Andy Murray won in straight sets for the first time this year as he lit up the Palm Springs sunshine with a confident victory over lucky loser Radu Albot in Indian Wells.
The 35-year-old’s previous seven victories in 2023 had all gone the distance - across the Australian Open and a run to the final at the Qatar Open in Doha - but he finally got a win without the need for a decider as he took care of business 6-4, 6-3 in one hour 40 minutes.
The former World No.1 was expecting to be facing Pablo Carreno Busta in the second round in California, a player he had never faced before. However, earlier on Saturday the Spanish 15th seed was forced to withdraw from the BNP Paribas Open with a muscle injury.
That meant Murray would instead face another man he had never met on court before, Moldova’s Albot, who had lost in qualifying but was able to step in as Carreno Busta hadn’t played yet. The match began with both players feeling the other out, with Murray tending to win the longer rallies.
The Scot was bemused in game six when umpire Mohamed Lahyani gave him a time warning whilst he was the returner, a move that seemed to irk the three-time Grand Slam winner for much of the first set.
But he was serving well and winning 90% of points when his first serve found its mark and both players held serve with Murray leading 5-4. Albot was feeling the most pressure on his serve and had saved four break points at this point with Murray not facing one. And Murray’s intensity on the return paid off when it really mattered, as he carved out two set points, converting on the first.
Albot had to change it up and he showcased his resolve when he gave Murray a taste of his own medicine, catching the Scot out with a sumptuous lob early in the second set. But just like the first, the Moldovan was clinging on to his serve by the finest of margins, fending off break points as the players sat down at 3-2 Murray.
However, the Scotsman has made a habit of getting what he wants, finally making the breakthrough after Albot had overcooked a forehand, and he consolidated to lead 5-2 to put himself just a game away.
It’s been a year of first time meetings for Murray on the ATP tour so far this season and he set up another - this time with fellow Brit Jack Draper - as he closed out the match when he forced Albot wide with some classic Murray groundstrokes.