Indian Wells 2022: Murray marks big milestone against Daniel his career 700th match-win
Murray announced third coaching stint with Lendl before tournament, but is flying solo in the desert
If there is one thing that Andy Murray has guaranteed throughout his tennis career, it is that he will leave no stone unturned in his desire to compete at the highest level until his body—or his family—draws a definitive line in the sand.
That line seemed to be drawn in 2017, after the conclusion of perhaps the greatest 12-month span in his career. He ended 2015 with GB’s first Davis Cup since 1936, having won all eight singles matches plus two doubles rubbers in the four ties.
Then in 2016, he reached the final of both the Australian and French Opens, won his second Wimbledon title, a second singles gold at the Olympics, and three Masters titles from five finals. From early October, at the Beijing 500, he went unbeaten in five straight tournaments, 23 straight wins, to seal the ATP Finals title and rise to No1.
Throughout, he was coached by Ivan Lendl, a prolific champion and world No1 himself—their second partnership. The first happened to be the stretch when Murray broke into the Major hall-of-fame territory guarded for so long by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Back then, under Lendl’s quiet and wise guidance for a little over two years, Murray won his first Major at the US Open, his first Wimbledon title, and a first Olympic gold.
Both spells with Lendl ended with Murray facing injury and subsequent surgery: in late 2013 to his back, and in early 2018 to his hip. And as most followers of tennis know, that first hip surgery was not enough. At the start of 2019, after what many assumed would mark his retirement from tennis at the Australian Open, Murray opted for a more extreme option, a metal hip.
As he explained at Queen’s almost six months later, it was a simple choice: endure pain just sitting down, or give himself the prospect of a pain-free life, even if it meant the end of his tennis career.
It was not the end, though. Even from a ranking outside the top 500 in September 2019, two big wins in Beijing showed that he still had something to give, and he went on to win the Antwerp title.
Not that things went smoothly after that optimistic start. He picked up a hip injury before going to Australia in 2020, and before he was fit again, the tour went into lockdown because of a global pandemic. The season petered out, and 2021 had not even got going before Murray suffered a positive Covid test, and then a groin injury.
Slowly, however, he began to get things moving; he ended the year just in positive number, 15 wins to 14 losses, and edged nearer the 100 mark in the ranks.
For someone of Murray’s achievements, repeated early exits from tournaments must take a big mental toll. But he and his loyal fans could see in his determined battles to make Round 3 at Wimbledon, the quarters in Metz and Indian Wells, and wins over two top-10 players by the end of the year, that he was not out for the count just yet. And the clearest sign came just last week with the announcement of a third coaching stint with Lendl, encouraged no doubt by reaching his first final in two and a half years in Sydney.
And while Lendl will not be in Indian Wells with Murray as the Briton prepared to open his account, he would become a familiar sight again for the second Masters of March in Miami.
For now, though, Murray launched what he will hope becomes an Indian summer in his career against a man he had faced twice already this year, Taro Daniel. The Japanese beat him at the Australian Open, but Murray won their rematch last month in Doha.
This time, there was a significant milestone on the line, his 700th match-win—something only three active men had achieved. Yes, Federer, 1,251, Nadal, 1,043, and Djokovic, 991.
Just why Daniel has been such a tough man to beat was soon clear. He serves with power and variety, strikes the ball clean and crisp, and possesses fast and nimble footwork. With two matches on these courts under his belt in qualifying, he began with confidence and fended off some aggressive play by Murray in the third game to save two break points. He then reeled off eight points to hold and then break to love.
Daniel was stepping in, playing more than a metre closer to the net than Murray, and missing nothing. He even came to the net, picked off an overhead, outplayed Murray in all departments. Having broken again, he served it out, 6-1, with 27 points to nine, 10 winners to two.
Half an hour done, and Murray had to take the match to Daniel: at the moment, the Japanese was controlling things from the centre of the baseline.
He did just that, finding the lines with his serve, getting the ball deeper, breaking in the second game, and taking a 3-0 lead. He broke again, held for 5-0, all the time telling himself to focus. Daniel took advantage of a loose service game from the Briton to break, but Murray found some moments of magic to break again, volleying and lobbing to devastating effect, 6-2.
There was an immediate reversal at the start of the decider, a love break to Daniel who hit some sizzling returns of serve. Murray misjudged a pass that fell in, and netted an easy smash. He had to dig deep to hold in the fifth game, too, roared ‘C’mon’ to keep the set alive, 2-3.
For the first time, Daniel looked winded after a couple of long, draining rallies, and Murray finally got the break back. But the Japanese got a second wind to run Murray ragged in the next game, and the Briton had to hold off a break point, with the boldest of serves, to hold for 5-4.
It was the Briton’s notorious defensive skills that forced Daniel to 0-40 on serve, and at the third attempt, Murray converted, 6-4, in a little under two hours—his 700th win.
Murray beamed: it had been a good match against a man playing at the top of his game. But he admitted that there were still improvements to be made, and little time until he bypasses the clay season to work on them.
He said: “I’m trying my hardest to do the things I need to do to beat the best players. I do think I can get there, but it’s going to take a lot of work on the practice court.”
Make no mistake: He will put in that work—and the watchful eye of Lendl will make sure of it.
For now, Murray’s longevity, in such an era, is to be admired. He won his first match at Queen’s, his first Masters match at Cincinnati, and his first Major match at Wimbledon, all in the summer of 2005.
Seventeen years on, in his 14th Indian Wells draw, with a metal hip, and with the ‘big three’ now pressed by a swathe of equally ambitious young players in the top 10, he still believes.