The first Tennis Masters event kicks off Thursday in scenic Indian Wells. But don’t let the blue skies and snow-capped mountains fool you, the tennis is real and it is rough.
The men’s draw was just completed. Let’s get right to it. Here’s what you need to know.
Top seed Novak Djokovic’s tournament defense and quest for a fourth Indian Wells title takes him through a relatively easy road early on. He’ll open against former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis or the youngster Jiri Vesely who gave Andy Murray fits at Indian Wells last year. Frenchman Julien Benneteau could be next though I think that spot will go to Djokovic’s good buddy Viktor Troikci. Then Kevin Anderson or the struggling John Isner could be tricky before David Ferrer in the quarters.
Ferrer, who’s had some success in the desert, does have Bernard Tomic and Marin Cilic, however, the Croat is making his 2015 debut, so I don’t expect his game to be where it was the last time he played in the US. And even though Tomic is playing well this year, he’s not at Ferrer’s level. So I think David does make it out to Novak, but that will mark the end of his event.
The pick: Novak Djokovic
Both Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori in the same quarter? Wow. I say that because after Murray’s dismal post-Australian Open, he needed a good draw in Indian Wells where he hasn’t made it to the final weekend this decade! Meanwhile, Nishikori has been red-hot of late winning 10 of his last 11 since the Australian Open, and I think he’s primed for the upset over Murray here.
Both have to be pleased with their draws. Murray’s got a decent path with the up-and-down Vasek Pospisil to start, maybe Philipp Kohlschreiber and then he’s got the failing Ernests Gulbis or Fabio Fognini in the fourth. That’s pretty good! Nishikori also looks good with either Mardy Fish or Ryan Harrison to start, then maybe a pair of Spanish lefties with Fernando Verdasco and then Feliciano Lopez before Murray. And I think Kei wins that.
Also to note is the return of former finalist Fish who meets the improving Harrison in his first singles match in 18 months. Good to see Mardy back playing tennis again.
The pick: Kei Nishikori
In nine previous appearances, Rafael Nadal has made the SFs eight times, winning the title three of those. That’s not bad for a claycourt guy. But this time Nadal comes in with some confidence issues after a poor showing in Australia. So I think he’ll be tested early but history tells us he’ll get through. Though with Gilles Simon or Richard Gasquet, and Milos Raonic in the later rounds it could get tough.
Raonic has a couple easy early rounds before running into Grigor Dimitrov, Nick Kyrgios or Tommy Robredo. With Kyrgios always injured, Dimitrov struggling, Robredo could sneak through here.
The pick: Rafael Nadal
Swiss teammates and friends Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka both call the fourth quarter their home. And both should be relatively fresh after skipping Davis Cup this past weekend and they’ll need to be because to me this is the toughest quarter. Federer is the favorite having won the title four times and he was a finalist a year ago losing a thriller to Novak. But he’s got a dangerous road starting with Jerzy Janowicz, then a rematch with Andreas Seppi. Roberto Bautista Agut could follow and then the showdown against either Tomas Berdych or Stan Wawrinka.
Both Berdych and Stan have struggled in Indian Wells, and both are playing well this year but since Stan has won the last six with Tomas I’ll take him here. But Stan won’t beat Roger. He could, but he won’t.
Semifinals: Djokovic d. Nishikori, Nadal d. Federer.
Novak gets revenge on Kei for the US Open while Nadal, who’s back in form, continues his dominance over Federer.
Final: Djokovic d. Nadal
Novak’s simply the best on hardcourts right now.
Overall, I think the Federer quarter is the toughest while Novak has the easiest section. Murray worries me a little. He just hasn’t looked in sync since Australia, and someone even like a hot-running Pospisil could take him out.
Nadal is really the guy I don’t know. Will he struggle again like Australia or has the extra few weeks on clay given him that needed confidence. But Rafa does play well in the desert and we know he always competes.
And this will be a key event for Federer who is not playing Miami. Was the Australian stumble just that or is the Swiss really on the decline? Janowicz, Seppi and especially Berdych or Stan could get him if he plays like he did in Australia.
Men’s matches begin Thursday. Tennis Channel has full coverage starting at 2pm ET.
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