And although none from the host country had survived, it could hardly have looked better for fans and tournament alike. For the biggest attractions, the four best men in the world, remained in place: No1 Novak Djokovic, No2 Roger Federer, No3 Rafael Nadal, and No4 Andy Murray.
The bottom-heavy bottom half, that would see Nadal and Federer challenged by the formidable power of No6 seed Milos Raonic and No9 seed Tomas Berdych respectively, would wait out another day in the desert, for it was the rather more unexpected quartet of the top half that would be decided first.
Unexpected because neither of the men who took on Djokovic and Murray had been in this position in Indian Wells before.
Feliciano Lopez, playing in the tournament for the 13th time, had never made the quarters here, though he had made four Masters semis elsewhere in his long career on the tour. Could he reach his fifth semi and score his first victory after nine losses against Murray?
Bernard Tomic, 11 years younger than the 33-year-old Lopez, had never reached any Masters quarter-final before, and had snatched the No32 seeding only because three higher-ranked players pulled out with injury. He, too, was yet to score a win over his illustrious opponent, defending champion Djokovic.
But records are made to be broken. Only yesterday, Federer notched up his 50th match-win at Indian Wells to keep his campaign for a record fifth title on track.
Djokovic, for his part, was going for a record-equalling fourth in Indian Wells, and a 50th career title that would overtake his coach Boris Becker’s 49.
Lopez, of course, after winning a personal-best 39 matches last year, was hoping for one more Masters semi, some extra ranking points, and an even bigger scalp than that of No5 seed Kei Nishikori, who he beat in straight sets to notch up his 30th top-10 win. The left-hander, playing an old-fashioned serve and first-strike game, also led the tournament with 46 aces from three matches.
But Murray had a highly significant milestone to pass with just one more match-win. He could overtake Tim Henman’s 496 match-wins to become the most prolific British man in the Open era. Just one more record for the most successful Briton since Fred Perry almost 80 years ago.
Murray also had the advantage of finding his groove against a left-hander the day before, beating Adrian Mannarino in a straightforward 6-3, 6-3—indeed he had practised against Lopez in preparation for that fourth-round match.
Add in the confidence Murray had garnered from an Australian Open final run, a tie-winning performance in front of his home crowd in Davis Cup, and that he was clearly happy to be back with coach Amelie Mauresmo for the first time since Melbourne, and this was always destined to be a mountain to climb for Lopez.
That Murray brought to the table his best tennis of the tournament so far, a superb blend of penetrating serving, angled backhands, tactical geometry and a handful of devastating drop shots, and Lopez could not get a toe-hold.
It was not that Lopez was playing badly, though his first-serve percentage, at only 40, defused a key attacking element of his game. But such was the variety, accuracy and timing of Murray that he did not drop a point on his own serve in his first three service games, while Lopez was pushed to deuce on all three of his. In the fourth game, the Spaniard went 15-40 down, levelled to deuce after one of many spectacular rallies, but netted a drop-shot to concede the break.
Murray could not convert a break point at 4-2, and dropped one of only three points on serve in the set to go 5-2 up. Lopez set the centre court alight with two wonderful backhands on set points, the first a searing single-handed drive down the line, the second a touch winner off a drop shot. But Murray made no mistake at the third attempt, 6-2.
The high-quality tennis carried through the second set, but still Lopez could not get his serve into a groove: He would hit only five aces in the match, hindered by his first serve but also the great returning of Murray. And if Lopez did make a serve and race in for a volley, Murray more often than not drifted an angled pass out of his reach. It must have been frustrating for the naturally aggressive Lopez, who found himself in extended rallies at the back of the court, and invariably outmanoeuvred or beaten for pace.
Murray broke in the first game and consolidated for a 2-0 lead. Lopez at last produced a love hold of his own and suddenly worked two break-back points, but Murray teased his opponent into two more elongated and complex rallies that he, of course, won.
Lopez held off another break in the fifth, and almost did the same in the seventh, until Murray produced two pieces of magic—a cross-court return-of-serve winner a la Djokovic, and then a perfect winning lob to take a 5-2 lead.
Perhaps Murray raced for the winning line too quickly, but the still-battling Lopez edged an opening to make a deserved break, and held serve too. But it delayed what always looked inevitable. Murray was the more complete player, the puppet-master, for most of the match, and he served out this record-making win after an hour and a half of highly entertaining tennis, 6-4.
For now, Murray has overtaken Henman’s tally of match-wins to head the British Open era record book. Three more—almost certainly at the Miami Masters—will take Murray to the 500 milestone.
But even before Murray had finished his match, his opponent on semi-final Saturday was decided. Djokovic advanced without lifting a racket when Tomic withdrew with back injury. And that sets up a mouth-watering rematch of their recent, and very intense, Australian Open final.
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