Andy Murray ends losing run with victory against Müller at Qatar Open

<span>Andy Murray celebrates his long-awaited victory after the worst slump of his career.</span><span>Photograph: Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto/Shutterstock</span>
Andy Murray celebrates his long-awaited victory after the worst slump of his career.Photograph: Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

Andy Murray took his first step out of the worst slump of his career as he outplayed France’s Alexandre Müller for much of their battle before holding his nerve at the close to reach the second round of the Qatar Open with a confidence-boosting 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory.

Having previously never lost more than four consecutive matches in his 21-year career, Murray entered the court in Doha on a six-match losing streak, his last win coming in October. “The last few months have been really tough on the court for me,” he said afterwards. “Not won many matches and lost a lot of close ones as well, and it was getting tight at the end there. Obviously delighted to get through.”

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While Murray has more physical limitations at 36 years old, many of his recent issues have been due to mental obstacles. In almost every decisive moment over the past few matches, the world No 50 has looked utterly devoid of confidence. On Tuesday, however, he played with freedom and intent from the very first point, injecting more pace into his forehand and looking to dictate with it. He closed off points at the net, opened up the court with angles and effectively utilised drop shots.

After shaking off an issue with his knee, Murray seemed to be cruising to victory while up a set and break before he lost the break and found himself in a difficult tussle. But even as Müller, the world No 75, began to control the baseline and use successful drop shots, Murray maintained his composure. At the end of an extremely difficult tie-break, he won the final three points from 4-5 down, slamming the door shut with a clutch winning backhand return on match point.

Murray understandably celebrated the victory more effusively than he normally reacts to first-round wins at ATP 250 events. After pumping his fist multiple times, the Scot went to his player box to high five members of his team. When the post-match interviewer noted that it was his first win of the year, Murray jokingly raised his arms triumphantly.

“Just proud that I managed to get through the match and get another win under my belt,” he said. “Happy for my team who have been working extremely hard with me, trying to find solutions to get me through this difficult moment and hopefully this is the start of a better run.”

Murray next faces Jakub Mensik, an 18-year-old Czech, as he looks to win consecutive matches in a tournament for the first time since August.

Meanwhile, the Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka suffered a shock defeat in her opening match of the Dubai WTA 1000 tournament, losing 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to Donna Vekic of Croatia. The second seed had not competed since winning in Melbourne in January.

Iga Swiatek, who won the Doha WTA 1000 event last week, defeated Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-4 to reach the third round in Dubai.