The draw for Indian Wells, the first Tennis Masters event of the season, has just come out. And it looks promising for the Top 5 players Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Robin Soderling and Andy Murray. Pre-draw, there was a half dozen or so very dangerous players floating but the Top 5 seeds all avoided them early on. Which for me is a little bit of a shame as I was hoping to see an early round Rafael Nadal v. Juan Martin Del Potro collision. But we’ll have to wait for the that.
Here’s my early breakdown.
Of the Top 5 Nadal I think has the best draw. He could play Juan Monaco in the third round with a matchup against either Marcos Baghdatis or JW Tsonga in the fourth, but both guys are little banged up. In the QFs, I’m picking his countryman David Ferrer to be there. Ferrer will have to contend with Gilles Simon in the third round before his fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro in the fourth. Simon could be a big threat to Rafa but I think Ferrer takes care of him. So for me, it’s hard not to see Rafa at least in the QFs, likely the SFs.
In the second quarter it’s Soderling and Murray in a replay of their Australian Open match that never happened. This go round I think it will. The Swede has Phil Kohlschreiber in round three before a date with either Alexander Dolgopolov, defending champion Ljubicic or Del Potro. Delpo opens against Radek Stepanek in probably the best first round match on the board with the winner to play Ljubicic. I like Delpo to get out to Soderling but I’ll take Robin to reach the QFs and play Murray. The light air could trouble the Argentine. Andy really has a breeze with Tommy Robredo in the third round and then in the fourth Fernando Verdasco or Sam Querrey, both of whom are slumping badly. In the QF I’ll go with Murray over Soderling!
Moving to the bottom half. The red hot and undefeated Djokovic has some tricky obstacles. He might open against recent Kazak Davis Cup hero Andrei Golubev, then meet former champ Lleyton Hewitt (or Ernests Gulbis) before either Michael Llodra or Viktor Troicki in the fourth round. In the QFs he could run into his longtime nemesis Andy Roddick. But Roddick has a rough road with former finalist James Blake possibly in his first match, then John Isner before a likely breather against Jurgen Melzer (or maybe Richard Gasquet). I like a Roddick v. Djokovic QF to happen and this time I think Novak wins.
In the final section it’s Federer as the clear favorite. But I think the Swiss could have trouble with Kei Nishikori right from the get go, then he should get by Phl Petzschner before running into Mardy Fish and Tomas Berdych in succession. Fish, however, will likely have to deal with the new sensation of 2011, Milos Raonic. The Canadian stud opens against Marcel Ilhan, a match I think the 20-year-old win. But I like Fish in the altitude and light desert air to beat Raonic. Berdych will have trouble with the rising Kukushkin, then De Bakker before the improving Marin Cilic. In the end, I do think Federer scrapes through to semifinals but it won’t be easy.
So that leaves my semifinals as Nadal v. Murray and Djokovic v. Federer. Right now I’m picking Djokovic to beat Murray for the title and return to the No. 2 ranking!
Potential fourth round matchups (by seed): Nadal v. Tsonga, Almagro v. Ferrer, Soderling v. Ljubicic, Verdasco v. Murray, Roddick v. Melzer, Troicki v Djokovic, Berdych v. Wawrinka, Fish v. Federer.
QFs: Nadal v. Ferrer, Soderling v. Murray, Roddick v. Djokovic, Berdych v. Federer.
Overall, I think Rafa has a great draw with a bunch of claycourters in his section. That said, if Tsonga is 100% he can really give Rafa trouble. Murray also has a good draw early on – Verdasco and Queerey sound dangerous but they’ve been abysmal of late. I think Djokovic should continue his form and that Roddick match will be an excellent confirmation of his status. Federer, to me, is the most likely guy of my four SFs to get upset. Just a hunch there.
The men’s tournament begins on Thursday. Seeds open play on Saturday. Tennis Channel and ESPN2 will have coverage I believe starting next Monday.
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