Former world number one Andy Murray was at a loss to explain how he saved five match points Friday to overcome Czech challenger Jiri Lehecka and reach the Qatar Open final.
The 35-year-old launched into a roar of delight after the 6-0, 3-6, 7-6 (8/6) triumph that took him into his first ATP tour final for eight months.
Murray now has to take on Russian world number eight Daniil Medvedev who beat Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 7-6 (9/7) in the second semi-final.
“That was one of the most amazing turnarounds of my career,” said Murray, a two-time winner in Qatar.
“I don’t know how I managed to turn that match around.”
Murray saved two match points on his own serve and three as his 21-year-old opponent tried to complete victory with his own big serve.
The British veteran, who had a hip replacement in 2019, has now come back from eight match points in four matches at the Doha tournament.
He has fought two tie-breaks and been taken to three sets in every match this week.
“I have never experienced this in my whole career,” he said.
After he took the first set without losing a game in just 32 minutes, Murray had believed this would be an easier encounter – “and then it turned into something completely different”.
Murray had the best of a nervy start by both players. Considered one of the hottest prospects on the tour, Lehecka, who beat top seed Andrey Rublev in the quarter-final, served first, went 15-40 down, had two advantage points and then let Murray take over.
The Czech rediscovered his big serve and powerful returns for the second set when he broke Murray’s serve in straight games.
Murray reclaimed two match points on his serve in the deciding set and Lehecka had three more when serving at 5-4. Murray took the game and held his nerve in the tie break.
“This week could have ended very differently,” admitted the former two-time Wimbledon champion.
“But the way that I have played in the really important moments, the critical moments, has shown that there is a confidence and a belief in my game that has been missing for a while.”
Murray last reached an ATP final in Stuttgart last June. He has not won a tournament since Antwerp in 2019 and has lost to Medevedev in straight sets in each of their two meetings.
Medevedev said Murray’s performance in Doha has been “unbelievable”.
“I will have to be at my best from the first to the last point,” said the Russian.
“He is a legend,” Medvedev added. “He is playing better and better, not only here but in general. He is fighting, it is amazing to see.”
The Russian has now beaten Auger-Aliassime in all six matches they have played, including in the quarter-finals in Rotterdam last week where Medvedev took the title.
Auger-Aliassime managed three set points to take the second set and stay in the match but made errors in the tie break.
Alcaraz reaches semi-finals in Rio
World number two Carlos Alcaraz clawed back a break in both sets and dominated the tiebreaker to beat Dusan Lajovic 6-4, 7-6 (7/0) on Friday in the ATP Rio Open quarterfinals.
The 19-year-old Spaniard notched his third win in three matches against 32-year-old Lajovic, including a quarterfinal win over the 80th-ranked Serbian in the quarterfinals at the Argentina Open last week.
Alcaraz went on to win that title to cement his return from a four-month injury layoff that saw him miss the Australian Open.
In semifinals Saturday, Alcaraz will face Chilean Qualifier Nicolas Jarry, who toppled sixth-seeded Sebastian Baez of Argentina 6-3, 7-6 (7/3).
Alcaraz is seeking to defend the title that made him the youngest ever winner of an ATP 500 tournament last year.
Second-seeded Briton Cameron Norrie booked his semifinal berth with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Bolivian Hugo Dellian.
Norrie, trying to reach his third final of the year, will face Spain’s Bernabe Zapata Miralles, who beat compatriot Albert Ramos Vinolas 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
Alcaraz improved his perfect record in 2023 to 7-0, but he had to figure some things out along the way.
“It was a very complicated match,” Alcaraz said. “Dusan has a great forehand, a great backhand, a great serve, very good shots, and today he has shown it, he has given a recital.
“But I was solid. In the end, I was very happy to have solved those problems.”
Alcaraz trailed 2-4 in both sets, reeling off the last four games of the first before finding himself in another battle in the second.
He belted 32 winners to Lajovic’s 13 and won 16 of 17 points at the net.
But 25 unforced errors contributed to the difficulties that saw him go down an early break in both sets.
In the second, he broke back with a stinging backhand winner to level the set at 4-4.
He led 40-0 in the 11th game only to surrender his serve and saved a set point on the way to a break in the next game that forced the tiebreaker.
“Those moments are where the very good players differ from the rest of the players, and I try to play at my highest level,” Alcaraz said.
Alcaraz, whose five titles last year included the US Open and made him the youngest-ever world number one, was dominant throughout the decider, putting it away on his first match point with a forehand passing winner.