Indian Wells: Murray Returns To The Big Stage In The Palm Desert

Andy Murray (photo: Michael Dickens)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, October 8, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

As Great Britain’s Andy Murray prepares to meet Adrian Mannarino of France in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Friday evening in his 13th appearance in the southern California palm desert – part of a star-studded evening on Stadium 1 that includes US Open champion Emma Raducanu in her first match since winning her first major – the former World No. 1 resides fifth on the all-time list of ATP Masters 1000 titles leaders with 14. While Murray has won 34 of his 46 career titles on hard courts, lifting the trophy at Indian Wells has eluded him.

Ranked outside the Top 100 at No. 121, Murray needed a wild card into this year’s main draw, where he has a 25-12 lifetime record at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Against Mannarino, Murray wants to show it was a wise investment. His best result came when he reached the 2009 final against Rafael Nadal followed by two semifinal finishes in 2007 and 2015. However, he’s hoping that with this year’s BNP Paribas Open taking place in October instead of its usual early March, coupled with different playing conditions, it will allow him to be competitive.

The conditions have changed a bit this year,” Murray said earlier this week during a pre-tournament press conference. “Not the speed of the court or the air, but before the balls were extremely light, and combined with the very light air I struggled with that and my results were inconsistent.

“But the balls are getting much heavier, which I really like. I like plying with slow balls in fast conditions. I’m feeling it a lot easier to control the ball.”

This year, as Murray continues his recovery from hip refraction surgery, he’s compiled a 14-11 win-loss record spread over 11 tournaments (nine ATP Tour and two ATP Challenger Tour) – including 9-9 in tour-level matches. While Murray beat World No. 4 Alexander Zverev at the Western & Southern Open, five of his losses have been to Top 20 opposition – World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas in five grueling but entertaining sets at the US Open; No. 7 Matteo Berrettini at Queen’s Club; No. 12 Hubert Hurkacz at Cincinnati and Metz; No. 13 Denis Shapovalov at Wimbledon; and last week to No. 10 Casper Ruud at San Diego.

“I’ve had opportunities in those matches that I haven’t taken,” Murray added. “Top players snuff out opportunities but there were also things I could have done better.

“The positive is that I haven’t been losing to guys I should be winning against and in the matches I have lost I don’t feel that I have been outclassed or that it wasn’t possible I could win against those players in the future.”

If Murray can beat Mannarino – and he’s 2-0 lifetime against the left-handed Frenchman – 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, seeded 30th and a recent US Open quarterfinalist, would await the 34-year-old Briton in the second round on Sunday.

Siniakova overshadows Clijsters

The good news is that Hall of Famer Kim Clijsters took a set off Olympic doubles gold medalist Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic during their first-round singles match on Stadium 1 Thursday evening. The bad news is that it wasn’t nearly enough. Through the duration of their one-hour and 36-minute encounter, Clijsters racked up nine double faults and committed 39 unforced errors and the 53rd-ranked Siniakova took advantage of those shortcomings – plus, she hit 22 winners of her own and broke the Belgian’s serve six times. It added up to a 6-1, 2-6, 6-2 victory for Siniakova that advanced her to the second round against No. 10 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany, who was an Indian Wells finalist in 2019.

Clijsters, now ranked No. 1,476, received a wild card into the Indian Wells main draw and was making her second appearance of the season and second in two weeks after losing to Hsieh Su-Wei in the opening round of the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic last week. The 38-year-old, four-time Grand Slam champion  has now lost five straight matches since coming out of retirement last year.

Siniakova, 25, who is seeded No. 1 in the doubles draw with her longtime Czech doubles partner, Barbora Krejcikova, was asked during her court side interview afterward about the crowd’s enduring support of the former World No. 1. After all, Clijsters twice won Indian Wells in 2003 and 2005, and was playing in the Coachella Valley for the first time since 2011. “I get it because I love her, too,” she said.

“It was really special. I was really looking forward to it. I remember when I was young and watching her play, and she was always amazing. So, it’s unbelievable that I could stay with her on the court today.”

During her news conference after the match, Clijsters was pragmatic about her result. “Last week in Chicago, I started off well, but had a few games where I just really wasn’t into the match,” she said, quoted by the WTA website. “Here too, just looking for my rhythm, my anticipation again, reading my opponents, getting used to playing on a bigger court again, a lot of different things. I fought my way into the match well in that second set, and I kind of put her under pressure a little bit better.

