Another year, another early loss for Andy Murray at Indian Wells. Murray has lost his first match in Indian Wells and Miami in 4 of the last 5 of these American Masters tournaments. In each of the past two years, after a crushing loss in the Australian Open final (in 2010 to Federer and to Djokovic in 2011), Murray has come out a bit sluggish in the following months, not really picking things back up until the clay season rolled around. And not that there is any practical difference between being World #3 and World #4, but the slump last year probably caused him to be ranked behind Federer all year.
This year, though, feels a bit different. First of all, while Murray’s loss in the Australian Open this year (to Djokovic in the semifinals) was harder-fought than earlier years, that should be a sign of encouragement, not discouragement. This year wasn’t like the past two, where Murray just didn’t show up and played terribly in his last Australian Open match. He fought Djokovic for every single point and really almost won that match.
Also, there is Dubai to look at. Just under a month ago, Murray beat Tomas Berdych and Djokovic en route to falling in the Dubai final to Federer. He did not look like a man who was defeated or disinterested in playing tennis like he did the past few years. He looked like someone who wanted to build on a good Australian Open and wanted to move on and have another great season.
And finally, there is the way he lost his Indian Wells match to consider. He lost to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who, while currently not at his best, was a former top 30 player who played one of the better matches of his career to beat Murray. It was not like his losses to Donald Young and Alex Bogomolov last year, where Murray played terribly in losing to two players ranked outside of the top 100. Yes, by the end of the year both Young and Bogomolov were in the top 50. But they were not playing like top 50 players at that time. Still, hopefully this won’t be too discouraging of a loss for Murray. He didn’t play a bad match; he just got beaten on the day. We’ll see how he comes out and plays Miami this week. But if I had to guess, I’d say he plays well and doesn’t lose terribly like last year.
Federer’s Chase For #1:
Well, it still seems unlikely, but Federer backed up his statements that he wants to take back World #1 by playing like the best player in the world. Federer beat Nadal in the semis and got help from and upset by John Isner over Djokovic, so those two only earned 360 points while Federer picked up 1000. He still sits 3300 points behind Djokovic, but that lead does not look as insurmountable as it did 2 weeks ago, when it was almost 5000 points. In fact, if Federer can pull off the double and win Miami as well, he will be at most down 2300 points and will pass Nadal for World #2 unless Rafa reaches the final.
After that, things get a bit tougher for Federer as we head to clay. Federer has decided not to play Monte Carlo this year, so that will be a free opportunity for Djokovic to gain points on Federer. Still, Djokovic has over 5000 points to defend between now and Wimbledon. Federer has only 2000. There will be a lot of chances for Federer here in these next three months, especially if he can pick up another Masters title or two and if Djokovic loses early (relatively speaking) again.