Andy Murray rediscovers his aura in time for showdown with Jack Draper | Tumaini Carayol

Flag bearer of British tennis looks increasingly self-assured as he gets ready to take on a potential successor

Late on Friday, as Andy Murray prepared for his second match at Indian Wells, a slice of good fortune fell his way. His second-round opponent, Pablo Carreño Busta, withdrew from the tournament because of injury and Murray instead lined up to play Radu Albot, a lucky loser who has spent most of his career in and out of the top 100.

While Murray would have had a great chance against Carreño Busta, a contest against one of the top counter‑punchers in slow and windy desert conditions was likely to drag on for three exhausting sets. Instead Murray quietly handled his business and won 6-4, 6-3, his first straight-sets win since September, and set up a fascinating third-round encounter with Jack Draper.

For so long, it felt like luck was conspiring against Murray as his initial hip injury and surgery was followed by a string of injury niggles. Then he struggled to find rhythm and confidence last year. The early indications of this season are that his luck is turning and things are slotting into place.

Over the past two remarkable months Murray has demonstrated the full range of his grit and perseverance. He has saved match points in three victories and he was two points from defeat in two others. His comebacks are testament to his improved form and his enduring mental strength but also that for the first time in a while he has something of an aura around him. In the decisive moments his opponents are wary of him again.

In his first-round match against Tomas Etcheverry Murray played extremely well to hold off a fast-rising youngster. He struck his forehand brilliantly, trusting it to dictate while finishing points at the net and moving spectacularly. But it also demonstrated what needs to improve – Murray was wasteful, winning just four of 20 break points, and so the victory took more than three hours. If he wishes to keep improving, the 35‑year‑old Briton has to be far more efficient.

A fascinating match-up is to come on Mondayon Monday between the flag bearer of British tennis for so long and surely the face of British men’s tennis for the next decade. Draper, despite not playing since January, has been on brilliant form in Indian Wells and he followed up his demolition of his first opponent, Leandro Riedi, by dismantling the 24th seed, Dan Evans, 6-4, 6-2.

Jack Draper on his way to beating Dan Evans in the second round
Jack Draper on his way to beating Dan Evans in the second round. Photograph: Mike Frey/Getty Images

At 21, Draper is one of the more well-rounded players of his generation, his big serve and high-octane baseline game complemented by an ability to scramble and attack while on the run. So many well-worked points from Evans were viciously ruined by Draper unleashing enormous forehands from defensive positions.

Although this will be their first tour meeting, Draper and Murray have trained together for years and they know each other’s games inside out. Murray will look to disrupt Draper’s weapons and force a physical match, exposing Draper’s physical limitations.

If Murray wins, it would be simply delaying the inevitable. It is only a matter of time until Draper makes a deep run at a Masters 1000 event. “I think he’s going to be a top, top player for a long time, providing he stays healthy,” Murray said.

As British men do battle for a second consecutive round, Emma Raducanu will face the 15th seed, Beatriz Haddad Maia. The Brazilian is tall, imposing and possesses a big serve but she has the instincts of a clay-court grinder.

She will attempt to drag Raducanu into physical rallies and the 2021 US Open winner will be charged with making smart decisions even as she looks to dominate from inside the baseline. A good opportunity awaits for the Briton as she continues to build rhythm in Indian Wells.


Tumaini Carayol

The GuardianTramp

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