Giving tennis more than a shot

Indian Wells – Did I Really Say “Without Surprises”?

The joy of tennis is when the time comes and you make absolutely wrong predictions. The less fun part of it is when it happens at the expense of a favourite. You can try and be as neutral as you can but it’s sometimes just too much (and if you follow me on Twitter, you know what I mean). Yesterday, Indian Wells brought me both the fun of being completely wrong, and the not fun of having it also happen to a favourite.

 

Because Andy Murray lost last night, in Round 2, to Spaniard Guillermo García-López. The early exit of the fourth seed was, by far, the biggest surprise of the tournament so far (and it was only Day 3 of the men’s main draw!). Surprise exit also for Kei Nishikori, who fell to the hands of a patient Santiago Giraldo. As well, upset but not surprise, that of Viktor Troicki, who fell to Ryan Harrison.

 

The similarity of the three upsets? They were all in straights, a tight first and a much clear-cut second.

 

Upsets in a few names

Guillermo García-López

Let’s give him his due: we haven’t seen Guillermo García-López play that good since the day he defeated Rafael Nadal in the Bangkok semi-final, back at the end of 2010. Proof: his ranking went all the way down to its actual no 92. Last night, however, he played like the top 25 he was at the beginning of 2011: crisp, precise backhand, demolishing forehand, tons of spin, incredible movement. Leagues from the player Andy Murray massacred in Melbourne last year.

 

Murray, on the other hand, was not the same player we saw just two weeks ago in Dubaï. He was not moving well, his shots lacked precision, and, all in all, he was in a fairly bad day. What did not help Murray either was his abysmal break point conversion: 0 for 7… 

 

Guillermo García-López played his best tennis since the end of 2010 when he defeated Andy Murray in straight sets last night (Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

 

The combination of both García-López being in an incredible day and Murray being in a bad one made for what we saw: the biggest upset of the tournament so far, a 6-4 6-2 win from the Spaniard and the second Round 2 demise of the World no 4 in as many years. The upside for García-López is that if his season ends up being what it was for Donald Young last year after defeating Murray in his Indian Wells opener, we’re sure that the Spanish veteran will have a great season.

 

As for Murray, he was still in complete shock after the match but still gave the credit to his opponent. The Brit also stated the obvious as far as his game was concerned: he did not move or play well, something he could not explain as, like he said, he was in much better dispositions physically and mentally as he was at the same time last year. He also mentioned the slowness of the surface, which felt “like clay”. That is also, for those who watched the matches (and not only this one) stating the obvious, as the surface in Indian Wells is, indeed, incredibly slow. Another one…

 

Murray now has many days to recover from the shock and get ready to, hopefully, turn things around in time for Miami where, again, he doesn’t have much to defend as far as points are concerned.

 

García-López, for his part, moves on to the third round, where he will face Ryan Harrison.

 

Santiago Giraldo

In February of last year, after a great start of his season, Colombian Santiago Giraldo reached a career-high of no 44 in the world. Then came a series of little injuries, which stopped this finally promising season start, and he was back to the inconsistency we’ve known in his game.

 

However, yesterday, there was no inconsistency as Giraldo patiently built his game, point by point, to get the better of World no 17 Kei Nishikori in straight sets, 7-5 6-2. The deep, flat shots of the Colombian were a riddle to which the crafty Japanese never found any answer, playing often very short and giving his opponent heaps of opportunities to do what he did: attack with a powerful ground stroke, sometimes a volley, but more often than not with great efficiency.

 

The first set really could have gone either way, as it was a tight affair with both players having their chances on the opponent’s serve. It was finally Giraldo who drew first blood in the 11th game and if all the breaks he’s had in the match were tough to consolidate, for the rest, he was not disturbed until the end, playing one of his best matches to reach the third round, where he will meet Nicolás Almagro (who came back from a set down – again – to defeat big serving Sam Querrey, 5-7 6-4 6-4). If both played like they did yesterday, this will be a very open, and highly entertaining, match.

 

Power, patience, good serving: the keys to Santiago Giraldo's upset of Kei Nishikori (Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

 

Ryan Harrison

This is the upset almost everyone could have foreseen. Ryan Harrison, more mature, calmer, in better shape too, on one side and slumping Viktor Troicki on the other. Since his loss to Andy Murray in Roland Garros last year, Troicki has not been the same (or back to his pre-Davis Cup 2010 final form, c’est selon) and from what we could see of Harrison since the beginning of the year, it really was an upset in the making.

