Indian Wells Draw: Djokovic Makes Return, But Can He Stop Defending Champ Federer?
by Sean Randall | March 6th, 2018, 10:44 pm

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.

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

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

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

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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27 Comments for Indian Wells Draw: Djokovic Makes Return, But Can He Stop Defending Champ Federer?

skeezer Says:

Great read Sean. My pick is Delpo also.

Giles Says:

Lol. Trying to jinx Delpo now.

Daniel Says:

Djoko has a potential R32 match against Kei. Who ever win can have a boost.

Agree with DelPo going far. He plays best the more he is winning.

Fed has QF with Berdych, hope he does not have to save MP like last years Miami.

SG1 Says:

Federer is the favorite just like he was 13 years ago.

When you look at the big 5 (…including Stan in the list), each has something freakish about their game that allows them and to stand out and apart from the rest. Seems like a lot of the young guns play vanilla tennis.

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Its great news to have Novak back. I hope its not another false start, but one would think he’ll be smart and patient at this point in his career. In other words, he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t feel ready.

Sad that Rafa drops out again just when Novak returns. It will feel great if we ever have the Big Five truly reunited (i.e. at strength) in a tournament again. It may never happen.

All the quarters are full of drama. Fed has a great path to the semis. He is certainly a heavy favourite in that half.

As Sean points out, there are two events in one here: a futures-event and a main event. It will be exciting to see which young players can come out of their early matches to face the vets in the later rounds.

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Possible 2nd round matches:
Monfils/ Isner
Feliciano/ Tiafoe
Anderson/ Kachanov

Berdych/ Chung
Shapovalov/ Thiem
Dmitrov/ Rublev
PCB/ Kyrgios
Milos/ Zverev
Kei/ Novak

Okiegal Says:


Okiegal Says:

Fed has ๐Ÿ†๐Ÿ†๐Ÿ†๐Ÿ†๐Ÿ† at IW, will add one more ๐Ÿ†……. with no problem, me thinks!

j-kath Says:

Just seems too fairy tale for me – ……but who the heck really knows?

j-kath Says:

SG1: Agree.

Markus Says:

I’m very curious to see how Djokovic plays after his surgery. So far, none of those who took time off for an injury has fared well, some have not even come back to play yet. Injury, surgery, increasing age don’t go along well with sports. Sadly, many of them will likely not come back to their pre-injury level. I think Raonic and Wawrinka are over. Maybe Murray, too. I hope to be wrong on all counts. Nadal always seems to rebound. He will again. I hope to be right on that one.

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Markus, you may well be right. Half the top ten- the stalwarts of the last three years- could be done. Wawrinka, Murray, Novak, Raonic, Nishikori.
If true, it could be a massive turnover, and there’s no one ready to take their place. Which means the field for Federer, Rafa, and perhaps Del Potro could be as clear as it looked for Novak a couple years back (except of course, Novak was alone in the cat seat).

All that is speculation, but this is fact: Federer and Rafa will not be winning slams forever. They very likely will not be winning slams in two years. Who will?

This would be more of a New Balls turnover: the young guys aren’t exactly tearing down the thrones, they’re waiting for the royalty to die. Even then, Hewitt and Safin and Roger had huge wins against Sampras while he was still Sampras. Whats the biggest match one of these young guys has won?
If you look back before that, I think Sampras and Agassi really took the leadership from Becker/Edberg, who took it from Lendl, who took it from MacEnroe, who took it from Borg, who took it from Connors. There’s a long line of generations beating down those that came before them, when they were still underdogs.
I always had the sense that Sampras, Muster, Rafter, Henman aged, more than Hewitt/Roddick/Safin/Federer took them out. (Aside: It seemed like Novak had ripped the belt from Rafa and Fed, but because he’d played third fiddle to them for so long, it was a different dynamic.)
Unless things really develop, by 2020 we could see Zverev, and who knows who else, take #1 and 2 just because there’s no one good left around.

j-kath Says:

TV: Henman was a likeable guy but he was flaky…occasionally he’d be brilliant but rarely….he was overly feted here in the UK and never a threat to Federer.

