INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—When you touch down in the desert in the middle of March, they pretty much know why you’re there. They plant a big-ass screen right at the arrivals gate and the tennis players loom nearly life-sized. That’s how it was possible to know, within 15 minutes of landing, that Andy Murray was going to faceplant onto the cakewalk of a draw he’d lucked into.
Vasek Pospisil, ranked No. 129, fought through two rounds of qualifiers just to make the main draw, won his first-round match, and took the first set from Andy Murray on Saturday night. In the second-set tiebreak, Murray nullified three match points, but Pospisil cashed out on the fourth, notching the finest upset of his career and inspiring that rare thing, a good hashtag: #AnythingIsPospisil. For the second straight year, Murray slips out of Indian Wells in the second round. (Silver lining here for the world’s top player: Because of his similarly weak showing last year, he wasn’t defending big ranking points here, so he won’t need to worry about slipping down the standings.)
That was the fate of the top seed—onto the others.
The 2-seed Novak Djokovic might have panicked briefly against Kyle Edmund, who was smiting forehands into the corners of the court, making the crowd exhale as sharply as if they’d taken those tennis balls straight to the gut. One of Djokovic’s hitting partners, who’s played practice matches against Edmund, told me during the match that the way he takes his racket back on his forehand swing cleverly disguises where he’s going to put the ball. Then, suddenly, Edmund puts it there, extremely fast, and you’ve got to wake up and retrieve it. Djokovic, looking a little nervy, still read Edmund well enough to fight back from 0-3 down in the second set and win the match, 6-4, 7-6 (5).
Thanks to a first-round bye, 3-seed Stan Wawrinka has yet to play a match; he gets Philipp Kohlschreiber today. Correction: Wawrinka beat Paolo Lorenzi 6-4, 6-3 Saturday in his second-round match.
The 4-seed Kei Nishikori took down Daniel Evans. As smooth as his game looks on screen, the undersized Nishikori labors a lot harder than his peers, and up close you could see the evidence: he way he sinks deep into a horse-riding stance on return, his calves pulsing; the way he adjusts his white hat in between points, looking straight up in dismay, as if awaiting some cool relief from the sky. Evans had so much more pace at his disposal—especially on serve and forehand—and occasionally he’d use it to break through Nishikori’s artfully consistent and precise baseline play. But if Nishikori managed to sucker him into trading backhands, as he did time and time again, the point was inevitably his.
Superficially, the 5-seed Rafael Nadal looks different these days, but not in any ways that really matter. Even from across the court, his scalp is pinkishly visible through the thinning coat up there—the cascading locks long gone—but he’s still strong as hell, and when he bashes a forehand the remaining hairs stand up straight on his head, and a nice older lady in a sunhat might whisper “Oh my word.” Take a look at one in slow motion, and you’ll understand why Guido Pella went down easy, 6-3, 6-2.
Peering down at the toughest quarter of the draw, you’ll find that 9-seed Roger Federer dissected Stephane Robert in 51 minutes, a performance at once methodical and magical. He’d never played Robert before, but it didn’t matter, because Federer does things like this on a regular basis:
Meanwhile, 31-seed Juan Martin del Potro defeated countryman Federico Delbonis in two sets in the hot sun, as the back of his kelly green shirt slowly darkened in a perfectly symmetrical ink blot. Though the titan continues to hide his weak backhand, his forehand as as huge as ever, and will offer your lucky ears the most gratifying, meatiest tennis ball thud heard anywhere on the grounds. He also pulled off the shiniest trick shot of the day:
Tomorrow del Potro faces Djokovic in the third round, offering a rematch of their Acapulco showdown two weeks ago, and the first must-see matchup in this quarter of death.