British teenager Andy Murray has claimed his first ATP Tour title with a thrilling win over Australian ace Lleyton Hewitt in the final of the SAP Open in San Jose.
Murray was playing in just his second final on the top-flight circuit after losing in the Bangkok decider to world number one Roger Federer last October.
But the 18-year-old went into the match full of confidence after his career-best 7-5 7-5 semi-final success over top-seeded American Andy Roddick.
This time he showed he has the battling qualities to come from behind against one of the world’s top players to secure a 2-6 6-1 7-6 (7-3) success.
“It’s the biggest moment in my life in tennis so far,” said Murray, who raced into the crowd to kiss his girlfriend after clinching victory. “I got a little too nervous but I managed to come through.
“I woke up at 3am and couldn’t sleep because it was hard to come to terms with the fact that I’d beaten a former number one in the world in Roddick, but then I woke up this morning feeling pretty good. I controlled my emotions well out there and it feels pretty good right now.
“I made too many mistakes in the first set, but once I got my first break I started playing more aggressively and with more confidence.
“My confidence is going to be a bit higher now as well. Those are the first two guys I’ve beaten in the top 10 and I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks.”
And Murray, who now moves on to Memphis this week, certainly made an impression on former Wimbledon and US Open winner Hewitt.
The Australian said: “I guess there haven’t been too many 18-year-olds in the last five years or so with that kind of skill. He hits the ball extremely well, he mixes it up extremely well. He can dictate when he wants to, but he is also very good on the defence.
“I think he’s a guy who’s confident out there and that’s what it takes to make it on the tour at a young age.
“Murray’s going to continue to get better and better in the next few years and people will see a lot more of him.
“He’s a great prospect for British tennis. He mixes his pace on his serve and groundstrokes too. He changes things up out there and it’s one of the best parts of his game. He’s definitely got firepower to use.”
Third seed Hewitt, who will be 25 on Friday, has amassed over £9m (€13.1m) in prize money and his 24 ATP Tour victories include this title in 2002.
Murray, meanwhile, was the youngest player to reach the Bay Area tournament final since 1988, when 16-year-old Michael Chang won in San Francisco.
It was no surprise then when the Australian gained the early initiative by saving a break point on his own serve in the first game and then breaking Murray to go 2-0 ahead.
Murray, 18, hit back immediately with a break of his own but soon found himself 4-2 down after Hewitt secured his second break in game six.
Hewitt had little trouble in holding his serve in game seven and then wrapped up the set with another break.
What Murray lacks in experience, however, he makes up for in heart, and the youngster rekindled his hopes of victory by twice breaking Hewitt at the start of the second set.
With the Scot also holding his own serve twice, Murray was soon 4-0 up and looking good to take the match into a deciding set.
And that is exactly what happened when yet another break of Hewitt’s serve three games later allowed Murray to take the set.
“It was important for me to break in the first game of the second set,” said Murray. “I didn’t want to play catch-up with a guy as good as Lleyton. When I got that break, it gave me a little confidence.”
Murray also made a flying start to the final set when breaking Hewitt in the second game, but the Australian immediately hit back with a break of his own.
Hewitt is not known for his fighting qualities for nothing, and the Australian then saved three break points to make it 2-2.
The tension grew even further as both players suffered another break of serve before Hewitt held for 4-4.
Hewitt saved two match points when 5-4 and 6-5 down, both times with aces of 122mph and 119mph, as the epic tussle went to sudden death.
But Murray would not be denied victory as he took the tie-break 7-3.
“The thing that had me going was that I was in the finals with a former world number one in a tie-break situation – and that’s not a bad place to be at 18,” said the Scot.