In geographical terms, Indian Wells and Miami have about as much in common as fish and chips and ice cream (unless you are Heston Blumenthal). But in the tennis world, the two back-to-back Masters 1000 events that span the west and east coasts of the United States represent something of a holy grail.
Since 1990, only seven men have won both tournaments in the same year. Jim Courier, in 1991, was the first, then Michael Chang (1992), Pete Sampras (1994), Marcelo Rios (1998), Andre Agassi (2001), Roger Federer (2005, 2006) and Novak Djokovic (2011) are the only ones to achieve the feat. In the women’s game, it is just two. Steffi Graf did a Federer, before Federer, by winning them both in 1995 and 1996 and Kim Clijsters managed it in 2005. “I guess it’s hard to win back-to-back Masters 1000s in general because you have a lot of good players in the early rounds,” Federer has said.
“You have no excuse not having enough time off because there is enough time to get ready. It just seems like everybody is playing pretty well because the season has been underway a couple of months. But if you’re hot, like Novak (in 2011) or me when I did it, you can do it.”
Both tournaments – the BNP Paribas Open and the Sony Ericsson Open – have legitimate claims to be called “the fifth slam” and both certainly have the feel of a grand slam event. Perhaps that is what makes winning both of them so difficult. While no one would suggest it is more important, or impressive, than winning a grand slam title, in terms of pure effort, it is arguable that back to back wins are even tougher. For a start, unlike at, say, Wimbledon, where you have a day off between each of up to seven rounds, the matches come thick and fast for the top players in Indian Wells and Miami. To win either, you probably start with a second-round match on the Saturday and then have to cram in a total of six matches in eight days to win the title.
Then, after a few days of rest, you have to cross America, get used to a different surroundings and weather and a different, if not altogether foreign, playing surface and then cram in another six matches in eight days. While the first round of a grand-slam event is, more often than not, straightforward for the top seeds, with a more crammed field of 96, there are usually no easy matches at all in the two Masters 1000s. In the 1990s and when Agassi did it in 2001, the players even had to cope with the prospect of a five-set final, so they were even more like grand slams.
Perhaps it is not surprising but you just have to look at the names of those who have done it to realise how tough it is. All of them, men and women, were world No 1 during their careers and with the exception of Chang and Rios, all won at least one grand slam in the year they managed it. So if someone does it this time, men or women, then expect to see their name on one of the big four trophies at some stage this year.
The phrase déjà vu was bandied around Indian Wells when Andy Murray lost his first match on Saturday night, the second year in a row he has gone out in the second round. The Scot had been incredibly bullish about his chances coming in but will now have to gather himself in time to make a good run at the Miami Masters, which starts next week. Win that, or do well, and Indian Wells will be forgotten. Lose early and questions will be asked.