Andy Murray pulled off another thrilling three-set victory on Friday at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha, where the Briton saved five match points to down Jiri Lehecka 6-0, 3-6, 7-6(6) and reach his first ATP Tour final since last June.
In an engaging clash of generations and gamestyles in Doha, the determined defence and consistent baseline hitting of former World No. 1 Murray prevailed in dramatic fashion against the greater power of 21-year-old Jiri Lehecka. The Briton recovered a 3-5 deficit in the final set, including breaking Lehecka when trailing 4-5, 40/0 on the Czech’s serve.
“I don’t know [how I won],” said a disbelieving Murray after the match. “That was one of the most amazing turnarounds I’ve had in my career. You obviously had the three match points at 5-4, but also [two] when I was serving at 5-3, and then I don’t know.
“I knew it was his first time serving for a final, so I knew I had to try and keep the pressure on at the end. I know how difficult it is to serve matches like that out, but I’ve no idea how I managed to turn that one round to be honest.”
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It was Murray’s fourth three-set win in four matches this week in Doha, where he has also gone the distance in victories against Lorenzo Sonego, Alexander Zverev and Alexandre Muller. The two-hour, 29-minute victory improved Murray’s record for 2023 to 6-2, with all six of the 35-year-old’s victories coming in deciding sets. He has not won a tour-level match in straight sets since beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the Gijon first round on 11 October last year.
Friday’s late drama came after Murray had made a straightforward start to his maiden ATP Head2Head clash with Lehecka. The 6-0 opening-set scoreline represented a change of tune for the Briton by his own standards in Doha this week, as he stayed solid in all facets of his game to expertly capitalise on a wayward start from his opponent.
Lehecka responded immediately, finding his rhythm behind his huge serve and booming forehand to claim the second set after clinching its only break of serve in the second game. That combination looked set to guide the Czech to victory as he also made the early running in the deciding set. Two breaks of the Murray serve in the opening five games, one of which was immediately reclaimed by the Briton, helped the Czech establish his 5-3 lead.
Cue Murray’s inspired intervention. The 46-time tour-level titlist saved Lehecka’s first two match points when serving at 3-5, but when the Czech opened up a 40/0 lead in the following game, Murray’s hopes of reaching a record fifth Doha final looked lost. Yet some free-flowing baseline hitting, particularly off the backhand wing, heaped pressure onto Lehecka and secured a crucial break. The wild card then held firm in the deciding tie-break for a famous semi-final triumph.
“This tournament over the years has had many great players,” said Murray when asked about reaching his record fifth Doha final. “Federer played a lot, and guys like Roddick and Nadal, Novak has played. Those guys have obviously achieved a lot more than me but this is one small win that I can have over them, so I’ll enjoy this evening and hopefully I can put on a good performance tomorrow.”