MADRID -- 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.
In other matches, 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 Martinez 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 Magica tennis complex on Monday when Alcaraz trained with Djokovic.
The top-ranked Djokovic is scheduled to debut on Tuesday against Gael Monfils.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.