An “embarrassment of riches”, I believe is the phrase, and it’s suitable for the schedule on tap Tuesday at Indian Wells where the Group of Death starts to live up to the billing. The Madness!
All of the top eight players won their second rounders setting up four really great matches today in that bottom quarter. And even the third quarter has some decent fare with Jack Sock taking on Grigor Dimitrov, but all eyes are on the Quarter of Death, so let’s get to it.
Rafael Nadal v Fernando Verdasco
Overall, Nadal has dominated this series leading 15-3, but Fernando has won three of their last five and pushed Nadal hard at Indian Wells in their most recent meeting in 2016 squandering five second-set points in a 6-0, 7-6(9) loss.
So I don’t expect Verdasco to be intimidated By Nadal at all and he’s in good form having just made the Dubai final. But I think Nadal is in general just playing better on hardcourts and he’s a 3-time champion at Indian Wells. And he just bageled Verdasco a year ago here. When Rafa’s playing well, he’s better than Verdasco and I think that’s how this plays out.
The Pick: Nadal in 3
Nick Kyrgios v Alexander Zverev
It’s the first meeting between these two youngsters who are considered by most — myself included — to be the cream of the new crop. And perhaps they will live up to the hype and face off in a Slam final some day, maybe many. But for now, it’s the third round at Indian Wells.
Kyrgios has the bigger wins of the two and maybe the more raw talent. He’s also 21, Zverev just 19, so he’s got a little more experience.
But, I like Zverev here. I just think he’s the better all-around player and more focused, more determined. That said, for both these guys this is a big match. It’s “NextGen” bragging rights. And we know Kyrgios can and often does rise up to the challenge, especially in first meetings. The question is will Kyrgios rise up? I know Zverev will show up. I cannot say the same for Nick.
The Pick: Zverev in 2
Roger Federer v Steve Johnson
Roger Federer had an easy go of it Sunday night against Stephane Robert. Today, should be tougher against California’s Steve Johnson. The two met at Wimbledon last year and Federer had his way with the former USC star. And I think that happens again today.
Johnson really struggles against the top players (just 2-17 against Top 10s, though 2-0 v No. 10s), and while he has a big forehand with a decent all-around game, unless Federer has a bad day, it’s going to be really hard for Steve to force the issue.
Though, I could see Federer having a lapse here and there, maybe drop a set. In the end, I just think Johnson — going for arguably the biggest win of his career — tightens up in the key moments.
The Pick: Federer in 2
Novak Djokovic v Juan Martin Del Potro
In the main event, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro meet for the 17th time, and third time since Canada. Djokovic is ahead 12-4 but Del Potro beat him at Indian Wells a few years ago, beat him in Rio last summer and should have beaten him just recently at Acapulco.
But despite his recent struggles, I make Djokovic the slight favorite here overall. He’s won Indian Wells five times and three straight, winning his last 18 matches (of course that last loss was at Indian Wells to Del Potro in the 2013 semifinals!).
Novak played a very good first set against Kyle Edmund, then stumbled a bit in the second. And we’ve seen a lot of that from Novak the last seven months, so that’s why I like Del Potro here. Del Potro’s just been more solid and he plays Djokovic awfully tough.
The Pick: Del Potro in 3
Honestly, all four of these matches could go the other way. This season has been so unpredictable so why change now? But it should be a great day of tennis.
I also like Dimitrov in a tough match against Sock and in the women’s draw, there’s a good one late tonight with Madison Keys colliding with Caroline Wonziacki. Keys is coming off a wrist injury so I make Wozniacki a slight edge there.
INDIAN WELLS TUESDAY SCHEDULE
STADIUM 1 start 11:00 am
WTA –  C. Garcia (FRA) vs  S. Kuznetsova (RUS)
ATP –  R. Nadal (ESP) vs  F. Verdasco (ESP)
Not Before 2:00 pm
WTA – [Q] S. Peng (CHN) vs  V. Williams (USA)
ATP –  S. Johnson (USA) vs  R. Federer (SUI)
Not Before 7:00 pm
ATP –  J. del Potro (ARG) vs  N. Djokovic (SRB)
Not Before 8:30 pm
WTA –  M. Keys (USA) vs  C. Wozniacki (DEN)
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