“I think overall, there’s definitely moments where I’m feeling really good out there, and there’s moments where I feel too inconsistent. That’s part of this process in general, it’s not going to be a smooth ride, and that’s what I’m going to try to improve every time I’m out there.”

Around the Indian Wells Tennis Garden

Appearing in his fifth BNP Paribas Open, No. 49 Frances Tiafoe led a group of 10 American men in action on the first day of action at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Tiafoe was one of three U.S. men who played their first-round matches on Stadium 1, the largest show court. He faced the often-moody No. 50 Benoit Paire of France and kept his cool en route to winning 6-4, 6-4 in 62 minutes to advance to the second round against fellow American and No. 32 seed Sebastian Korda.

“Happy to just get a first round under my belt,” Tiafoe said in an on-court interview after his victory. “Obviously tonight was up and down, Benoit wasn’t having the best of days, but you take that.”

Also, No. 89 Sam Querrey of the United States opened against No. 114 Daniel Altmaier of Germany, and lost in 62 minutes, 6-2, 6-4. Altmaier hit seven aces and 19 winners while Querrey was undone by 37 unforced errors. The 23-year-old German No. 6 outpointed Querrey 60-40 to advance against No. 23 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Querrey was followed on Stadium 1 by fellow American No. 60 Tommy Paul, who defeated No. 108 Feliciano Lopez of Spain, 6-4, 7-6 (3), in an hour and 28 minutes to advance against No. 28 seed Dusan Lajovic of Serbia.

Other American men in action Thursday included: No. 102 Tennys Sandgren, who needed nine match points to beat No. 92 Thiago Monteiro of Brazil, 6-4, 6-3. The final game of the match lasted more than 15 minutes and it took Sandgren’s 11th ace to finally close the deal on the victory, which advanced him to face No. 21 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain.

Also, No. 57 Mackenzie McDonald defeated No. 55 James Duckworth of Australia, 6-3, 6-3; No. 59 Marcos Giron rallied to beat No. 66 Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, 6-7 (7), 6-2, 6-4; and 145th-ranked qualifier Maxime Cressy came back to beat No. 47 Laslo Djere of Serbia, 6-7 (3), 6-1, 7-5. However, 18-year-old wild card Zachary Svajda, this year’s USTA Boys’ 18 national champion who is ranked 434th, lost to 135th-ranked qualifier Salvatore Caruso of Italy, 6-3, 6-1.

On Friday, No. 79 Jenson Brooksby and No 83 Brandon Nakashima are among six American men in action. Meanwhile, the best and brightest, No. 16 seed Reilly Opelka, No. 20 seed John Isner, and No. 31 seed Taylor Fritz are seeded into the second round and begin play over the weekend.

Thursday’s BNP Paribas Open results

Friday’s BNP Paribas Open order of play

Teen queens rock the doubles

American Coco Gauff and Canadian Leylah Fernandez, two of the brightest young singles talents, make quite a formidable doubles team – and they drew a packed crowd to Stadium for their 6-1, 6-1 first round win over Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania and Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic.

By the numbers

Feliciano Lopez has surpassed 500 ATP Tour wins and holds the record for the most consecutive Grand Slam appearances. Now, after playing his first-round match against Tommy Paul on Stadium 1 Thursday, the 40-year-old Spaniard has set another record by having competed in 139 ATP Masters 1000 events – more than any other player.

“Quotable …”

“Often, what separates the elite athletes from that level just below is that ability to learn quickly and process information. Not everyone can do that, but the top players and the really elite athletes are able to do that.

“I haven’t spent loads of time with [Emma] on a tennis court but it wouldn’t surprise me if she picked things up extremely quickly.

“The last 18 months prior to the grass season and Wimbledon, she didn’t compete a whole lot, which in some ways allowed her to make some technical changes to her game and develop. Usually around that age, 17 and 18-year-olds are competing a lot. They are on the junior tour and drip feeding into senior tournaments as well. Maybe that period gave her the opportunity to fix some technical issues in her game. She does seem to have improved her serve and forehand.”

Andy Murray, former World No. 1 on the rapid rise of 18-year-old US Open champion Emma Raducanu, as quoted by the ATP Tour website. Raducanu makes her Indian Wells debut Friday night against No. 100 Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus.