Andy Murray has a chance to test himself against in-form Zverev
For much of the 2021 season, as Andy Murray has attempted to gain traction in his comeback from major hip surgery, the majority of his encounters with quality players in ATP events have followed a consistent trend. Murray would compete well in the opening set, fail to take his chances before losing it, then his intensity would fade as he fell to a two-set defeat.
Murray appeared to be heading in a familiar direction against Carlos Alcaraz at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Sunday night as he conceded a tight first set, squandering numerous chances in the process, and found his serve under siege early in the second as he faced four break points – eventually holding thanks to an underarm ace.
But this time, as the match became more physical and the points longer, his intensity rose, he was able to impose his superior physicality on his 18-year-old opponent and he maintained pressure until he had secured one of his better wins of the past two years.
The last time Murray won consecutive matches at a Masters 1000 event, his first event back after the pandemic hiatus, he defeated Alexander Zverev 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 as Zverev struggled badly with his second serve. On Tuesday, in the Indian Wells third round, the pair face each other again.
“The match that we played last year, I’m not saying he was playing his best tennis at that stage, but he did make the final of the US Open a couple of weeks later,” said Murray, who leads their head‑to‑head 2-0.
“I wasn’t physically feeling particularly good and did not play particularly well but managed to win. From that perspective I can gain confidence, [knowing] that, if I play a really good match, I’ll be in there with a shot. He’ll certainly go in as the overwhelming favourite. But if I play a high-level match, I’ll be right in there.”
While Murray should rightfully focus on the positives from what was his biggest ranking win since hip surgery, Zverev will be one of his toughest opponents for some time. Zverev, who the ATP announced is under investigation after allegations of domestic violence from his ex-girlfriend Olya Sharypova – which he denies – has been one of the most in-form players since the summer. He embarked on a 16-match winning sequence in July and August – during which he won Olympic gold – that was ended only by a five-set loss to Novak Djokovic in the US Open semi-finals.
Despite so many tight two-set defeats this year and no deep run even at ATP level, Murray has made gradual progress over recent months. He says he has been able to train consistently without notable issues since the Olympics after months of constant setbacks. In recent weeks he has beaten a collection of players ranked 25-100 in the world with his two tour level defeats coming against the world No 12, Hubert Hurkacz, and the No 10, Casper Ruud.
The question remains how much his level can improve and what exactly would be enough to satisfy him. Against Zverev he will have another opportunity to see where he stands against the very best.
In the women’s draw Leylah Fernandez will face Shelby Rogers for a place in the quarter-finals after recovering from a set down to defeat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. Fernandez continues to roll with the momentum she established in her giant-killing run to the US Open final, where she lost to Emma Raducanu, and the Indian Wells crowds are desperate for the 19-year-old to carry on from where she left off in New York.
Her success has not been limited to singles either. Alongside the 17‑year‑old Coco Gauff she has reached the quarter-finals of the doubles with two straight-sets wins. “I feel like I’m a little bit more confident with myself, with my game, that I’m trusting it a lot more than before,” Fernandez said.
“If it goes in, it goes in. If it goes out, then I just try to move on and figure it out once again. I think the mental aspect of trusting myself has improved a lot.”