Well, I got one right. Picking Rafael Nadal to win Indian Wells that is. But can and will Rafa continue his domination, and will I pick him to complete the cross-continental ATP tennis double by winning IW and Miami back-to-back? As much as I like his draw, right now, I have to say no.
Nadal of course has never won Miami – he’s twice been runner-up – but this year he lands in Key Biscayne as the far and away best player in the world. But not necessarily unbeatable. While being the last man standing is always impressive at a Masters event, Rafa didn’t really play his best tennis really until the final when he handily battered Andy Murray in a windstorm. Considering the conditions and the opponent, it was a pretty clean match from Rafa, but I’m still not convinced he’s at that level we saw from him in Australia.
Peeking at Nadal’s draw however, it’s tough to see anyone derailing the Spaniard early on. Looks like Rafa will get the slumping Dr. Ivo Karlovic in round three. Then in the fourth round I’ll pick the World No. 1 to beat Stan Wawrinka. His quarterfinal opponent will be among four players in a tough section of the draw: David Ferrer, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin Del Potro and Jurgen Melzer. I’m going to take Ferrer to be that guy to beat DelPo and then I’m going out on a limb and picking Ferrer to pull the upset over his countryman Nadal.
With his prized clay season just around the corner and with the Australian Open and IW already in his bag, I’m not sure if Rafa’s going to be as determined to win in Miami as he usually would have been. Just speculation, but Uncle Tony and crew may pull the reigns back just a little on Rafa. Who knows but that’s what I’m banking on in this case.
In the second quarter, I think Murray, even though he played poorly in the IW final, showed to me that he’s back to near if not at full strength. So I like him to get through beating Mardy Fish, David Nalbandian and then Fernando Gonzalez en route.
In the bottom half, the third quarter is pretty wide open with a lot of question mark players like Gilles Simon, James Blake, Tomas Berdych and Novak Djokovic. The only guy playing steady this year – I know he was upset early in IW – in my opinion is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and I’m picking him again to get the Final Four just like I did last week. I like Tsonga’s draw enough that he should get over on Simon in the 16s and then Novak who he owns of late in the quarters.
In the final quarter, looks like we’re header for another hype-fileld Roger Federer-Andy Roddick showdown. Although Roddick’s got long road ahead with the young, rising Argentine Diego Junqueira right out of the gates, then Tommy Haas followed by my man, Gael Monfils who better go a couple rounds this week! Federer’s draw looks promising for the Swiss. Nicolas Kiefer in the third round can never be taken lightly, and Tommy Robredo could scratch a set off Fed, but Roger should be okay in his section, and that’s a good because he’s slowing getting the point where he needs good draws to survive. And in the Federer-Roddick quarterfinal matchup, I’ll take Federer again.
So my semifinals are Ferrer v. Murray and Tsonga v. Federer. How many people have that one? Anyone? Not many I bet. And for my champion, I’m picking Murray over Tsonga. I really want to roll the dice and pick Tsonga, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It seems like every time I pick the French things usually fall apart. Lesson learned so Murray it is. Great Scot.
A few housekeeping issues. I’ve read that Kim Clijsters is returning to tennis. Not much of surprise really and I now fully expect her countrywoman, Justine Henin, to follow suit within the next 12-18 months and comeback to tennis. I’ve said it before, unless you are seriously injured, it’s amazing how difficult it is for pro athletes of any sport to stay un-retired these days. The inner competitive spirit never really flickers out and more often than not homelife and 9-to-5 just doesn’t cut it.
Speaking of the WTA, tennis is sure in a state of transition at the top. Just in the last six months tennis has lost top dawgs in the USTA’s Arlen Kantarian, ATP’s ET and now the WTA’s Larry Scott has announced he will leave his CEO post to run the PAC-10 this summer. ET aside, I can’t blame either Arlen or Larry for their decisions to get out of tennis. While tennis continues to be strong overseas, here in the U.S. the sport remains a very, very tough sell – one had to look no further than our TV sets this weekend and see how far the quality of coverage has fallen as proof (thanks FSN!) – and with a serious lack of American stars on the horizon coupled with the sliding global economy, it’s likely only to get that much harder ahead.
Tennis in the U.S. will rebound someday, hopefully sooner rather than later.
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