As Andy Murray began a pivotal season in this late period of his career, one of the small, humble goals he has frequently said he hoped to achieve was a 700th career win on the ATP tour.
It is a feat that only 17 other men’s players have achieved in the history of the sport, generally a sign of historic excellence.
On Friday, in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open, Murray pulled off his milestone victory in a typically gritty match filled with resilience in absence of his top level. After suffering a battering in the first set and trailing 1-3 in the final set, Murray recovered to defeat Taro Daniel of Japan 1-6, 6-2, 6-4.
“It means a lot,” Murray said. “It was a target I set myself towards the end of last year and with everything that has gone on the last few years it has not been easy to get there. Great achievement, not a lot of guys have been able to do it.”
Despite being a rare lower-ranked opponent for Murray, Daniel has started the year playing some of his best tennis, which he demonstrated most notably at the Australian Open by handing Murray one of the worst grand slam losses of his career, winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in their second round match. While Murray responded by dominating Daniel last month in Doha, Daniel burst into their third match in three months at a high level. He served well, controlled the baseline and showed how he has infused his smart counterpunching with a heavier forehand.
While Daniel was faultless throughout the first set, Murray’s shot quality was poor as he continually dropped the ball short. But he cleaned up his forehand in the second set and after trailing 1-3 in the final set, he recovered to 4-3. With Daniel serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Murray refused to miss and clinched an essential win.
The victory additionally marked the start of what Murray hopes is a new stage in this part of his career; his first match since he announced that Ivan Lendl would be returning to his team as coach.
Lendl has been one of the most important figures in Murray’s career and he was Murray’s coach during each of his three grand slam victories.
Murray has said that amid many doubts about his ability to consistently compete at the highest level, the mere fact Lendl still believes that he is capable of doing so and was willing to help him has given him confidence. He is planning to begin training with Lendl after the Miami Open.
“There are things I need to work on in the practice court consistently to change them,” said Murray.
“I don’t really have time to do that just now but I’m trying my hardest to do the things that I need to do to compete against the best players. There were signs of that today but it’s not consistent enough and not from the beginning of the match. I do think I can get there, I really do, but it’s going to take a lot of work on the practice court.”
For now, however, Murray moves on in California and will next face 31st seed Alexander Bublik.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism