With 14 Masters 1000 shields in his cabinet, Andy Murray stands as the fourth most successful player at the premium ATP series. Despite one final and two semi-finals, none of these titles came in Indian Wells, where Andy returned last week for the first time since 2017.
Murray asked for a wild card and defeated Adrian Mannarino in the first round to set the clash against the young Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz. Born in 2003, Carlos was only a baby when Andy made his first professional steps, and he gave the veteran a run for his money under the Californian sun.
After three hours and three minutes of grueling tennis, the more experienced player prevailed 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 for his best Indian Wells result in six years! The opening set lasted for an hour, and the battle became even more exhausting in sets two and three, as they pushed each other to the limits despite playing only 17 games after an initial 7-5.
Alcaraz stood as the more determined player on the court, hitting more winners and unforced errors and staying in touch with a three-time Major winner in the mid-range and most extended exchanges. On the other hand, the Spaniard hit only six service winners, a miserable number for a marathon clash, and the Briton forged his victory in the shortest rallies up to four strokes to advance into the third round.
At 1-1 in set number two, Andy went for an underarm serve for the first time in a career, fending off two break chances and taking a close look at Carlos' position in the last point to land a crafty underarm serve that the youngster could only follow with his eyes.
Murray opened a 4-1 lead in the opener after only 26 minutes before losing the advantage following Alcaraz's volley winner at the net in game eight. The Spaniard saved a set point in the tenth game and cracked a backhand crosscourt winner for a break at love in the next one before holding in game 12 for 7-5.
Andy Murray and Carlos Alcaraz played entertaining match in the desert.
Carlos painted a forehand down the line winner in the second set's third game to create two break chances, wasting them and earning more opportunities at 2-2.
Murray saved those and grabbed a break in the sixth game that carried him towards the set after holding in game nine. Andy broke at the beginning of the decider and fended off break chances in the next one to open a 2-0 gap and gain an extra boost after a game that lasted for over ten minutes.
Losing ground, an 18-year-old suffered another break in game five and took a medical timeout for a bleeding blister in the next one. Serving for the win at 5-2, Murray finished the job with a volley winner at the net and sealed this entertaining clash that saw him trying something for the first time in a career.
"I've never done that on the Tour before. The courts are very slow, and I had three aces after a three-hour battle, with one of those coming from an underarm serve. As the opening set went on, Carlos stood further and further behind while returning my first serve, and I wanted to give it a go, as it became impossible to get a free point from the initial shot.
I tried to bring him closer, and that underarm serve worked well, although I did not expect to get an ace out of it. Carlos was so far back, and he did not even react, as he did not expect that. I thought about repeating that in the third set, but the scoreboard was on my side, and there was no need for that. It's a useful move when your rival stands far behind, no doubt," Andy Murray said.