In Friday’s first-round matchup, Murray twice battled back from behind to earn his 700th career win,1-6, 6-2, 6-4. The win extends Murray’s run to six straight ATP Tour events with at least one win, his semi-final showing in Sydney still his best result of the young season.
“I”m old now so these 11 a.m. starts, it takes me a bit of time to get going,” he joked after the match. “But Taro played extremely well. He’s started the year very well.”
“I managed to start to improve as each set went on,” he said, “and finished off well in the end.”
A pair of five-game runs — one for each man — decided the first two sets. Daniel won the first eight points of the third as he threatened another decisive blow, but Murray steadied his baseline game to engineer a strong finish. In a match that featured long rallies between two steady players, Murray outmaneuvered his opponent down the stretch.
Murray nearly edged in front at the start of the match, creating two early break points for 2-1 in a game that began with the Japanese whiffing on an overhead. Daniel still managed to put the ball back in play, but was easily passed on the next shot. Another missed overhead helped Murray break in the final game of the set.
From 1-1, 15/40, Daniel reeled off eight straight points to hold and then break at love. His sizzling form — and Murray’s struggles to find the court — continued as the Japanese won 20 of the set’s final 22 points, including another love break for 5-1, as he ran away with the opener in under a half hour.
The Briton dug in to start the second, picking up his aggression and moving Daniel from sideline to sideline. A pumped-up Murray converted his fourth break chance of the day and jumped out to a 5-0 lead before closing out the set with his third break of the frame.
He quickly erased a slow start to the third, firing a forehand winner to break back and breaking for a fifth and final time when Daniel went long on match point.
Murray next faces 31st seed Alexander Bublik. Murray is 2-0 in his ATP Head2Head against the Kazakh, including a straight-sets win in Rotterdam last month.
“He’s a very unorthodox player. He’s unbelievably talented, got great hand skills and plays different to a lot of guys on the tour these days,” Murray previewed. “He started this year well, but if I play well, I’ve got a shot.”
Murray improves to 28-13 at Indian Wells, though he has never won the event. His best result came in 2009, when he reached the final but lost to Rafael Nadal. He reached the semi-finals in 2007 and ’15, losing to Djokovic both times.