As I wrote on Tuesday, after a quick glance at the Indian Wells men’s field my top two picks were Andy Murray and Marin Cilic. And now 48 hours later I’m still thinking that way. Before I get into their credentials, I want to talk about why I don’t like the other players. After all, sometimes you arrive at conclusions by a process of elimination, which is the case for me here.
First from the top. I don’t like Roger Federer. The current No. 1 hasn’t hit a ball since the Australian Open and I just don’t think he can come to desert and have his way like he’s done in the past (the three-time champ hasn’t made the final since 2006). The guy’s also been fighting a lung infection and had Nikolay Davydenko not gone throat-clutch in Melbourne, Fed would be titleless going on seven months. And even though he does have a cushy draw, his lack of match play gives me pause. It’s been around 40 days since he last played a real match and that’s an unusual length of time for him to miss during a season. For me, it’s too long.
Like Federer, Rafael Nadal is having his own issues. He’s knee are bad and he too hasn’t hit a ball since January. Given we thought he was 100% healthy in Australia before his knee gave out, I thought he’d really take bypass the hard court circuit and gear up for the softer clay. But Nadal obviously feels healthy enough to give it go, but mentally the knee has to be in the back of his mind. And for the defending champ, that’s trouble.
Novak Djokovic has been the hot man of late. The now-No. 2 pocketed the Dubai title then was the hero in Serbia’s tough Davis Cup victory over the U.S. last weekend. The Joker enters the desert on a 7-match win streak but – and a big but! – five of his last six wins have gone the distance (the exception a four-setter v. Querrey). Credit to him for winning the tough ones, but he’s not winning easily. And I think all that tennis and the struggles he had in those matches are going to catch up with him this week.
As for the draw, in the top quarter I still like Federer to emerge to the semifinals. Unless he’s completely off his game I think he’ll get to the Andy Roddick match in the quarterfinals. Andy also has a pretty easy road up to that point but I don’t think the American will overcome Roger in that one. Andy (like everyone else) has been bothered by a shoulder and his play since Australia has been suspect.
In the second quarter, I see nothing but green lights for Murray to the semifinals. Maybe James Blake can give him a run if the former finalist can reach the 16s, and maybe in the QFs JW Tsonga, if healthy, can push the Brit, otherwise there’s just not that much opposition in that section.
I find the bottom half of the draw a little more competitive. In the third quarter we have Davydenko, Nadal, Sam Querrey, John Isner, Fernando Verdasco, Tomas Berdych and even Ernests Gulbis. I think any of those could get through (ok, maybe not Gulbis!) to the final weekend. Davydenko’s been injured so I actually like Gulbis to upset him in the second round. From there I’ll go with Verdasco out the quarters to face Nadal. I’ll take Rafa to beat Querrey, who seems to found his game of late. And coming through, I think Fernando’s the guy. He’s training in the Vegas desert so playing in Indian Wells should be comfortable for him.
In the last section I think we’ll get the Serb-Croatia Davis Cup clash with Cilic and Djokovic in the quarterfinals. I can’t seen anyone beating Marin en route to the final eight. Novak could struggle with Mardy Fish in the second round and possibly Ivan Ljubicic in the third, but I think he gets to the Marin match. And in that one I like Cilic to get the win. Novak’s a better player overall but I just think he’s played too much tennis and as I said the struggles he’s had in his game (his serve) catch up with him against a top caliber player like Cilic.
Plus, Cilic is now under the part-time wing of Goran Ivanisevic (they will start in Miami) and his current full-time coach, Bob Brett, is very well respected. Credit to the Marin, he’s really put together quite team and already this season his results – two titles and an Australian Open semifinal – have proven he’s could be the next big thing. I wrote at the start of the season that Cilic could be the one guy to break into the Top 5, I just didn’t think it would be happening this quickly.
That leaves my semifinals: Federer v. Murray; Verdasco v. Cilic. And in the final, I’m not going with the Croat just yet. I think Murray puts all his troubles from the past month behind him and collects this title. But I’ll be rooting for Marin to pull the upset.
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