Murray, Ferrer and Tsonga lead exodus from Indian Wells
Shock early exits for Murray, Ferrer and defending champion Ljubicic at the first ATP Masters of the year
Amid talk from the stars of the show about being No1, becoming No1 again, and hoping soon to become No1 -Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in turn -one particular Brit with his own ambitions in that direction was making a shock exit from his first match of the first Masters of the year in Indian Wells.
It seems as though Andy Murray is in danger of reprising his post-Australian Open slump of 2010 as he continues to look decidedly lack-lustre a full six weeks after his loss to Djokovic in this year’s final in Melbourne.
Murray, currently ranked No5 since losing his top-four position to Robin Soderling at the start of 2011, reached the quarter-finals at this tournament last year but won only four other matches between the Australian and the French Opens. This year, thus far, he has lost the opening match in both tournaments he has played since Melbourne, both of them on his preferred hard surface, in Rotterdam and now in Indian Wells.
He was beaten, in pretty routine order, by the 21-year-old American qualifier Donald Young, 7-6, 6-3, in around one and a half hours, but there were two other worrying factors about the loss. As he has on occasion before, Murray looked like he may have a knee problem -though he is still playing in the doubles at Indian Wells.
The other concern was his response to the media after his loss: “I started the match well, and then when it got close to the end of the first set, I didn’t do anything particularly wellÃ¢â‚¬Â¦I didn’t serve particularly well, I didn’t move very well.”
Of even more concern was the tone behind his additional comments: “I didn’t do anything to really lift myself. Kind of the crowd were for him. He started playing better. I didn’t find my way back into the match.” Hardly the mind-set of a player who believes he belongs with the elite in his sport.
Murray’s next tournament is the Masters in Miami. He will hope to draw some much-needed confidence from the closest he has to a home crowd outside the UK.
Murray was not the only top-10 player to fall at the first hurdle of the opening weekend in the glorious sunshine of this mountain-set oasis. The lapis-blue court of Stadium 2 had already seen No6 David Ferrer fall to Croatian Ivo Karlovic in an identical scoreline.
The 6ft 10in Karlovic, at 32 almost of veteran status, has slipped to No239 in the rankings but has been attempting a comeback from an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the last six months of 2010. He has lost in the first round of three of his last four tournaments, so his win was a real shock for Ferrer, who is enjoying his highest ranking in two and a half years and has already won two titles this year.
Ferrer was the first of three seeds to leave the Nadal quarter of the draw.
No15 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lost to Xavier Malisse 7-6, 7-5, and No19 Marcos Baghdatis fell to Indian qualifier Somdev Devvarman 7-5, 6-0.
The crowd-pleasing Baghdatis took out Federer at this event last year, but Devvarman’s off-season practising with Andy Roddick in Texas reaped some rewards. He did not drop a point on serve in the second set, and won eight straight games in his fourth consecutive straight-sets win at Indian Wells.
Also out of the top half of the draw is defending champion, Ivan Ljubicic, who came up against a Juan Martin del Potro beginning to work his way back into his formidable form.
The Argentine, coming to this Masters on the back of the title at Delray Beach, had already beaten Radek Stepanek for the loss of just four games, but the No14 seed Ljubicic proved to be an altogether tougher prospect, despite nursing a cartilage problem in his right ankle. The former world No4 Del Potro dropped the first set, 5-7, before coming back 6-4, 6-2.
His win throws up the prospect of an exciting third round match against the fast-rising No20 seed, Alexandr Dolgopolov. However, there is a plethora of fascinating matches in prospect in the lower half of the draw.
The all-American contest between Andy Roddick and John Isner -both thriving in the hot, dry conditions -will be a battle of the serves, but Roddick’s better movement around the court should give him the edge.
Michael Llodra and Viktor Troicki will play for the first time since the Davis Cup final when the Serb trounced the Frenchman to seal the trophy for his country.
However, the bottom quarter has already featured some of the best tennis of the tournament in a match between No12 seed Stan Wawrinka and a Nikolay Davydenko playing near his best for the first time since the opening week of the season.
In almost two and three-quarter hours of aggressive, fast-paced and needle-sharp shot-making, it was again the Stadium 2 crowd that enjoyed a tight three-setter of high quality, low-error hitting in which the Swiss came through, just, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4.
Since taking up with Peter Lundgren as coach, there has been no holding Wawrinka’s confidence. He won Chennai at the start of the year, reached the quarters of the Australian Open and the semis of Buenos Aires. It looks as though his hard-court game is evolving particularly well, and his mental attitude even better. His next match against Marin Cilic, himself finding some good form in recent weeks, should be a cracker.