The other March Madness in sports is ready to begin at Indian Wells Masters as the women start play in just a few hours. Tomorrow the men’s first round opens up and over the weekend the seeds will get underway.
The draw is, as usual, absolutely stacked. Among the top guys, I think just about everyone is playing including the recently ailing Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco.
The two big stories of the men’s tournament for me is the return of Federer, who when we last saw him was reduced to tears on the center court podium in Melbourne, and Murray who is apparently over his non-mono virus.
As has been reported, Federer was hitting with Darren Cahill in Dubai, and I think that will help Roger reset his game and his head. Federer has been absent with a back injury, but I have to think it was really the lingering hangover of that crushing loss to Rafa in Australia that’s kept him off the circuit. It can be tough to find the motivation to play, to practice after those types of losses, and that’s where a guy like Cahill can recharge the batteries.
How long Federer and Cahill will be working together and what their relationship will be is still fuzzy, but for now let’s see if this test run works.
Murray began the year looking like he was ready to take the tour over, but viral infection has derailed the Scot’s plans a bit. We’ll find out in a hurry it’s he’s fully recovered. With the clay season fast-approaching and with so many points to defend in the second half of the year, picking up points at IW and Miami will be a priority Murray.
Looking at the draw. Rafael Nadal is the top seed and given his Davis Cup performance and his Australian Open win, it’s hard to not make the former champ the favorite. His draw is tricky, however. The flaky California kid, Dmitry Tursunov, will likely be waiting for the Spaniard in round three, and the remerging Tomas Berdych in the fourth round. Both players I think have the game to do in Rafa, but do they have the head? Rafa’s quarterfinal opponent is a crapshoot among my man Gael Monfils, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marat Safin. Since he won LA in his last trip to Cali, I’ll ride JMDP to that spot, but cautiously.
In the second quarter, we are pretty much headed for another Andy Roddick-Novak Djokovic clash. Awesome! Radek Stepanek and David Ferrer will each have something to say about that – Stepanek figures to face Novak in the 16s and Ferrer might get Roddick also in the 16s. Mardy Fish could also get into the mix, but for now I think Novak and Andy get it on again and I like Roddick should it happen.
Moving to the bottom half, I like Jo Tsonga to come through over Marin Cilic in the third quarter. I think Tsonga’s playing as well as anyone right now and he should be able to navigate past Igor Andreev, his countryman Gilles Simon and then Cilic. Murray is in the Cilic section but I’m not yet convinced of just how fit and healthy the Scot is. If he is in fact 100%, then he’ll beat Marin. But I don’t think he is.
In the final quarter things are a bit dicey for Federer. Roger will likely have to play a couple of guys he’s lost in the last year with Ivo Karlovic in the third round and James Blake in the fourth round. But I think he’ll get through. Who’ll he’ll meet in the quarters is another crapshoot. Davydenko? Verdsaco? Richard Gasquet? Feli Lopez? Robin Soderling? Hard to choose, but I’ll go with Verdasco despite the fact he hasn’t been playing.
So that leaves my semifinals as Nadal v. Roddick, Tsonga v. Federer. And my final pick…Cahill helps Roger, but not enough. I have to go with Rafa here.
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