Andy Murray rolled back the years as he won a ‘battle of the generations’ to sink rising star Carlos Alcaraz and reach the third round at Indian Wells.
The 34-year-old three-time Grand Slam champion edged out a teenager he has tipped to become a future world number one by a 5-7 6-3 6-2 scoreline in an epic three-hour-and-three-minute tussle in the desert.
Murray was handed an early boost as a rusty-looking Alcaraz, ranked at 38 in the world, coughed up a couple of double faults and a surprising unforced error off the forehand to gift-wrap an early break for the Scot to race into a 3-0 lead.
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The Spaniard was playing competitively for the first time since his US Open quarter-final retirement through injury and he struggled to find rhythm and accuracy in the early exchanges. Murray had a huge opportunity to secure a double break but couldn’t convert four chances and the Murcia-born teenager was able to wriggle free and get on the board.
It proved highly significant as Alcaraz, who was making his debut at the tournament, began to find the right blend of power and accuracy off his potent forehand weapon. The No.30 seed started to dominate the rallies but Murray was his own worst enemy in allowing the youngster to break back in Game 7 with a series of errors and poor shot selection.
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The former world number one steadied the ship and did have a set point at 5-4 on the Alcaraz serve, but it wasn’t to be and the teenager took full advantage to break to love for a 6-5 lead via a ferocious crosscourt backhand. The momentum had clearly been shifting and Alcaraz completed a fine recovery to take the opening set by serving out from deuce on a second set point after a pulsating one hour and seven minutes.
Alcaraz chalked up two more break points in Game 3 of Set 2 that Murray swatted away before stunning everyone watching by holding with an ice-cool and totally unexpected underarm serve.
The Scot faced more break points in his next service game but once again produced clutch tennis under pressure in an 11-minute examination to survive and nudge the board in his favour.
The hard work paid dividends as Alcaraz dumped a volley into the net to allow Murray to break right after and move 4-2 ahead. The former world number one then held firm to serve out the set with a helping hand from a couple of basic errors from his opponent to force the decider.
Murray rode his momentum into the start of the third and immediately broke before hanging on in an epic second game to consolidate.
Alcaraz’s level was clearly dipping and he appeared to be limping slightly, but Murray’s switch of tactics to lure errors from longer rallies was the key to his success.
An insurance break followed and the Brit finished off the job to set up a showdown with No.3 seed Alexander Zverev in round three.
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Meanwhile, in the women’s draw, second seed Iga Swiatek eased into the last 16 with an emphatic 6-1 6-0 win over Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova.
The Pole, who met up with Murray for a chat on the eve of this clash after identifying him as her ideal hitting partner in an interview with the Tennis Channel, never looked in danger in a one-sided affair.
Swiatek broke early against an error-strewn opponent and coolly dismantled the No.25 seed, firing down an ace to complete an opening set breadstick in just 27 minutes.
The 2020 French Open champion then broke again right at the start of Set 2 with a sizzling crosscourt backhand and the 20-year-old surged away from there to clinch victory with a bagel.
Swiatek will now face No.24 seed Jelena Ostapenko or Yulia Putintseva in the last 16.
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