MADRID (AP) — The moment the ball hit the net on match point, Andy Murray turned to his team and started celebrating profusely, jumping, pumping his fists and yelling.
It was clear it meant more than just another first-round win.
In his first match on clay in nearly two years, Murray defeated Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Madrid Open on Monday. It was his first win on clay since 2017.
“I put in lots and lots of work, you know, this last little period,” Murray said. “I wanted to go out and put on a good performance. I have had some doubts and stuff about my own game at times over this last period, but I do feel like I have started to play some better tennis."
Playing as a wild card after changing his mind on participating in the clay-court season, the former No. 1 broke Thiem once in each set and made only 13 unforced errors on center court.
The 78th-ranked Murray hadn't played on clay since the 2020 French Open. He said he trained for four weeks on the surface to prepare for his return.
“All matches right now are important for me,” he said. “Playing matches on the clay, you need a little bit more patience on the court, you need to think a little bit more than on the other surfaces. It's been really positive for me.”
Murray won the Madrid title in 2008 and 2015. He hadn't played in the Spanish capital since 2017, the year he was ranked No. 1 for the last time. He also was a finalist in Madrid in 2016, losing to Novak Djokovic.
“I feel very lucky to get to play in these places,” Murray said. “Fantastic atmosphere, not having been back here for a long time. I hope everybody who came to watch enjoyed it as much as I did playing.”
Murray came to Madrid with a 10-8 record. He hasn’t won more than two matches in his last six tournaments. Before that, he reached the Sydney final in January.
Thiem, the former No. 3-ranked player who was a finalist in Madrid in 2017-18, has been recovering from a wrist injury that sidelined him for eight months. He never found his rhythm against Murray and ended with 33 unforced errors.
Simona Halep continued to impress in Madrid by overpowering American teenager Coco Gauff 6-4, 6-4 to make the quarterfinals.
A two-time Madrid Open champion, Halep upset No. 2-ranked Paula Badosa in the second round.
The 21st-ranked Halep converted three of her five break opportunities to close out the center-court match against 16th-ranked Gauff. She rallied from a break down in the second set, winning the last five games.
Halep won in Madrid in 2016 and 2017, and was runner-up in 2014 and 2019. She has 30 main draw wins, behind only the 31 she has at the Australian Open and Roland Garros.
“It means a lot because I feel great,” Halep said. “I like the conditions. The people are very nice to me. I will always have a warm welcome. Everyone makes me feel like home.”
Halep will face eighth-seeded Ons Jabeur, who defeated Belinda Bencic 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in a match interrupted by rain after the second set.
The 10th-ranked Jabeur, the only top-10 woman left in the draw, lost to Bencic at this stage in Madrid last year, and also in the final in Charleston last month.
“I came here to take my revenge,” Jabeur said. “I wish I played like that in the final in Charleston, to be honest.”
On the men's side, Jannik Sinner saved three match points in beating Tommy Paul 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-3. The American squandered two match points on serve at 5-3 in the second set, and another while trying to break at 6-5.
“It was a very difficult situation,” Sinner said after the three-hour match on center court. “I’m happy to be in the second round.”
The Italian next has Alex de Minaur, who beat Pedro Martínez 7-6 (2), 1-6, 6-3.
Nikoloz Basilashvili defeated Fabio Fognini in straight sets to set up an encounter with Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz, who already has three titles this season: Rio de Janeiro, Miami and Barcelona.
The 18-year-old Alcaraz has been attracting as much attention as Rafael Nadal, who is expected to make his return from injury on Wednesday.
The practice courts were packed at the Caja Mágica tennis complex on Monday when Alcaraz trained with Djokovic.
The top-ranked Djokovic is scheduled to debut on Tuesday against Gael Monfils.
More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni