Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray should be on notice today, wary of the Indian Wells upset bug. Both players have had their struggles thus far in the tournament, and today it’s a big step up in the class this afternoon as Djokovic duels JW Tsonga and Murray meets Juan Martin Del Potro. With temperatures reaching once again into the 90s, things are truly heating up.
Now for my picks.
Novak Djokovic v. JW Tsonga
Djokovic is on first against the streaky JW Tsonga. Novak has had his problems in the heat, but luckily in the desert it’s a dry heat, as they say. Still, it could be an issue especially since Novak finished his last match at 2am the other night. So his internal clock can’t be all in sync.
Across the net will be Tsonga who under new coach Roger Rasheed has put up some good wins this week, beating former finalists James Blake and Mardy Fish. Then Wednesday in a thriller he nudged Milos Raonic in three.
But Novak is on a roll and until someone takes him down it’s hard to go against him, especially against Tsonga. Djokovic has won nine of 14 against the Frenchman including their last seven, dropping just three sets since that stomach issue Novak had in their 2010 Australian Open clash, two of those sets did come at the French last year. Djokovic is also riding a 21-match win streak. And we now how poorly Tsonga has played against the top playaers of late – he’s lost 10 straight to the Top 5! This slow hardcourt isn’t going to help Tsonga any either.
Djokovic defends so well and that can cause a guy like Tsonga to overhit when attacking which leads to errors. And we know how well Djokovic can play from the offensive side.
While it wouldn’t stun me if Djokovic were to lose here – he just hasn’t looked in form yet and I do think the late finish the other night will have an affect – I’m going with the Serb.
The pick: Djokovic in two
Andy Murray v. Juan Martin Del Potro
I really want to pick Del Potro here but in this battle of US Open champions I just can’t bring myself to do it. Murray matches up well against the big man from Argentina and I have to wonder about Del Potro in the heat.
This week, after some bad losses in previous outings, Murray snapped back in the desert this week, albeit against much lesser competition. Del Potro is looked good too. He hasn’t lost a set and on Wednesday he crushed 34-year-old Tommy Haas 6-1, 6-2 in what he called his match of the tournament.
With the new Pope hailing from Argentina, maybe the cards are lining up for Delpo?
“Looks like he’s playing well,” Murray said Wednesday. “I haven’t played particularly well so far, so I’m going to need to play a lot better than I did tonight if I want to win that match.”
But their series gives me pause. Murray has won five of six of their meetings. Delpo has gotten a set in each one, but hasn’t quite figured out how to solve the Murray riddle. This is also their first meeting of the decade and Murray’s become a much stronger player since they last played in 2009.
That said, like with Tsonga I wouldn’t be surprised to see the upset. Del Potro has been playing better of late with proven results. Murray, after a month of rest, might still be rusty, unsure.
“We are friends and we have good relationship and we share many things together,” said Del Potro. “Of course play against him is a big challenge for me. He already won the US Open last year, made finals in Australia, and he’s doing very fantastic career beating the top guys and fighting for the first position, as well. So it’s gonna be interesting match for me.”
And it should be especially if Del Potro is once again on target with his groundstrokes like he was against Haas.
The pick: Murray in three
With both Murray and Djokovic, both guys are so good defensively that on a slow hardcourt in the heat, that gives them a greater edge over power players like Delpo and Tsonga. But I think both should be close, competitive matches.
Wrapping up last night, again the key was whose body would fail. As it turns out Rafael Nadal’s knees were stronger than Roger Federer’s back. And that was that. Roger has a tough time anyway with Rafa but throw in a back injury and the fact that Nadal was just returning to hardcourts didn’t matter. It was one-way traffic from first ball. We’ll get a better idea of where Nadal is with his game tomorrow against Berdych, but regardless of how injured Federer was or wasn’t, Nadal’s confidence has to in the clouds right now.
If you are a Federer fan, take solace that yes, he was struggling with an injury and he’ll now have two months to recover. But the trend is damning. Roger hasn’t reached a final this year and hasn’t won a title since the summer. And he’s not getting any younger.
For the Nadal crowd, what a week. He’s exceeded all expectations. It was questionable he would even play and now he blasts Federer. The knees also appear to be holding up and he takes a very favorable record into his next match against Berdych. Life is good.
The women play their semifinals in evening. The all-blonde line-up features Wozniacki-Kerber then Sharapova-Kirilenko. I think the favorites and former champions Wozniacki and Sharapova get through, though I’ll be rooting for the upsets.
ESPN2 will have coverage today in the U.S. starting at 4:30pm ET with the Djokovic match. Tennis Channel will have the Murray match after.
FRIDAY INDIAN WELLS SCHEDULE
STADIUM 1 start 11:00 am
T Huey (PHI) / J Janowicz (POL) vs A Peya (AUT) / B Soares (BRA) – ATP
Not Before 1:30 PM
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs  J Tsonga (FRA) – ATP
Not Before 3:30 PM
 A Murray (GBR) vs  J Del Potro (ARG) – ATP
Not Before 6:30 PM
 C Wozniacki (DEN) vs  A Kerber (GER) – WTA
Not Before 8:30 PM
 M Kirilenko (RUS) vs  M Sharapova (RUS) – WTA
Also Check Out:
Roddick v. Djokovic Highlight Friday Play at Indian Wells
Henin, Clijsters Favorites: Indian Wells Draw Redux
Andy Murray: The Courts At Indian Wells Are Very Slow, They’re Also Very Slow Here In Miami
Roddick Thrashes Djokovic, Nadal Next at Indian Wells
Andy Murray Won’t Play Dubai In 2013, He’ll Focus On Indian Wells