Rivals, er, Tri-vals Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray headline the first ATP Masters event of the 2016 season starting Thursday in Indian Wells.
Djokovic has won the title four times including the two while Nadal is a 3-time champion most recently in 2013. Murray’s never won reaching the final just once in 2009, but with the absence of 4-time champ, 2-time runner-up Roger Federer, the door is open for the new father. And I’ll get to his draw in a moment.
First to the top half.
Novak Djokovic Quarter
Is there anyone who can stop Djokovic? I don’t think so. Unless his eye gets infected from staring at the desert sun too long, there’s not much opposition in his section. Phil Kohlschreiber could be a third round foe. Feliciano Lopez, who benefited from the eye injury in Dubai, would be a welcome rematch for the Serb in the fourth, and then in the quarters I’m interesting in seeing if the surging Dominic Thiem can do well in the light air. The Austrian could have Jack Sock in the third then either Sam Querrey or JW Tsonga in the fourth. Querrey’s a Californian and has been playing well, maybe I’ll got with him. But Djokovic is too strong in the end.
The pick: Novak Djokovic
Rafael Nadal Quarter
After a rough start to the year, the last thing Nadal needed was a tough section at Indian Wells. But that’s how the draw came out. Nadal, who hasn’t even beaten a Top 50 player this year, will have recent Rotterdam champion Martin Klizan in the third, then Grigor Dimitrov/Alex Zverev or Gilles Simon the fourth – I like Simon there, and in the quarters he could face Kei Nishikori or perhaps John Isner or Benoit Paire. It’s a tough section and as much as I’d like to see Nadal do well, I need to see him win some tough match over some quality opponents, so for now I like Nishikori over Simon.
The pick: Kei Nishikori
Stan Wawrinka Quarter
In a very wide open section of the draw, we find Stan Warwinka, Richard Gasquet, Marin Cilic, David Goffin, Alex Dolgopolov and even young Americans Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe who clash in the first round. As for the top names, I rate Stan the slight favorite after his Dubai win – though who’d he beat there? – and maybe Cilic. A healthy Gasquet could be a danger as well.
The pick: Stan Wawrinka
Andy Murray Quarter
After some tough results over the years at Indian Wells, Murray put together a decent run last year reaching the semifinals. Now playing his first event as a dad, Murray will again be the favorite to emerge. On paper, it’s a tough section with Tomas Berdych, Nick Kyrgios, Gael Monfils, Bernard Tomic and Milos Raonic. But the fact is Berdych, Kyrgios. Tomic and Raonic are all coming off injuries and illness. So who knows who much of a form they’ll be in. Meanwhile, Murray has to be recharged after a month off and I like his draw. He’ll open with either Dzhumer or Granollers, then Joao Sousa (they seems to play a lot!), followed by Kyrgios or Monfils (ha ha, what a match that would be) and in the quarters if he’s healthy I think Raonic is the guy. And in a scrap, I think Murray comes through. But the guy I most want to see is Juan Martin Del Potro who’ll take on a qualifier to play Berdych. If her were at full strength – no way he is – he’d be my pick here. But I’m just glad to see him name above the line again.
The pick: Murray
So my semifinals right now look like Djokovic v Nishikori and Warwinka v Murray. And I Djokovic proves too strong for Kei and I like Stan to down Murray.
In the finale, it’s Serbia over Switzerland for the third straight year, only think time Djokovic beats Stan.
Other stories to watch are the young guys. I mentioned Fritz-Tiafoe and also Zverev. Hyeon Chung, Borna Coric and Jared Donaldson are all in the field. This is the first time they are playing a hardcourt Masters with some attention on them. So let’s see if they can make some noise.
A couple of guys who could be dangerous are Isner and Paire who are seeded to meet in the third round of the Nadal quarter. The winner of that one could end up facing Djokovic in the semifinals. Isner has had a lot of success in the desert. Watch out for him.
And like I said, I just hope for the best for Del Potro. Let’s see if he can continue to add power to that backhand. We saw last month in Delray he began with the but slowly began adding some pop. Now, after a few more weeks of hitting, he should be even stronger.
Nadal will also have the spotlight. It’s not an easy draw and another early out would just ramp up the rhetoric.
Also mentioning is Federer. For the first time on this blog Federer won’t be in Indian Wells. So the tournament will have a strange vibe to it. But the games go on.
Tennis Channel starts coverage Wednesday with the start of the women’s draw. The men’s first round begins Thursday with the seeds debuting on Saturday and Sunday.
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