We label Rafael Nadal the King of Clay, but are we that far off from calling Novak Djokovic the King of Hardcourts? Consider Djokovic has won four of the last five hardcourt majors losing only to Andy Murray in a five set thriller at the US Open last fall. And with a current 18-match win streak in his sails, which includes a Dubai win in the other desert last weekend, Djokovic enters the first Tennis Masters event of 2013 as the heavy favorite. It also doesn’t hurt that Djokovic has won Indian Wells twice and he’s reached the semis there the last three years.
If that’s not enough, the draw also came out in the Serb’s favor. Djokovic’s third round seed could be Grigor Dimitrov who doesn’t seem worthy of a giant-killer role just yet. Then he’s likely to be paired with the underachieving Sam Querrey in the fourth round before JW Tsonga, Marin Cilic or Milos Raonic in the quarters. In a tough section, I’ll take Tsonga for now beating Raonic. The Frenchman, though, could face a nervy test against former finalist Mardy Fish who’s making his return after coping with heart issues last the five months.
In the second quarter, US Open champ Andy Murray is back on American soil but his footing in the desert hasn’t been great. The Scot has lost his last three matches at Indian Wells dropping the opening round the last two years. But with Martin Klizan as his third round seed, then either the struggling Alexandr Dologpolov or the fragile Kei Nishikori, it’s hard to see him losing early – Nishikori, though, could certainly be a test. Awaiting Murray in the quarters I think, I hope, should be Juan Martin Del Potro. Delpo has a testy draw early with either Nikolay Davydenko or Paul-Henri Mathieu, then Jeremy Chardy followed by Nico Almagro (or Tommy Haas). But I like Del Potro, just not enough to beat Murray in that quarter.
In the bottom half, the third section is by far the weakest with Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon. David Nalbandian, Bernard Tomic and Kevin Anderson are also lurking, but I think based on his play in Dubai and really the last six months that Mr. Berdych is the guy here. Desert conditions, light air, power game and confident play of late should help him make the last four.
So through three quarters I have yet to mention either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, and that can mean only two things. Either they aren’t playing or they are and they were placed in the same section! Well, the latter happened and for the first time in a long time Roger and Rafa could meet in the quarters, and I think they will (double checking they’ve never played a quarterfinal!). Both guys do have semi-tricky draws. Rafa could play Mikhail Youzhny in the third, then possibly Janko Tipsarevic in the fourth. Federer is likely to meet Juliean Benneteau in his third rounder – the Frenchman just beat Roger a few weeks ago in Rotterdam – and then play the dangerous John Inser in a fourth round rematch of their final a year ago. But I think we get the match and the result is the same as last year’s semi when the two last played and Federer won. Playing his first event on hardcourts in almost a year, I just don’t think Nadal will be at the level to beat the big names on this surface. Come US Open time maybe both psychologically and physically he’ll be back, but not yet.
So my semifinals right now look like Djokovic-Murray, Berdych-Federer. In the final I think it’s Djokovic over Federer and for the second time in three years Novak wins the “Desert Doubles” (both Dubai then Indian Wells). Until somebody really beats the guy on hardcourts, he’s the best we got right now.
As for other things I’ll be looking at is the progress of some of the younger guys. Raonic has a decent draw with Cilic, Tsonga and Ferrer in his path. He can finally make some real noise. And I want to see more from this Jerzy Janowicz fellow. In the last Masters it was the Pole shocking the world reaching the final in Paris. Well, we are still on hardcourts, let’s see what you can do.
And of course there’s Rafa. I watched the exo last night and there’s not much to take away from it except Rafa’s wallet got a lot fatter. But after missing so much time and the way he’s so cautious with his knee right now, I can’t see a big run from him on these hardcourts this month. Nadal circa 2011 would likely rip through this draw, but not version 2013. I don’t think, but maybe he can play his way into belief.
Back to Novak. On a hardcourt, even though he’s not in full flight, someone is still going to have to play at their very best to have any chance. Murray? Maybe, but he hasn’t played well at IW of late and he hasn’t played at all since losing to Novak in Australia 40 days ago, so there’ll be some rust there. Federer, Nadal or Berdych in the final? Perhaps if Federer can find that “A” game but that’s a real stretch. So Djokovic it is….
Men’s matches begin on Thursday. Tennis Channel kicks off on Friday and the seeds hit the courts on Saturday.
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