinka he came up with something near perfection. Early in the second set he broke with a return game that defied belief. Murray watched four violent winners steam past him. He could do nothing but curse.
As in every other moment of his career, he reacted with grit. When Wawrinka was leading 6-3, 3-1 and two break points up his level finally dropped. Murray won seven points in a row thanks to his defence, forays to the net and every last shot in his arsenal. In the tight, breathless games deep into the second set it was Murrays defence that won the battle.
The pressure rose throughout the third set and neither player held serve. Wawrinka fired winners to break twice but Murrays consistency and defence pegged him back each time and he took control to lead 4-3. When Wawrinka prowled at 4-4 on Murrays serve, the former world No 1 dug out two more holds, screaming into his fist before breaking for the title.
This is the final flourish of a comeback that has defied belief. Nine months ago he was waved out of the Australian Open as his tearful family watched on. Days later he underwent hip resurfacing surgery and just a couple months ago he was still learning how it felt to move freely and chase after balls without sharp, debilitating pain.
Wawrinka provided perspective of the size of his success. He departed their fateful 2017 Roland Garros semi-final with his knee screaming for mercy and was forced to undergo two operations that August. The Swiss has only recently returned to the top 20 and Antwerp marked his second final since surgery. Only seven tournaments back from injury, Murray has won a 46th career title.
He will now head home to prepare for the birth of a third child. This is one of the biggest wins Ive had, after everything, Murray said. Im really proud of the win and Ive enjoyed my time here.
Ill have three kids under four years old. I need to get on the road so we dont get out of control. Im excited for the third kid. My wifes been a huge support for getting me back on the court and making me fight to keep playing.