 

That is exactly what we had. In fact, this is the best I’ve ever seen Ryan Harrison play, as his shots were hitting the corners and the lines from every angle, his movement was swift and quick and he was able, for the most part of the match, to keep his cool. Whereas Viktor Troicki was in another of his bad days, hitting error over error when he was not just outplayed by his opponent’s many winners.

 

Ryan Harrison played phenomenal tennis to dispose of Serbian Viktor Troicki in straight sets (Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

 

In fact, the only glitch I could find in the American teenager’s game was due to his lack of experience, as he failed both serving for the first set and the match, which led to a tiebreak in the opening set and to a convenient break to seal the deal on the Serb’s fate. Benefiting from a strong crowd support, Harrison pulled the 7-6(5) 6-3 upset in a little over an hour and a half and I’m really looking forward to what should be a very entertaining match against Guillermo García-López, particularly if both played like they did yesterday.

 

Albert Ramos

Spaniard Albert Ramos really knows the best season of his career so far. A strong start for the 24-year-old from Barcelona, who logged the biggest win of his career yesterday, when he defeated no 16 Richard Gasquet, 3-6 7-5 6-1.

 

All right, to be honest, Gasquet defeated himself as much as Ramos defeated him. Serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set, Gasquet was broken and went to lose nine straight games. A major choke from the Frenchman. However, from the moment he broke back in the second set, Ramos played with much more confidence, made less errors and dominated the play until the very end of this surprising upset.

 

Pablo Andújar

We expected a third-round meeting between seeded players Richard Gasquet and Florian Mayer. Instead, it will be an all-Spanish affair between their opponents as not only did Albert Ramos win, but so did Pablo Andújar, who really surprised again on his weakest surface when he defeated the German 6-2 6-4.

 

We could not see this match, as it was not on a TV court, but the first set statistics speak for themselves to explain how badly Mayer was serving. Just in the first set, Mayer served for four games and there played a total of 68 points. To be fair, it also kind of shows that Andújar was not returning his best (3 in 13 in break point conversion), but he still managed to pull the upset and reaches the third round of a Masters 1000 for the second time in his career (he lost to Kevin Anderson in the third round of Miami last year).

 

A fighter named Roddick

A little word on the matches that nearly ended in upsets, as Stanislas Wawrinka came back from a set and a break down to defeat Robby Ginepri, 4-6 6-4 6-4. Gilles Simon narrowly escaped Gasquet’s fate as he was serving for the match against Dudi Sela, was broken, had match point in the tiebreak, lost the set, and was down a break in the third but finally prevailed, 7-5 6-7(6) 6-4.

 

However, the fighter of the day was, by far, American Andy Roddick, who was down a set and a break against Lukasz Kubot, broke the Pole to love as he was serving for the match and gritted a 4-6 7-6(5) 6-3 win that really felt like he had won the whole tournament. Raising his arms in the air in triumph under the roar of a very partisan crowd, it really wasn’t a pretty win for Roddick, but it was a hard-fought one. Winning ugly, really, but winning nonetheless, which should do a world of good to his confidence.

 

The 2010 runner-up will face Tomas Berdych in the third round and I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping that the former World no 1 will pull the upset. Somehow, Roddick’s trials and issues of the last few months endeared him a lot to the eyes of many fans who did not necessarily support him in the past…

 

He fought valliantly if he didn't do it prettily but no matter how ugly, it was a very significant win for Andy Roddick, who came from the brink of defeat to overcome Lukasz Kubot (Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

 

In come the big guns 2

The other half of the seeded players start their tournament today in the desert of Indian Wells and I am almost afraid to predict anything with what happened yesterday. Then again, I don’t think that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be particularly disturbed.

 

On the other hand, Juan Martín del Potro and David Ferrer could be made to work as they both face tricky opponents in Marinko Matosevic and Grigor Dimitrov. Then again, I think they will prevail.

 

My potential upsets of the day: Ryan Sweeting over Fernando Verdasco and Xavier Malisse over Radek Stepanek.

 

Please note that there is absolutely no live tennis this afternoon in Canada, as Sportsnet seems to prefer baseball and skiing to the first Masters 1000 of the season today. There will be coverage starting at 8:30 PM EDT on Sportsnet One (matches start at 2PM EDT). I don’t know if it will be live or tape-delayed (something tells me it will be the latter) so we will have to rely on the Internet for the afternoon.

 

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