By rights, Andy Murray ought to hate the sight of Indian Wells. The picturesque retirement town circled by the Santa Rosa Mountains looks beautiful, but the thin desert air plays havoc with his game. This is not a happy hunting ground for the world No 1.
Every year he comes to California with high hopes and every year he leaves disappointed. He reached the final once in 2009 but was blown away by a desert sandstorm and Rafael Nadal in more or less that order. Other than that he has only a couple of semi-final finishes to show for his annual jaunt across the Atlantic.
On Saturday night, he added to his list of desert disappointments with a second-round loss to Vasek Pospisil, the world No 129 from Canada in the BNP Paribas Open. He lost 6-4, 7-6 to man he had never dropped a set to in four previous meetings. He could not serve when he needed to and could not do damage from the baseline when he needed to. Pospisil, inset, jumped at his chance to bloody the nose of the world’s best player.
“I started the match OK,” Murray said. “The first set was a tough one to lose, because I was a break up twice in the set. I didn’t serve particularly well, which didn’t help things. And then, in the second set, he started to play more aggressively. He also came up with some really good reflex volleys on important moments and important points.”
This year, Murray thought he had done everything in his power to launch a serious challenge for the title. He won the trophy in Dubai a week ago, he took the first flight from the Middle East to California to get as much practice in as possible and when he warmed up with a first-round doubles match with Dan Evans on Friday, he felt that he was playing well. But then, as has happened so many times before, he stumbled and fell in the singles.
“I enjoy it here,” he said a little sadly. “All the players love playing here. They do make it one of the best events on the tour for the players and, yeah, unfortunately it’s just one that I haven’t done that well at over the years.
“It’s time to lower my expectations every time I come here – getting through a match is a positive step for me and when I come back next year I won’t be coming in with any thoughts of winning the event. I’ll be here to try and win a match or two and if I do that I’ll be pleased.
“This is a disappointing loss for me purely because there was no reason for it. I’d been playing well in practice, got here early, been playing a lot outdoors – it’s obviously a bit different here to Dubai, but I’ve been playing in fairly quick conditions – so there’s no reason for a performance like that.”
At least his position at the top of the rankings is safe – Novak Djokovic, the world No 2 is the defending champion, so even if he lifts the trophy, the Serb cannot add to his points tally this week. Murray, meanwhile, only reached the third round last year and by losing in the second round this time, he has only dropped 20 points. He is still more than 2,000 points ahead of Djokovic as the tour moves on to the Miami Open, the next Masters 1000 event, in a fortnight.
“It’s always extremely different here to Miami,” he said. “So practising here, you can work on some things but when you get to Miami you have to make adjustments. I’ll be spending a lot of time on the practice courts here to try and get better and then when I’m done in the doubles, I’ll be on the first flight to Miami.”
Murray is learning to live with the frustrations of losing in Indian Wells. After a dozen years of disappointment, he is getting used to it.