Chris Ford Says:

Treat it as rehab time for Djokovic. If he had been in many other sports he would have spent part of his time building back on the field with a farm team or subsidized “national academy” residency. And would still be there at this stage, post-surgery.
Timing, instinct, thinking strategy and execution under pressure will need a few months of practices to return to Djokovics past “count on him in the Semis and QFs a lot” ways. Assuming he truly has recovered enough to consider the Tour as feasible to resume with a good chance of winning.

Markus Says:

…waiting for the royalty to die.
…because there’s no one good left behind.

love those, TV. funny but realistic. Bleak future looming in the tennis world.

One question though, what is Henman doing in that list?

Giles Says:

โ€œWaiting for the royalty to dieโ€. There really isnt anything โ€œfunnyโ€ about those words. Why not say โ€œ retireโ€ instead!

Markus Says:

^^ Ever heard of metaphors?

Giles Says:

^^ Couldnโ€™t you find a different one??

Markus Says:

^^Ever heard of satire?

Okiegal Says:

I want ALL of the injured players to get well…….Iโ€™m pulling for the older ones….. not ready to give those guys up yet!! I hope DelPo remains healthy too…….but when he continues to hit the ball like he can and does…..I hope his wrist holds up to the task. It hasnโ€™t in the past……Fed stays in good health… cโ€™mon Andy, Stan, Novak, Rafa etc get healthy. Hopefully Novak is on the mend!

Daniel Says:

Not everybody can age and go down as David Ferrer is doing now, who I thinkg is the grinder with least injuries ever in tennis.

Majority of players after 30 go out due to injury, so we have to expetc that half those names TV mentioned, will have similar fate.

As much as I share Oki optimism, can’t see them all resuming to their previous injury level. Law of averages will get some of them, the question is who?

j-kath Says:

Exactly Markus – What was Henman doing in that list – in the UK whenever Andy mucked up a stroke
the Brit. crowd would shout “Come on Tim”.

Amit Says:

Does anyone else also thinks Fed’s game has loss some of its aesthetic appeal and elegance since switching to his new wider racquet?? I feel so at least.. Fed’s game is more effective these days than it was before, but at the same time his play also seems to have become a bit more mechanical and physical now than his former heydays..

Willow Says:

Amit i doubt it really matters one way or the other, hes top of the tree again, on the crest of a wave, theres nobody on the horizon to challenge him, if only other players on tour had such problems lol ….

Tennis Vagabond Says:

OK, maybe I should have left Henman off that list.

Let’s add Courier in his place.

Amit, I think Federer’s new backhand is a thing of beauty.

Okie, I certainly hope all these players will come back as well. Hard to imagine that all of them will, but I have a feeling the older ones (Murray and Novak) may come back better than Raonic and Nishikori. Its not meant to be mean spirited to any of these players, but just as some tennis-talk to bring up the possibility that that whole slate may be changing, and imagining what that means. Does it mean Fed and Rafa will win every Slam for the next two years? Or that Cilic and Del Potro will get some, or Zverev-and-ever-after will get some?

Markus Says:

TV, that’s better. After all, Courier won 4 majors and became number one during the time of Sampras and Agassi. He is the Andy Murray of his generation, an arguably more accomplished version probably because, arguably again, Sampras/Agassi is not as accomplished as Federer/Nadal.

Daniel Says:

Don’t agree Amit, to me eyes, all visual apsect are there. Slices, BH swing, FH, and moving forward and volleys.
Maybe you are getting this feel, because he is hitting even ealrier than before, taking all balls on the rise, taking time away form opponents hence making the match faster. As if we can keep it up with his pace.

But the genius shotmaking is still there. If you search his 2017 top shots on youtube, its a delight.

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