It remains a real mystery why Andy Murray and Indian Wells are not a good match and following the world No1’s shock opening round defeat to qualifier Vasek Pospisil on Saturday, the Scot admits he is puzzled by his lack of success there.
Murray had never dropped a set to the 129th-ranked Vospisil in any of their previous four meetings but was outplayed by the Canadian, who claimed the biggest win of his career with a 6-4, 7-6 (5) triumph.
For a second time this season, the world No1 has crashed out early to a serve-and-volley player, with the loss to Pospisil reminiscent of Murray’s exit to Mischa Zverev in the Australian Open fourth round last January.
But Murray insists it is not the attacking style of play that threw him off against Pospisil but it was his own serving that let him down.
Murray was up a break twice in the opening set but still lost it, and broke back to draw level in the second but faltered in the tiebreak to surrender.
“My results in my career have been fantastic against serve-and-volley players, so maybe it’s something I need to practice a little bit more,” said Murray after the loss. “But I have never really practiced playing against serve-and-volleyers in my career. But when I have come up against them, it’s normally been a game style I have enjoyed playing against.
“Today it wasn’t so much the serve/volley that was the problem. It was my own serve rather than not sort of getting enough opportunities when he was serving. So I think that was more the problem tonight.”
Anything is Pospisil: This was Vasek’s fourth career top-10 win but first since 2014.
The 26-year-old Pospisil, who had only three previous top-10 wins heading into the match and lost his last 11 encounters against top-10 opposition, was thrilled with his breakthrough success as he booked a third round meeting with Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic.
“I felt like a big result was coming, because I believe in my abilities, but just kind of had to put the pieces together again,” said Pospisil. “Obviously to beat the No1 player in the world is incredible. It’s the biggest win of my career, and I’m just thrilled right now.”
Pospisil, a Wimbledon doubles champion alongside Jack Sock in 2014, had a troubled 2016 season that saw him win just 10 matches, against 23 losses. He dropped out of the top-100 after starting the year ranked 39.
“Just personal things, professional things. Obviously, I don’t really want to get into all of the details, but it was a very distracting year, a lot of stuff going on off the court,” said Pospisil of the reasons behind his 2016 slump.
“Just wasn’t myself really, or the player that I have been my whole career, loving competition and being out there. Just kind of went through a little bit of a lull personally, and just kind of found my hunger again.
“That actually lasted for a very long time, almost the whole year, a long period of time. I learned a lot about myself. And, honestly, it was a good year in that aspect if I look at it.
“I feel like I came out a little bit more wise about life, about myself. I think that’s why I’m also now enjoying my time on the court so much more these days. The last few months I have been kind of stopping myself during matches and realising how happy I am to even be competing and playing tennis.”
Retired boxer Mike Tyson and actress/singer Katharine McPhee watch Pospisil defeat Murray.
Murray has made it past the quarters just once in Indian Wells in the last eight years and it’s only one of two Masters 1000 events the 29-year-old is yet to win.
On his sub-par record in the California desert, Murray said: “I don’t know exactly why it is, because in practice here normally I play pretty well. Some years I played well. Some years it just hasn’t quite happened for me. I don’t know exactly why that is.”
A TROUBLED RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CALIFORNIA DESERT
Murray has lost before the quarter-finals in five of his last appearances at Indian Wells. It remains the only Masters 1000 tournament, along with Monte Carlo, that continues to elude the Scottish world No1.
2017 SECOND ROUND
Vasek Pospisil bt Andy Murray 6-4, 7-6 (5)
After winning the Dubai title, it looked like Murray had got his season back on track but instead he lost to Pospisil for the first time in five meetings with the Canadian.
2016 THIRD ROUND
Federico Delbonis bt Andy Murray 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(3)
Murray lost to a 53rd-ranked Delbonis last year after hitting 44 unforced errors and citing windy conditions as a hindrance. Murray was up a break in the third but still crashed out.
2014 LAST 16
Milos Raonic bt Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3
Raonic fired 15 aces in his three-set win over Murray on the 20th anniversary of his family’s emigrating from the former Yugoslavia (now Montenegro) to Canada.
2012 SECOND ROUND
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez bt Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2
Murray said he was feeling great heading into Indian Wells that year but was blown off the court by Garcia-Lopez. The Brit was unable to convert all seven break points he created that day.
2011 SECOND ROUND
Donald Young bt Andy Murray 7-6 (4), 6-3
Murray fell to a 21-year-old Young, ranked 143 at the time. It came on the back of a first round loss in Rotterdam and a heavy defeat to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final.
Maria Sharapova returns from her doping suspension next month and has already received invitations for Stuttgart – where they’ll allow her to show up two days late for the event so she can serve out her ban – as well as Madrid and Rome.
Whether she’ll get wildcards for the grand slams remains to be seen. A number of players have weighed in on the subject, as you can see in our gallery above.
