Former world number one, Andy Murray, showed Carlos Alcaraz, at 18-years of age and in his view, very much a prospective future candidate for that spot, that the road to the top won’t be an easy one as the three-time grand slam champion rallied against him to win his second-round match at the Indian Wells Masters.
He's obviously got so much potential, so much firepower and these conditions it's not easy to finish points off quickly, but he's able to because he has so much pace from the back of the court. So I had to fight extremely hard, coming back from a set down Andy Murray
The Brit, a wild card entry, beat the teenager 5-7 6-3 6-2 after three hours and four-minutes to progress into the third round of the BNP Paribas tournament where he will face the third seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany, showed that it isn’t just talent that wins matches, but that it also requires a certain amount of determination coupled with a fighting spirit as well as experience.
The 34-year-old Scot, who is still battling to return from injury that has seen his ranking fall to 121 in the world, raced to an early 3-0 lead before Alcaraz – who reached the last eight at Flushing Meadows a few weeks ago – found his range and regained the break.
After saving a set point the teenager broke Murray for a second time to take the opening set, but then, as in the first set, the Scot gained the opening break in the second set which he didn’t relinquish, making just eight unforced errors in that set to his opponent’s 14.
But, in trademark fashion, Murray dug deep and battled back, resorting at one point, to using a perfectly legal underarm serve to win the third game of the second set which rather threw Alcaraz and led the crowd to boo the Scot when he returned to his chair.
Later, when asked about that underarm serve, Murray told Eurosport: “Yeah, well, he started standing further back to return the first serve. And I mean the courts are painfully slow here.
“I wasn’t getting many free points on my first serve. I served three aces the whole match and one of them was the underarm serve so…
“I was thinking about using it again in the third set but didn’t. But yeah, first time I’ve ever done it in a match and got the ace. So maybe I’ll try it again in future if guys are standing that far back.”
He maintained his momentum in the third set with another early break and then saved four break points in the next game to consolidate his advantage which he increased with another break in his run to the finish line.
“He’s obviously got so much potential, so much firepower and these conditions it’s not easy to finish points off quickly, but he’s able to because he has so much pace from the back of the court,” Murray said of Alcaraz. “So I had to fight extremely hard, coming back from a set down.
“I felt like in the second set he played maybe better. First set I felt like I had more of the opportunities but didn’t get it so yeah, happy with the way I fought.”
On his overall performance, he reiterated what he has said previously over the last few months: “I feel like I can still compete at the top of the game regardless of how many people tell me to stop and I shouldn’t keep going or whatever.
“To play in front of a pretty packed crowd here at this event, it was a brilliant atmosphere and I enjoyed it. It’s why I’m still playing.”
He will be assured another packed crowd when he takes on Zverev on Tuesday who survived a tricky three-set encounter with Jenson Brooksby before beating the American 6-4 3-6 6-1.
The 20-year old from Sacramento, who will be celebrating his birthday in a few days time, frustrated Zverev with his game and by the manner in which he contained the German’s big serve but in the end, the power of the world number four’s shots proved too much for the young American.
“He’s a tricky player,” Zverev said later, “He’s young, motivated…He wasn’t giving me anything.”
Turning his attention to his match-up with Murray, he pointed out: “He’s the only one of the Big 4 I haven’t beaten!”
Meanwhile Stefanos Tsitsipas, the second seed from Greece, stormed into the third round for the first time in his career by beating Spaniard Pedro Martinez 6-2 6-4 under lights to set up a clash with Italy’s Fabio Fognini.
“Well it’s been a great night for me. The first time playing a night session here on this court,” Tsitsipas, making only his third appearance at the event, said.
Tsitsipas fired 23 winners, including 12 in the second set, and made only six unforced errors in the match.
“I’m pretty happy with the way I fought and found a way to clinch that victory at the end,” Tsitsipas said, before turning his attention to Fognini, who went through with a 6-4 4-6 6-3 win over German Jan-Lennard Struff.
“I’ve played Fognini before,” Tsitsipas added of their two previous meetings, both of which the Greek won in straight sets. “I’m looking forward to that match.”
In other matches, fifth-seeded Italian Matteo Berrettini defeated Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo 6-4 7-5 and Italy’s Jannik Sinner, seeded 10th, downed Australian John Millman 6-2 6-2.
Spain’s Albert Ramos Vinolas produced an upset, ousting seventh-seeded Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4 6-2 who wasn’t the only seed to suffer as the Italian Lorenzo Sonego, the 17th, was ousted in a tight 7-6(7) 7-6(3) match by South Africa’s veteran Kevin Anderson.