Unfortunately, injuries continue to be a big story on the men’s tour this year, and the first Masters event of the season has been hit hard with withdrawals. But there is some hope, we hope. The beleaguered Novak Djokovic is set to return from a hand surgery a month ago and he’s joined by fellow 5-time champion Roger Federer along with former finalists Juan Martin Del Potro, Milos Raonic and John Isner.
With Djokovic’s expectations low – will he even play? – Federer is far and away the favorite, and why not, he won the event last year and thus far he’s a perfect 12-0 on the season.
So what’s the draw hold? Let’s look.
ROGER FEDERER QUARTER
For Federer, in his quarter, there’s not a lot that can go wrong. Ryan Harrison or Federico Delbonis to start, then maybe Benoit Paire, followed by Adrian Mannarino (Fabio Fognini is coming off of clay) and in the quarters it could be Tomas Berdych. Berdych has an interesting section with Hyeon Chung, Denis Shapovalov and Dominic Thiem. It can be tough for the younger guys to get their bearings in the lighter air, so I’ll go with the experience of Berdych and see the Czech out to his fourth Indian Wells quarter. But Federer gets through almost untouched.
The Pick: Roger Federer
GRIGOR DIMITROV QUARTER
Do you believe in Grigor Dimitrov? Or is he benefiting from the absence of many of the top guys? Certainly all the injuries have helped him and the second highest seed in that section in US Open finalist Kevin Anderson. But while Dimitrov isn’t an “A-level” player, he’s just a notch below and worthy of attention. But it’s a tough draw with potentially Fernando Verdasco out of the gate, then another showdown with Andrey Rublev and the tricky Roberto Bautista Agut. Anderson has a difficult road as well with rising Russian Karen Khachanov, then Damir Dzumhur followed by maybe Nick Kyrgios, though the Aussie could face Daniil Medvedev and then 2017 semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta. It’s hard to pick, but I’ll go with Dimitrov to topple Anderson. Kyrgios is coming off injury and I’m not convinced of these young Russians in the desert, so the Bulgarian it is.
The Pick: Grigor Dimitrov
ALEXANDER ZVEREV QUARTER
The pressure continues to mount on Alexander Zverev. And one could make a case he should be the favorite in the bottom half. But zero finals since winning Canada last summer, a rotten Australian Open exit and some recent coaching upheaval has rocked his boat a bit. But the draw is there for him. He’ll have vet Mikhail Youzhny, followed by former finalist Milos Raonic and then Diego Schwartzman. In the quarters, he’s looking at Lucas Pouille. Schwartzman can be tough but Pouille is the guy. I think the Frenchman has been playing some solid tennis while in his section Jack Sock, Sam Querrey and Feliciano Lopez haven’t done much at all. So will it be Zverev’s time? I don’t know. I think I’ll go with the upset and take Pouille as the surprise semifinalist.
The Pick: Lucas Pouille
NOVAK DJOKOVIC QUARTER
It should be the Marin Cilic quarter but of the hard court Masters, Indian Wells is the Croat’s worst. Meanwhile, Djokovic is a 5-time champion and the story of the bottom half, if not the tournament. But as I said, I just don’t expect much here from him, and there’s no assurance he actually plays! If he does, he’ll open with a qualifier, then Kei Nishikori followed by Juan Martin Del Potro in a “wow” fourth rounder. Even if he beats Nishikori, I think he falls to Del Potro who goes on to the semifinals after beating Cilic. Cilic has too good of a draw to mess this up early. Phil Kohlschreiber or the fledgling Isner in the fourth round? I have to take Marin, but not over the Argentine.
The Pick: Juan Martin Del Potro
Federer d Dimitrov: The domination continues.
Del Potro d Pouille: Del Potro back in the Indian Wells final!
Federer d Del Potro: Del Potro should win, but Federer is the magic man.
What’s scary is, with Federer likely not playing on the clay, he might go into Wimbledon undefeated for the year. Think about that! And think about he’ll be 37 in August! It’s astonishing what he’s doing.
That said, a big part of his success has been the injuries to Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, etc. But he’s taken advantage and I think he’ll continue to do so because it just doesn’t seem like anyone is ready to step up. Maybe Del Potro but other than him, these young guys still have some maturing to do.
Speaking of those NextGenners, we could see a lot of great early matchups like Thiem-Tsitsipas, Shapovalov-Cuevas, Rublev-Opelka/Fritz, Medvedev-Kyrgios and Tiafoe-Escobedo.
But in the end, I think the veterans will again come through. And who knows, maybe Novak can get on track. Tennis is better when he’s on tour. And as we’ve seen in some many recent events: expected the unexpected. Long gone, it seems, are the days you could write 4 of the Top 6 seeds in the semifinals. So maybe it a Pouille or an RBA. We have a PCB last year!
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