What do you make of Sharapova's return, should she be given wildcards or be made to work her way back up to the top of the game?
Those following the action at Indian Wells this week may have spotted a tall Russian with a booming serve and a lightning-fast forehand defeating former world No5 Tommy Robredo in the first round.
His name is Karen Khachanov and his straight-sets triumph over the veteran Spaniard was his first-ever match win at an ATP Masters 1000 tournament.
The 20-year-old Russian is the second-youngest player in the world’s top-52 and is one of the ATP’s ‘NextGen’ stars to watch (players aged 21-and-under on the professional tour).
He had a breakthrough 2016 where he claimed his first ATP title, in Chengdu, last October and is already drawing comparisons to his fellow Russian Marat Safin – the retired two-time grand slam champion and ex-world No1.
Safin was one of Khachanov’s greatest inspirations growing up and while they’re both tall, powerful and hail from the same country, a quick conversation with the young talent makes one realise that the most common trait the two Muscovites share is perhaps their big personality, rather than any physical feature or birthplace.
Safin was renowned for his fiery temperament on the court but he was also charismatic and charming off of it, impressing in the press conference room with his quick wit and unfiltered remarks.
Khachanov, unlike some of his ‘NextGen’ peers, who have either made headlines thanks to controversy, or are curt with the media, seems to be at ease with the attention he’s been getting.
“I think I’m a charismatic person,” the world No52 told Sport360 when asked to describe his personality.
“I like to joke also… I think I have a strong personality – a strong and charismatic personality.”
Does he feel comfortable talking to strangers and fulfilling his press duties?
“What do you think?” he replies with a smile.
At the age of 15, Khachanov moved from Russia to Croatia to train in Split with Goran Ivanisevic’s ex-coach Vedran Martic. Less than two years later, in April 2014, he relocated once again, this time to Barcelona, where he is currently coached by Galo Blanco, who formerly worked with Milos Raonic.
“I think I was quite mature at that time in a way to be alone and start being away from home. I think I dealt with it quite well,” he recalls of the time he first left home as a young teenager.
“I got more used to it with time, at the end of the day, tennis players travel all year, so you’re traveling every week and most of the time you’re away from home. Of course at that age it was tougher. At the beginning I was missing more my family but you get used to it as you’re growing up.”
Khachanov does not sound like your typical 20-year-old athlete. He says he spends his free time playing chess, reading novels – his favourite author is Erich Maria Remarque – and Russian history books, and watching “cultural programmes”.
“I like to play basketball if I can,” he adds.
He’s working on his Spanish – which isn’t as bad as he claims it is – and says he regrets not learning it from the moment he touched down in Barcelona three years ago.
ATP’s NextGen at Indian Wells.
In an attempt to promote the tour’s budding stars, the ATP created the Road to Milan, a race for the ‘NextGen’ players that culminates with a top-eight tournament similar to the format of the World Tour Finals.
After years of concern over the lack of emerging talent, the men’s circuit is witnessing promising signs with the likes of Nick Kyrgios, Sascha Zverev, and Khachanov all picking up maiden titles last season.
Khachanov admits he keeps tabs on his peers and is inspired by their success.
“It was a funny thing last year. Sascha won his first title in St. Petersburg, he beat me in the first round. And then I was practicing hard during that week and I saw that he did it, so I can make it also. And then next week in Chengdu I won my first title,” explained Khachanov.
“And then the week after, Nick Kyrgios won his third title, in Tokyo. So for sure we’re watching how the others are playing and it gives us more motivation I think, it inspires us.”
Khachanov’s start to 2017 has been a rocky one. He ended a six-match losing streak with his win over Robredo on Thursday, and it appears adjusting to the intensity of the circuit in his first full season on the ATP tour is proving challenging.
“It’s everything. You have to have a better level of tennis, be prepared physically, mentally of course, to play every match 100 per cent. Because against better guys who are ranked higher than you, you have to get ready and play every match full,” he says of making the step up to the elite level.
Khachanov, who next faces the 11th-seeded David Goffin in the Indian Wells second round, is hoping to make a name for himself although he is aware of the Safin comparisons.
“I think some people compare us to each other. He was one of my favourite players when I was growing up, so I was following him. He was No1 in the world,” he says of the 37-year-old Russian.
“I think I was trying to look how he plays and try to – not copy, but follow his game. I don’t think we have really similar technique, let’s say, with my forehand, but I was looking more at the players who have an aggressive way of playing.”
Khachanov also admires Juan Martin del Potro and says his choice of idols is probably why he considers the US Open his favourite tournament – a place where both Safin and the Argentine both enjoyed their first grand slam title success.
Asked if he has any goals for the season, Khachanov said: “I don’t like to put goals ranking-wise. I’d rather focus more on my improvement with my team, the things that we were working on during the offseason and that we have to keep doing during the start of the season and during the whole year. So then we’ll see where it brings me at the end of the year.”