Between snowbirds who flee the Great White North during the winter and fans who gravitate to the underdog, 129th-ranked Vasek Pospisil of Canada had a huge cheering section when he faced No.1 Andy Murray in a second-round match at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday night.
“Every year I come down here I feel like I’m playing for a home crowd,” Pospisil said. “The atmosphere was amazing.”
It was almost as amazing as the serve-and-volleyer’s gutsy performance.
Pospisil, who went through qualifying to get into the main draw, kept Murray off balance with reflex volleys and aggressive play, while Murray made matters worse by serving poorly. In the end, even Pospisil had difficulty believing his 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory really had happened.
“I’m kind of speechless,” the 26-year-old said in an on-court interview. “I wasn’t expecting to come out here and beat Andy. I had confidence in myself but I knew I had to play a perfect match.”
Murray’s effort was deeply flawed. “I started the match OK. The first set was tough to lose because I was up a break twice in the first set,” said Murray, who had won their previous four meetings. He also had reached the finals in 14 of the 16 tournaments he had played since last May, winning 10.
Murray, who will stay here to play doubles, sensed the crowd siding with Pospisil. “The guy was being aggressive, and he came out with some fantastic shots as well, so they really got into it,” Murray said.
Pospisil, who teamed with American Jack Sock to win the 2014 Wimbledon doubles title, said he endured a personal and professional lull in the last year but has emerged stronger. “I felt like a big result was coming because I believe in my ability, but I had to put all the pieces together,” he said at a news conference.
There can’t be many tournaments in which Venus Williams has gone more than a decade without a victory. If there are any, the BNP Paribas Open is no longer on that list.
Williams avoided the tournament for 15 years after she and her father, Richard, were targeted by boos and alleged racial slurs after she withdrew from the 2001 semifinal against her sister, Serena, at the last minute. Serena returned here in 2015, but Venus didn’t come back until last year and lost her first match. On Saturday, despite heavy wraps on her left thigh and right shoulder, she came back for a 1-6, 7-6, 6-1 victory over Jelena Jankovic of Serbia.
“The past is the past, but I’m happy that I was able to move forward and everyone was able to move forward,” she said. “I had so much support today. ... If I wasn’t willing to move on, I wouldn’t be back in Indian Wells. It’s no good to hang on to things.”
Serena Williams, who defeated Venus in the Australian Open final, pulled out of this tournament because of knee pain. “If she could be here, she would. Trust me. She loves it,” Venus said.
Friendship took a back seat for world No. 2 Angelique Kerber as she ended a streak of early exits here. Kerber overpowered German compatriot Andrea Petkovic — a longtime friend and her roommate at the Rio Olympics — 6-2, 6-1, in 58 minutes. Kerber, who will soon regain the No. 1 world ranking from Serena Williams, will next face Pauline Parmentier of France, who’s No. 62 in the world.
“Of course it was not so easy to play against her, and we know each other very long. We have both up-and-downs in our careers,” Kerber said of Petkovic. “I was trying today just focusing more on my side of the tennis court, just being focused on my game, because I think the last three years I lose here in the first round.”
No. 13 seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark easily beat Magda Linette of Poland, 6-3, 6-0, in her first match. Wozniacki will face unseeded Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, who upset No. 23 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, 6-3, 7-5.
“I was happy with the effort. It’s always tough playing the first round here. The balls fly, the ball goes fast through the air and slows down once it hits the court and the bounce is very high,” Wozniacki said.
Other top-seeded women who advanced include No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania, who beat Donna Vekic of Croatia, 6-4, 6-1; and No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who beat Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-3, 6-4. Julia Goerges of Germany upset No. 16 Samantha Stosur of Australia, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
In an earlier upset of the men’s second-round matches, unseeded Fabio Fognini of Italy ousted No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4. But No. 3 Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland defeated Paolo Lorenzi of Italy, 6-3, 6-4, in his opener. “It’s my first win since Australian Open, so it’s been long time and it was good to feel good on the court again,” Wawrinka said.
Also advancing: No. 8 Dominic Thiem of Austria defeated Jeremy Chardy of France, 6-2, 6-4; No. 13 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic held off American Bjorn Fratangelo, 7-6(4), 6-4; and No. 20 John Isner of the U.S. reeled off 23 aces in defeating Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan, 7-6(0), 7-6 (6).
In a late match, top-seeded Andy Murray of Great Britain faced qualifier Vasek Pospisil of Canada..
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