Murray refused to give ground to Andrei Pavel, a 31-year-old Romanian with more guile than his three ATP Tour titles credit him with. Playing impressively measured strokes, Murray broke Pavel to love in the opening game and came back strongly after losing his own serve at 2-1 to break twice more for the opening set after 36 minutes.
Pavel unsettled Murray by breaking in the opening game of the second set and produced a service winner to save Murray's only break point, at 4-3. The Romanian broke a second time in the ninth game to level the match.
Although Murray took the initiative in the third set, breaking for 2-1 aided by his opponent double-faulting to 30-40 Pavel recovered and broke back to 2-2. After saving a break point at 3-3, Pavel made the decisive break for 5-3, and Murray threw his racket in frustration.
He quickly recovered his composure and in the fourth set played with the assurance he displayed in the first. He won the opening three games, breaking for 2-0 with a breathtaking backhand cross-court pass. Murray broke again for 5-1 before serving out to level the match at 2-2.
The fifth set contained enough drama to fill a tournament. Murray broke Pavel immediately but, at the changeover at the end of the third game, the young Scot was suddenly taken ill and appeared to vomit by the side of the court. Murray took plenty of fluids on board during a 21-minute delay and, when he did get back on court, was immediately broken.
However, showing tremendous fighting spirit, Murray broke back in the seventh game and went on to win the decider 6-4.
Murray was the last Briton standing.
The Scot's ageing compatriots come next Tuesday, Tim Henman will be 31 and Greg Rusedski 32 were already booking their flights home.
Henman, unable to cope with stabbing pain in his lower back and the shots of the Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco, was defeated 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
Rusedski, who had an opportunity to take both the first and second sets, was defeated by the inspired American James Blake 7-5, 7-6, 6-3.
It is a long time since Henman has looked so ill at ease. The British No 1, nursing a recurrence of lower-back trouble caused by two degenerative discs, was able to show little flair and even struggled with the basics of his game.
Henman, who last year advanced to the semi-finals before being beaten by Roger Federer , will see his world ranking drop from 12th to between 25 and 30 as a consequence of yesterday's loss.
Moving with increasing difficulty as the match wore on, Henman's challenge lasted only an hour and 45 minutes and was rarely able to trouble the 48th-ranked Verdasco.
"In my second service game my back tightened up and got tighter and tighter as the match went on," said Henman. He added that he had only recently started to enjoy his tennis again after feeling in the first six or seven months of the season "that for the first time I was a little burnt out after the number of years I've been playing."
He said he was determined not to let this latest setback dampen his enthusiasm and that he would use his fall in the rankings as "a motivating factor" in his five remaining tournaments of the year.
Rusedski, who had a set point at 5-4 in the opening set and two set points at 6-5 in the second set before losing a tie-break, 7-3 after being 3-1 up, praised the play of Blake, who hit umpteen passing shots. "He was hot and couldn't miss anything today," Rusedski said.
Blake, who was given a wild card, proved he deserved it by winning last week's tournament in New Haven, raising his ranking to 49th. "You have to give James credit," Rusedski said. "He hit some fantastic shots. I didn't take my chances in the first set. I missed a few backhands. Then, in the second set, I had two set points and he hit two aces." Federer opened the defence of his title with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 win against the Czech Ivo Minar. The world No 1 was on court for only 61 minutes. And his dominating display came after Britain's Davis Cup captain, Jeremy Bates, announced his squad to play Switzerland in Geneva.
Bates said he thought Murray would be capable of facing the might of Federer and then playing two more best-of-five-sets matches over three days in next month's tie on clay.
"Andy would make himself do it," said Bates, who named the Scot as No 2 to Rusedski for the tie.Reuse content