Friday, March 7, 2014

Federer, Nadal, Murray: Back in business

Roger Federer is optimistic after winning Dubai last week.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Judging from all the talk on Thursday about back problems, you'd think Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were in their 70s instead of their early 30s or middle 20s.
   It's not really so surprising, considering the pounding players take day after day, week after week on the slow hardcourts that dominate the men's circuit.
   While awaiting their second-round matches in the BNP Paribas Open after receiving byes, Federer, Nadal and Murray held separate news conferences. Briefly, Federer's back is fine, Nadal's seems to be fine and Murray's is almost fine.
   Hobbled last year, Federer dropped from No. 2 to No. 6 in the world and failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2002. However, the Swiss star coming off the title in his part-time home of Dubai, where he beat Novak Djokovic in the semifinals and Tomas Berdych in the final.
   "I'm just happy to see that the hard work is paying off," said Federer, 32, "and the decisions I took midway through last year were the right ones because I am playing nicely now and pain-free for a long period of time, which is the goal. Winning gives me confidence and makes me eager to play more and win more."
   With one title, Federer already has equaled his 2013 total. The four-time champion at Indian Wells (2004-06 and 2012) all but conceded that he will not add to his record of 302 weeks at No. 1.
   "If I can't play for world No. 1, I play for winning titles," said Federer, who's seeded seventh in the BNP Paribas Open and ranked eighth. "It's nice beating Novak, but what stands out to me is winning a tournament and holding a trophy in my hands.
   "It was a great bonus to beat Novak on a hardcourt ... and beating Berdych as well. So it's just nice I've been able to beat as many top-10 guys in two months than I did all of last year. Beating those two guys and winning the trophy, it was a perfect week.  
Rafael Nadal called his loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in
this year's Australian Open final "one of the tough-
est moments in my career." Photo by Paul Bauman
   Similarly, Nadal bounced back from a stunning upset loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in the Australian Open final in January to win the inaugural tournament in Rio de Janeiro on clay last month. Nadal hurt his back early in the second set in Melbourne, took a medical timeout and fell 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
   "It was one of the toughest moments in my career," said the top-ranked Nadal, a three-time champion at Indian Wells (2007, 2009 and last year). "It was tough to be out there for one hour, 30 minutes knowing you will not win. That's not the important thing. Worse thing is you will not compete.
   "Was much harder than losing in six hours to Novak in (the 2012 Australian Open final). I had the match in the fifth. I (fought) for six hours -- should be more disappointing that one. For me, it was much more disappointing this one because I didn't compete. I did everything right to be there, to compete for the final, and I couldn't."
   Nadal, 27, described himself as "a great loser. I never think about the losses. Just a few hours, then I forget it, and I try to look straight to the next thing. Is true that after that, it takes a little more time, but here we are (in Indian Wells), and most important thing is be healthy on the back."
   When asked if his back was 100 percent, Nadal cracked: "Numbers are very difficult for me. I didn't make it very well in mathematics."             
Andy Murray said he is close to 100 percent
after undergoing minor back surgery in Sep-
tember. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Murray, who last July became the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, underwent minor back surgery on Sept. 23 and returned at the beginning of this year. Although he has no titles in 2014, he reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, led Great Britain over the host United States in the first round of the Davis Cup and advanced to the semifinals in Acapulco last week.
   "My back feels the best it has since the surgery, so that's exciting for me," the 26-year-old Murray said lethargically, as usual. "I'm not that far away from where I want to get to. ...
   "The last couple of weeks I've really started to feel normal again, and I'm looking forward to hopefully playing some good tennis over the next month."
   Here are links to the men's and women's singles draws and Friday's schedule:

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