It was match point for David Ferrer, a Spaniard who came into the Sony Open championship on Easter Sunday 0-12 in finals against top-five opponents.
Ferrer’s competitor, world No. 3 Andy Murray of Scotland, ripped a forehand that the fifth-ranked Ferrer returned but believed was deep. The Spaniard immediately stopped play and raised his hand to initiate a challenge.
Cameras showed the ball just nicked the baseline, the sellout crowd of 14,107 went wild and Murray eventually forced the tiebreaker and won it, becoming the first male player in the tournament’s history to save a match point and win the title — 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Ferrer, red-eyed from tears and aching from cramps, immediately told the embracing crowd, after saying, “I’m tired.
“One point. Maybe next time.”
Murray, whose victory in 2 hours 45 minutes will buoy him to world No. 2 when the rankings are released Monday, covered his exhausted expression with his hands, then clenched both fists and pumped them skyward.
“It was a brutal, brutal match,” he said.
Murray became the seventh player to win two or more Sony Open titles, his last one coming in 2009. That is the same year he also moved to No. 2, but for only four weeks.
“It’s taking a little while to sink in because it’s tough to think really at the end of the match,” a soft-spoken and emotionless Murray, 25, said in his postmatch news conference. “It was so tough physically and mentally that you were just trying to play each point.
“I don’t think either of us played our best tennis. There were a lot of breaks and ups and downs, quite a lot of mistakes from both of us. But what I did do was fight hard, showed good mental strength to get through that match because it easily could have slipped away.”
Between both players, there were 15 service breaks in the match — and only 15 holds. In the wacky second set, the men began by exchanging six breaks.
Murray had 46 unforced errors; Ferrer had 48.
The two exchanged extremely long baseline rallies in 80-degree heat, with Ferrer, described as “a human backboard” by a Tennis.com writer, consistently delivering rapid-fire groundstrokes and moving Murray from one corner to the other.
Murray was not as one-dimensional, interspersing slices among his shot selection to offset the pace.
The crowd seemed to savor it all, continually shouting in Spanish and English for both finalists. At one point, there was a fight in the upper level and a man was escorted off the premises. At another point in the third set, someone yelled something in Spanish, causing Ferrer to falter. But he ended up winning the game.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” the chair umpire implored the crowd several times. “Once again, please be quiet!”
Said Ferrer, thanking the crowd: “When I play here it’s like when I play in Spain. I’ve enjoyed the last couple of weeks.”
Added Murray: “The atmosphere on the court was unbelievable.”
When Ferrer was asked if, in hindsight, he believes he should have stopped play to contest the match point, he said: “I don’t want to think nothing. I chose my decision in that moment. It’s a bad moment now. I don’t want to think anymore about that. I want to forget [as fast] as possible.”
Murray was asked if that point was the boost he needed.
“Yeah, well, he actually put the forehand back in play and stopped the point. It was good for me that I didn’t have to hit another shot because obviously on match points it can be tough to pull the trigger. But I went for that forehand, and obviously it just dropped in at the last second.
“It was centimeters away from being his match.”
Ferrer, whose 31st birthday is Tuesday, will rise to No. 4 in the rankings Monday. He said he felt good about himself regardless of the result but was still disappointed.
“Now I am sad, of course,” he said. “I lost with match point up, no? And one ball close.
“But, you know, with [Monday], sure, I’m going to be positive. I did final. It’s very difficult to win. There will be another situation like [Sunday], but my life, it didn’t change for one match. I need to work hard and be focused for the next tournaments.”