We are winding down in the first Masters Series event of the season at Indian Wells. Andy Murray lost as did Stan Wawrinka, those have been the two big surprises among the top players in the men’s field, but neither has been a consistent threat in the desert in the past.
Yesterday, we saw David Goffin come out of nowhere (the Wawrinka section which was wide open) to beat the mentally challenged Marin Cilic in straights 7-6, 6-2. Cilic, a US Open champion, has to win a match like that, and he should have but squared 11 of 12 break chances. Goran must be kicking himself.
Goffin’s a decent player but not a top flight guy, however credit to him for having a great run which included saving two match points against American 18-year-old Frances Tiafoe, then overcoming multiple chokes to deny Wawrinka who gagged himself at the end.
“I think my level is here and I can compete really well here in the tournament. My body also is feeling good. For the future I think it gives me a lot of confidence,” said Goffin. “I still don’t know where I will be in the future and in the rankings, but I will try to improve a lot, still improve my game to beat a lot of players like this.”
In arguably the biggest semi of his life, the Belgian will face Milos Raonic on Saturday. Raonic, who came in nursing a groin injury since Australia , hasn’t dropped a set in wins over Bernard Tomic, Tomas Berdych and last night Gael Monfils.
Good that Raonic’s injury issues are in the past because his ranking is going to climb quickly. And nice to see Monfils doing well.
But before Goffin-Raonic, we still have two more quarters play, and they might be of interest! On to my Friday picks.
Rafael Nadal v Kei Nishikori
Both guys should count their blessings for still being around. Nadal somehow escaped the clutches of 18-year-old Alex Zverev who tightened-up on a sitter volley on match point. Nishikori also survived a match point from big John Isner. So they are both on borrowed time. But Nadal needs this more. He needs to make a statement at a place he’s won at three times. And win like this would at least send a message that he’s still got some game left in that beaten up body.
Rafa leads 7-1 over Kei but when last met in Canada in the summer it was all Nishikori. And the time they played before then remember Nishikori was all over Rafa on the Madrid clay before a back injury ended his chance.
“I lost Nishikori last year in Montreal. He’s a player that puts a lot of pressure on the opponent,” Nadal said. “I need to play better than what I did, but it’s obvious that I in quarterfinals, and that’s great news for me in a very tough tournament like this one.”
So based on form and their most recent results, Nishikori’s a slight favorite here. He got through the toughest serve in the business in Isner and Friday he’ll get the deteriorating serve of Nadal. And once again Rafa’s having issues with that serve and that’s impacting the rest of his game and his confidence.
But to overcome the matchpoint against Zverev should do him some needed good and beating Nishikori would do even more. The problem is I don’t think that happens. Unless Nadal has a big serving day or if Kei gets hurt, I like Nishikori.
The pick: Nishikori in three
Novak Djokovic v JW Tsonga
As he eyes a 3-peat at Indian Wells, Djokovic has looked somewhat beatable this week. Dropping a set to Bjorn Fratangelo, Phil Kohlschreiber played him tough but Novak came strong Wednesday against Feliciano Lopez.
If there’s a surprise in the top half it’s Tsonga. We just haven’t heard much from JW of late or seen a good win from him since beating Nadal in Shanghai last fall in Shanghai. But he’s found the groove this week overpowering Sam Querrey then Dominic Thiem who had to have been a little weary after all his recent success.
So what do we make of Tsonga? Who knows? He might be on one of those “runs” or the beneficiary of a nice draw.
The two have collided 20 times before with Djokovic ahead 14-6 winning 10 of 11. However, if Tsonga gets hot we know what can happen.
But on a slower, grittier hard court – this isn’t Canada – I think Djokovic takes this one.
The pick: Djokovic in two
ESPN has live coverage starting at 3pm ET with Nadal-Nishikori. Let’s see what happens!
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