Seven times this season Andy Murray has contested a deciding set. Each time, he has produced his best tennis in the clutch moments to win.
Lucky No. 7 came on Thursday at the BNP Paribas Open, where the Briton beat Tomas Martin Etcheverry 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4 in the opening round. Murray, who gave a glowing report on his fitness ahead of the tournament, outlasted the Argentine in a three-hour, 12-minute match to set up a second-round meeting with 15th seed Pablo Carreno Busta.
“In some of the matches I managed to win this year, I felt like I was fortunate in some of them, whereas today I really had lots of chances in that third set,” Murray said after the win, referring to his eight break chances in the final set. “I wasn’t getting them and was getting really frustrated. He was coming up with some big serves at times but I also felt like I made some poor decisions as well. The more chances that went by the more you think about it.
“I did really well to keep going in the end… Another brutal match and glad I managed to get through it.”
7/7 for 3 set battles for @andy_murray this year 👏
The Murray GRIT and skills in defence were key🔑 today. #StealScore calculates how often a player has won the point when they are in defence during the point.#TennisInsights | @atptour | @BNPPARIBASOPEN pic.twitter.com/nhW0qpXrgI
— Tennis Insights (@tennis_insights) March 10, 2023
While Murray did not need to save a match point on this occasion — he saved eight last month in Doha, where he won four three-setters to reach his 71st tour-level final — he did have to fight off two break points at 3-4 in the final set. The 35-year-old scored the decisive break on his fifth break point of the ensuing game on an Etcheverry double fault.
Ethceverry troubled Murray in the early stages with his aggressive baselinegame, combining power and spin to great effect. In a thrilling first-set tie-break, he thwarted a Murray pass attempt with fast hands at the net and later clipped the very edge of the line with a forehand winner on set point, leaving Murray incredulous.
Murray countered with depth and precision to turn the match around, finishing with 28 winners to his opponent’s 36. The 2009 Indian Wells finalist closed out the win with his sixth ace.
The Briton did not drop serve in the final two sets, saving all three break points against him. He created 20 break chances on return, including 10 in the opening set and eight in the third. Murray also converted on his only two break points in the second set to force a deciding set. He remains undefeated in final sets this year after a pair of five-set wins at the Australian Open and his four Doha marathons.
“I don’t think it is a coincidence, but last year I lost a lot of them,” he said of his record in deciding sets. “I was talking to my team about it, just saying like the law of averages… this can’t keep going. Once I won one I did feel like I would start to feel more comfortable in those situations. Thankfully that’s been the case. Obviously winning all seven, I’m aware that at some stage I’m going to lose one of them.
“I worked very hard in the offseason to put myself in a great position physically, and I feel very motivated. Even when I’ve gotten behind in matches I’ve kept fighting, kept trying to find solutions… I won some matches that certainly if some of these matches were played last year I wouldn’t have won them.”
Later Thursday evening, Adrian Mannarino spoiled the Indian Wells return of Dominic Thiem, who was playing his first match in the desert since winning the 2019 title. With a thrilling 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) victory, Mannarino won his second straight match against the Austrian, with Thiem now leading their ATP Head2Head series 8-2.
“I knew if I was just playing my game I would lose this match,” said Mannarino, who won 22 of 35 net points. “So I was trying to step up a little bit, be a little bit more aggressive, and it worked out.
“I returned pretty well in the big moments, and I think that was the key.”
In a match full of momentum shifts, Thiem won nine of 11 games to turn an early 0-2 hole into a 6-4, 3-0 lead. But for the second straight set, the man who secured the first break lost the set, with Mannarino rattling off five straight games from 1-4 to force a decider. The Frenchman broke first in the final set, only for Thiem to level at 4-4. Just two points went against serve in the final four games of the match, setting the stage for a dramatic tie-break.
Thiem surged ahead 4/2 with two moments of brilliance. A ripped down-the-line backhand pass followed a drop shot to make it 3/2, setting the stage for a defensive masterclass that secured a mini-break for 4/2. But Mannarino’s consistency and timely attacks proved the difference down the stretch, with four of the final five points going the way of the 34-year-old.
Next up for Mannarino is 19th-seeded Italian Lorenzo Musetti.
With the defeat, Thiem fell to 1-7 on the season. He earned his lone victory against Alex Molcan last month in Buenos Aires.