Top ranked Rafael Nadal will have his work cut out for him if he is to defend his 2013 title at Indian Wells starting this weekend. The Spaniard who’s 16-1 on the year with just the one blemish to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final, could face three rivals in consecutive order to win a fourth title in the desert.
Getting right to the draw…
Nadal figures to open said defense again two tricky opponents – Radek Stepanek then Alexandr Dolgopolov. And it only gets tougher from there. Gael Monfils could await in the third then Andy Murray in his quarter. Murray still isn’t back to form just yet but if not the Scot then someone like Milos Raonic or Jerzy Janowicz could be in that spot. I like Rafa to beat Murray and Raonic, but if it’s Jerzy that could be touch and go even on those slower Cali courts Nadal likes.
Quarter Pick: Rafael Nadal
The second quarter is home to team Switzerland with both Wawrinka and Roger Federer seeded to meet in the quarters. Will they get there? It’s tough to find anyone to replace them! The higher ranked Wawrinka figures to have a tall road early with Ivo Karlovic, Sam Querrey and Kevin Anderson who could be the spoiler. As for Roger, he’s got a good draw with a qualifier, then to play California kid Dmitry Tursunov to make the fourth where maybe Jeremy Chardy could sneak past the injury-riddled Tommy Haas and Kei Nishikori. Federer’s playing well enough that he should get through and I think if he does he’ll use his experience as a 4-time champion there to beat Wawrinka who’s playing his first event as a Slam champion.
Quarter Pick: Roger Federer
Turning to the bottom half. With David Ferrer out due to a groin tear, Tomas Berdych assumes the No. 4 seed as he’s worthy of it after a decent February run after an Aussie semi. He’ll have Florian Mayer in the third before a big showdown with Grigor Dimitrov. The surging Bulgarian, however, will have arguably the toughest third rounder against Ernests Gulbis. I like Dimitrov in that one and then over Tomas. And I’ll stay with the 22-year-old and take him over maybe John Isner in the quarters. Isner, a former Indian Wells finalist, is in a very open section which includes Phil Kohlschreiber, Richard Gasquet and Fernando Verdasco. And in the end I’ll go with Dimitrov to make the semis. New coach Roger Rasheed has really been pushing the right buttons with the youngster.
Quarter Pick: Grigor Dimitrov
Two-time winner Djokovic is the favorite in the final quarter, but you could make the case that Marin Cilic is playing the best of anyone in a section that includes the injured Juan Martin Del Potro, Gilles Simon and JW Tsonga. But I have to agree with Patrick McEnroe who said last night that Novak is due for a big result. He needs to win Indian Wells more than anybody. The pressure is on. And with Del Potro struggling with that bad left wrist, I think he’ll beat Cilic, then beat JW Tsonga to make the semis.
Quarter pick: Novak Djokovic
So if things hold we’ll have Nadal v Federer in the top half semi and Dimitrov v Djokovic in the bottom. Not bad, right?
While I give Federer a chance based on his recent form, the numbers are on Nadal’s side in their rivalry so I’ll go with Rafa. And I have to take Djokovic over Grigor. In the final I’m still questioning the Becker move, so Rafa it is.
Semifinals: Nadal d Federer; Djokovic d Dimitrov
Finals: Nadal d Djokovic
Men’s matches begin on Thursday. The Top 32 seeds start play on the weekend. Tennis Channel has coverage on Thursday while ESPN2 finishes things off at the end of the tournament.
With Federer back, Rafa still strong, Berdych playing well, the rise of Wawrinka, Cilic and Dimitrov, Djokovic somewhat shaky and Murray off form, it truly is a wide open event with 6-10 players capable of walking away with the first Masters title of the season.
No matter your rooting interests, this should be fun! Let the Madness begin.
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