WITHOUT wishing to get ahead of himself – and, with his recent record of results in the Californian desert, that really would not be wise – Andy Murray is planning for the future.
If Scotland’s finest can find a way to win the BNP Paribas Open this week, he will overtake Roger Federer as the world No 2. That would be nice, but it is not an end in itself. That spot just behind Novak Djokovic would give him a very secure position in the draws at both the French Open and Wimbledon, ensuring that he would only have to face two of the big four players in the latter stages and not three, and could possibly give him that little bit of extra help as he tries to win his second major title.
“I think getting to No 2 is not a goal I set at the beginning of the year but it can help in grand slams, seeding wise, and that would be the biggest benefit,” Murray said. “I would obviously like to get there for that reason but not as a goal in itself. The goal this week is to try and win the event, but if I do get to No 2, it helps with seedings at the French Open and Wimbledon.”
The final is still a long way away but, after settling his nerves against Evgeny Donskoy in the first round, Murray finally started to play like a world No 2 in waiting to win 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 on Sunday night. Today he faces Lu Yen-Hsun, of Chinese Taipei, a man he has only played once before – and lost to – at the Beijing Olympics. Since then, Lu has kept plugging away on the tour as a reliable, consistent and awkward foe, while Murray has won his first grand slam title.
“The only time I played him was at the Olympics and I obviously lost that match,” Murray said. “He’s a tough player. He plays very solid from both sides and he doesn’t make any rash decisions on the court. He’s very solid from both sides and, mentally, he’s very stable throughout the match. He plays at the same level most weeks and you need to play well to beat him.”
But Murray ought to beat him and, if he does, he can start to relax. Until he met Donskoy, the Scot had not won a match in Indian Wells in three years. When he dropped the first set against the Russian, it was the seventh consecutive set he had lost in the dry, desert air and that does little for a chap’s confidence. But now that he is off and running, Murray is beginning to feel a bit more like himself, the man who has reached the final of the last three grand slam tournaments. A decent run this week could make reaching a fourth that much easier.
“In the last year or so in the 500s and the Masters series, Djokovic has set himself apart,” Murray said. “In the slams, it’s been slightly different and that’s why I wanted to put more emphasis on this period here. In the past, I have gone into the clay court season quite far behind on points because, despite doing well in Australia, I’ve not done well for a few months after that, which is why I want to play better here.”
At the end of this week, Federer will take a two-month break to recharge his batteries and will not play again until the Masters series event in Madrid. That gives Murray a free run to collect points, perhaps titles, and start the huge task of chasing down Djokovic at the top of the heap.
At the moment, there are more than 5,000 ranking points between the Scot and Serb – and Djokovic is yet to be beaten this year. Here, like Murray, he was taken to three sets late on Sunday before seeing off Italian Fabio Fognini 6-0 5-7 6-2. As the season gathers momentum, the world No 1 is beginning to feel the old winning feeling returning and he thinks he is almost back to his form of 2011. In that one, stellar season, he went unbeaten for 43 matches and six months until Federer stopped him in the semi-finals of the French Open. But, for all of Djokovic’s confidence, Murray does not believe that the Serb can repeat his achievements of two years ago.
“He is playing very well, played well last year at the start of the year but I would be surprised if he didn’t lose a match until the French Open like in 2011,” Murray said. “That would be an unbelievable achievement to do that again with the way the game is now. It’s so physical and demanding, it’d be amazing if he was able to do that.”
In order to get to Djokovic, Murray must overtake Federer and, while that is perfectly possible this week, he can not look any further than today’s match against Lu. Murray may not want to get ahead of himself but he knows that future is looking brighter than ever.