The new generation is gaining more and more ground on the ATP circuit. At the Indian Wells Masters 1000, 18 of the 32 players who made it to the third round are under the age of 25With the spanish Carlos Alcarazin the race to recover the number one in the world, and the Danish Holger Rune, both 19, as the young representatives. And although for the second consecutive year the tournament is played without the Big 3 –Roger Federerretired last year; Rafael Nadal, injured; and Novak Djokovicabsent because he did not receive authorization to enter the United States without being vaccinated against Covid-, there are two rackets of the old guard that delight the public in the Californian desert: Andy Murray y Stan Wawrinka.
They, who knew how to be protagonists in the best years of that extraordinary trio and were among the few who could dispute Roger’s hegemony, Rafa y Absent, They are the only ones over 35 years old in the third wheel of the contest.
The 35-year-old Scotsman reached that stage by beating Moldovan 6-4, 6-3 Radu Albot, in what was his first straight-sets win since October. In his debut he had surpassed the Argentine Thomas Etcheverry, 23 years old, in a very close match. Meanwhile, the Swiss, who at 37 is the oldest in the top 100, lowered the Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic14 years younger, by 7-6 (10-8) and 6-4.
After suffering for several seasons due to injuries and physical problems, Murray and Wawrinka are once again achieving good results at the highest level. And although they know that the end of their careers is getting closer and closer, through hard work, perseverance and love for the sport they continue to enjoy and surprise with their talent and validity.
Murray, former world number one and winner of three Grand Slams (the US Open 2012 y Wimbledon 2013 and 2016), he was close to hanging up the racket in January 2019, when in an emotional press conference prior to the Australian Open warned that this would probably be his last tournament, because I could no longer walk without pain due to a hip problem.
Four years later, with a titanium hip, he continues to rack up achievements and moves toward his goal of returning to the elite.
The celebration against Albot was the 491st of his career on hard courts and allowed him to overcome the line of Jimmy Connors (490), to remain as the fifth with the most victories on that type of surface, behind Federer (783), Djokovic (670), Andre Agassi (592) y Nadal (516).
The Scotsman, who in 2018, after a first hip surgery, fell out of the top 800, had already achieved results after that almost withdrawal. In October 2019 he won his first title after two years, in Antwerp, by beating Wawrinka in the final. But only last year he returned to have some regularity.
He played in the finals of Sydney and Stuttgart, a tournament in which he added his first victory against a top 5 player after six seasons (against Stefanos Tsitsipas, In rooms). And after the German contest, she returned to the top 50 after four years. And two weeks ago, she reached the decisive stage in Doha.
“I want to sign good performances in big events again”, said before his debut who has not won three consecutive matches in a Masters 1000 since Paris 2016. “I feel that I am playing well enough to do it. Physically I feel better than ever, like this that if I have to play three or four games in a few days I think I can do it at a high level.At this point in my career, you want to make the most of every opportunity you have to play in these types of events. You never know when it will be the last time“, graphic.
Sir Andywho this Monday will now have another tough game against his compatriot Jack Draper (21 years old), added his best performance in Indian Wells in 2009, when he lost the final with Nadal. Since 2015, the edition in which he was a semifinalist, he has not reached the round of 16.
Wawrinka’s festivities this week in Palm Spring surprised even more. The Swiss, who was able to reach number three in the world ranking and also lifted three “big” trophies (Australia 2014, Roland Garros 2016 and the US Open 2016), has struggled in recent years with injuries to his back, knee, knee, a groin and left foot. The latter began to bother him at the end of 2020, worsened at the beginning of 2021 and kept him away from the courts for more than a year.
The inactivity of almost 13 months caused him to drop a lot in the world rankings: he was as low as 361st last May (the drop would have been higher if it weren’t for the protected ranking that was implemented due to the pandemic). But he never stopped working on his recovery and returned to the circuit almost a year ago.
However, the results were not immediate. He had a very irregular 2022: he finished with a record of 8-14 and only in September managed to string together three or more victories in the same week, reaching the semis in Metz, his best performance of the year. In 2023 he reached the quarterfinals in Rotterdam and Marseille and got into the top 100 againa group from which he had left at the beginning of 2022.
But in Indian Wells he seems to have rediscovered his tennis and, although in the third round he will have a very difficult duel (he will play this Monday with Rune, eight in the world and one of the jewels of the new generation), he is excited to return to the round of 16 the tournament for the first time since 2017, when he lost the final to his friend Federer.
What is the secret of the Helvetian to remain competitive two weeks after turning 38 and after the many headaches that his physique gave him? His love for the job and his ability to enjoy every step of the process.
“Even if some days are not that easy, you always have to push yourself. You have to have great discipline. I love the work and I love the process to get there, so I am lucky and happy to enjoy what I have to do to be at my highest level and also when I play matches. I always enjoy everything I do. If you stop playing sports at some point after you’re 30, it’s impossible to go back. It’s very hard”, he commented in a chat with ATP.com after his win against Kecmanovic.
And I add: “It is a privilege to be a tennis player. It is a privilege to play at that level and in the most important tournaments in the world. As long as I feel competitive with what I do, as long as I feel like I can beat the best players, I’ll enjoy it. And today I feel competitive. I know that when I get on the court, most of the time I can beat my opponent. I’m not young anymore, but I still believe that I can win tournaments. I don’t know at what level, but of course I want to win a trophy before I stop.”
Murray and Wawrinka knew how to shine in the golden age of Big 3: they are the only two players apart from that trio to have managed to win more than one Grand Slam in the last 20 years. Injuries and physical problems conditioned his career. Exponents of an inexhaustible generation, they became competitive again and in Indian Wells they carry the flag of the old guard and dream of touching glory again.