Andy Murray close to becoming World No 2, says Barry Cowan
Barry Cowan says it's now only a matter of when, not if, Andy Murray becomes World No 2.
Last Updated: 08/03/13 9:42am
Murray will leapfrog Roger Federer in the rankings if he wins at Indian Wells and, even if he doesn't, he will make that step up soon enough and that could have a crucial bearing on his French Open chances.
In fact Murray doesn't even have to be crowned Indian Wells champion to become No 2 if he makes the final and Federer fails to reach the last four - and given that the Swiss should meet Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals, that's not a given.
I've no doubt that Nadal, buoyed by his victory at the Mexican Open, will be itching to have a crack at Federer and Murray alike.
Personally, I don't think Federer has a realistic shot at being World No 1 again - certainly not at the moment, given that he is missing Miami and Monte Carlo, whereas Murray's going to have a full schedule and is only going to close the gap.
It's been a while since Novak Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal competed in the same tournament - Wimbledon was the last time - so the stage is set for what should be an enthralling week.
The opening Masters 1000 event of the year will be Murray's first tournament since the Australian Open and I think he was right to take such a healthy lay-off.
Some of his previous losses at the Australian have hit him hard but this year it was different because he had a Grand Slam to his name.
As much as losing will have hurt him, we shouldn't focus entirely on his defeat in the final because there were so many positives to take from the way he attacked the tournament.
On a different day Murray might have been 2-0 up and there are no doubts in my mind that he will be ready and will have a great Indian Wells.
There's no way Ivan Lendl will let him get away with putting in anything other than a committed performance - mentally he'll be there right from the way go.
Finding a way to topple Djokovic is the ultimate challenge right now. His game was mightily impressive in Dubai and I think he's in a better position now going into Indian Wells than he has probably ever been - including 2011, when he had that incredible run winning Indian Wells and Miami and dominated in Rome and Madrid.
Djokovic has yet to lose this year and the way he's taken care of his opponents means that he's not had to rely on counter-attack tennis. He's playing aggressive tennis, he's serving great and he's winning the big points.
He's now won 13 games in a row against top 10 players since he lost to Murray at the US Open, which is truly remarkable. Unsurprisingly, his confidence is sky high.
Meanwhile, Nadal's confidence is growing and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the hard courts.
In some ways this is a 'free week' for him; despite what he achieved in South America, Indian Wells is still primarily the next step in his rehabilitation towards achieving full fitness in time for the claycourt season.
Top players like Nadal never admit to having doubts while they are going through difficult moments - they wait until they have come through it - and I'm sure that Nadal will have had a lot of doubts as to whether he could compete against really good players like Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer.
The fact that Nadal played as well as he did in the final against Ferrer - he basically destroyed him - will have no doubt buoyed Rafa. Yes, Ferrer was poor but Nadal made him play poorly.
His results over the last three weeks prove that he's on an upward curve and one of his undoubted strengths is his ability to re-gather and move on, no matter how well or poorly he plays.
There are signs too that Ernests Gulbis is rediscovering his form.
The 24-year-old became the first guy in over a year to come through qualifying and win a title at Delray Beach proving what we've always known - that beneath that volatile exterior, he's a very talented player.
Gulbis is now back up to world 67 and has qualified for Indian Wells, so there are definite signs of improvement. Hopefully it won't be long until he starts playing the sort of tennis that he enabled him to climb up to world 21 only a couple of years ago.
It sounds obvious but without hard work you won't keep up with the best for long periods. If you're good enough you can get a streaky win, like the one he had against Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon, but to win consistently you have to apply yourself.
I remember him saying after the Australian Open that he'd decided to cut out drinking and smoking - you would have thought that was a given as a tennis player but clearly his priorities have not been hitting as many tennis balls as possible!
You certainly don't want to have regrets when you stop playing - and a player of his talent certainly shouldn't be outside the top 50 and going through qualifying.
Watch live coverage of the Indian Wells Masters from 9pm on Sky Sports 4 HD on Saturday March 9.