INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—“I don’t know if it’s the conditions,” Andy Murray said after his first-round match here, “or you know, whatever reason it is, but I have never really started this tournament that well.”
The tradition continued for the Wimbledon champion today. Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the breeze, maybe it was his back, maybe it was his up-and-coming opponent—maybe it was just because it was Monday—but Murray looked like a fish out of water this afternoon. Or, more precisely, like a Scot out in the desert. You knew it was going to be long day when he went up a break point in the first game, and immediately started berating himself. Murray’s mood didn’t improve when, after he had lost the first set, a blister formed on his left foot in the middle of the second.
Murray came to the net behind fluttering backhand approaches, and was passed. He tried drop shots when he shouldn’t have tried them, and was passed. In the middle of the second, he shoveled one drop so far wide it looked like he had hit it there intentionally. Murray struggled to generate pace, double-faulted five times, committed 47 unforced errors, and was eight for 20 on break points. All of that despite starting well enough to go up 3-0 in the first set.
“It was a pretty ugly match to be involved in,” was how Murray summarized his day.
Yet he won this pretty ugly match, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4. In part, that was because his opponent, Jiri Vesely, a 20-year-old Czech with good hands and a better lefty serve, wasn’t ready to win it. Up a set and a break, Vesely suddenly found himself unable to keep the ball in the court with his overhead. Two games later, serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Vesely struggled to keep the ball in the court with any shot, and was broken.
Back up a break at 4-3 in the third set, Vesely missed a lax volley wide at deuce and double-faulted at break point. Finally, serving to stay in the match at 4-5, he appeared to cramp; his last forehand into the net looked almost like a relief to him. Vesely is certainly someone to watch in the future, but he ended this day with 52 unforced errors.
On the bright—though not too bright—side, Murray manufactured points when he needed them. He was 17 for 26 at the net, and, despite not having the timing on his approaches, he took advantage of Vesely’s nerves late in the third set by pushing forward whenever he could.
Murray still can’t find a way to start well in Indian Wells, but he has found a way to win two matches without anything like his best tennis. It likely won’t get easier. Murray plays the winner between Milos Raonic and Alejandro Falla next. If he survives that, he’ll probably be rewarded with a match against Rafael Nadal.