What a crazy start to the 2017 Masters season which kicks off tomorrow at Indian Wells. The Indian Wells draw is like two events and unlike any other. There’s a bigger tournament with Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and a few other players, and then there’s that Quarter of Death which among the 16 features three former champions, a former finalist and potentially two future winners.
Of course that quarter I speak of is the fourth one and it’s home to Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro and the top youngsters Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted such a draw. No sir. But the tennis did just that.
So as if this season wasn’t unpredictable enough…on to the draw.
Andy Murray Quarter
It’s a safe bet the happiest guy on the planet when the draw came out was Murray. Though Murray’s had his share of struggles in the desert — like losing to Donald Young a few years ago — I just don’t see anyone who’s going to beat him in that section, or really his half. There are the Spaniards Feliciano Lopez and Roberto Bautista Agut. JW Tsonga’s been playing well but he, too, has had problems playing at Indian Wells. And Murray just won his first desert title in Dubai, so unless Lopez or Tsonga get really hot, other than himself, I don’t see any big threats for the World No. 1. Of interest, two teen Americans are worth keeping an eye on. Frances Tiafoe is in there along with 6-foot-11 Reilly Opelka, plus the “elder” Ryan Harrison who’s been playing well.
The Pick: Murray
Stan Wawrinka Quarter
Another guy who just hasn’t found the range in the light air of Indian Wells is Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss has never made it to the last four and hasn’t been to the quarters since 2011. And with maybe some niggles still in his knee, I don’t think he makes it this year either. Gael Monfils could face John Isner in the third to get Dominic Thiem, but I actually like Tomas Berdych here. Berdych made the semifinals a few years ago and I like his draw despite the “Golden Rule of Life: Never pick Berdych”. Really, in that section no one particularly stands out. They all have question marks to a degree. But among Berdych, Isner and Monfils I’ll Czech and curse the pick about this time next week when he loses to Philipp Kohlschreiber!
The Pick: Berdych
Kei Nishikori Quarter
Like the second quarter, this is one is also wide open. Take your pick: Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori plus Sam Querrey, Jack Sock and Lucas Pouille. And there are the youngsters Taylor Fritz and Daniil Medvedev. Dimitrov’s been playing the best of the bunch but boy he’s another guy when who tends to fall apart with expectations. Stlll, I’m going to take him to knock out Nishikori in the quarters.
The Pick: Dimitrov
The Quarter of Death
So about that other tournament. Sixteen players for one spot in the semifinals in one of the strongest quarters ever for a 128/96 draw. It’s like the old Masters from New York back in the 1980s. There’s Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Del Potro, Kyrgios, Zverev, and hell, Fernando Verdasco, Steve Johnson and Kevin Anderson who’s on the comeback trail. The fourth round in this section could easily have been the semifinals!
With so many stars, maybe the easiest way is to start by eliminating players. First, Verdasco is getting out of this section, nor is Johnson or Anderson. Del Potro is a former finalist, but I’m not convinced he’s fully fit right now to run through a Djokovic-Zverev-Fedal. Call me crazy, I just don’t like Kyrgios’ game in the desert. So that leaves Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev. Zverev really intrigues me here with Federer coming off that shock loss last week, Nadal always iffy on hard courts and Djokovic just lost in space. Could this be the event where the young German finally gets that big stage win? Does he finally get over on Rafa? It’s so hard to say (just make sure you have Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday tickets!). But really, you could make a strong case for any of these players.
And the guys will also have a day off between matches, so that’s important for Nadal, Federer and Del Potro. To me, that’s important and because of that I’m picking Federer. Quick courts, he just ran through an awfully tough draw in Australia, he’s done well at Indian Wells and I don’t think he’s under any real pressure.
The Pick: Federer
Murray d Berdych: Tomas is just happy to be there, Murray is back in the finals.
Federer d Dimitrov: Noooooo! Not this again. This won’t happen.
Federer d Murray: The only player in the draw who beats Murray in the final. Anyone else — Nadal, Djokovic, Del Potro — Murray wins. But not Roger.
And there we have it, the first Masters event of the season. Honestly, I think Murray will get there, I just have no idea who gets out of that quarter and into the final.
My first pick was actually Zverev who I think will beat Kyrgios, then take out Del Potro followed by Federer. But Alex still doesn’t have that signature win and then those demons from last year.
Then I thought Djokovic, but I just don’t know where his head is at. And he’s the defending champ and mentally can he beat a Federer or a Nadal right now? I’m not so sure.
As I said, the day off really helps Rafa, but Sam just smoked him last weekend.
And I don’t think Del Potro is ready to win so many of these kinds of matches. Maybe one, but not two or three. Not yet.
So that leaves Federer, and he just did it six weeks ago….(let’s forget last week?)
And overall, Murray has the best chance to make the semifinals, but even he’s no sure thing here. Berdych and Dimitrov certainly are not either. So this event could go a number of ways.
Men’s matches begin Thursday. Murray and the rest of the top half play Saturday, Monday, Wednesday. Djokovic/Federer/Nadal are on the Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday schedule. Plan accordingly. You are not going to want to miss this.
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