The first Masters event of the season kicks off Thursday in the lush surroundings of Indian Wells. The event features many of the big names though defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro was sadly a recent scratch due to lingering knee issues.
Novak Djokovic is a 5-time champion and once again he is the heavy favorite, and odds are he’s going to come away with No. 6.
Without Del Potro and with Rafael Nadal still a little wobbly after losing badly to Novak in Australia and choking to Nick Kyrgios last week in Acapulco, there aren’t many serious contenders.
Roger Federer is back following his 100th career win last week in Dubai. But the 5-time Indian Wells champion hasn’t beaten a Top 5 player in over a year!
As for the others in the hunt, there’s host of youngsters led by the surging Stefanos Tsitsipas and the struggling Alexander Zverev. Borna Coric made the semifinals a year ago and Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev, Alex De Minaur and Denis Shapovalov also are ones to keep an eye on.
But this event should come down to five players: Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Zverev and I’ll throw in Tsitsipas because he’s beaten the big names on the big stage.
So… To the draw.
Wow, what a fun third round could await with Djokovic projected to meet Kyrgios in a rematch of their 2017 clash! The Australian, though, will have to get through Phil Kohlschreiber or Pierre-Hugues Herbert, both are tough outs. When you pick Kyrgios, that’s when he disappoints, so it’s a shaky proposition for him to win just one match and make it to Novak. Regardless, Novak will get through (and earn his first win over Nick after losing his first two) then go past either the in-form Gael Monfils or the improving Reilly Opelka in the fourth, and then Borna Coric or the slumping Dominic Thiem in the quarters – the Austrian is just 3-4 on the year. Coric will be defending those semi points from last year while Monfils is suddenly showing life again. Still, Novak should get back into the semifinals without much of an issue.
The Pick: Novak Djokovic
With a Miami title defense looming and his peers like Tsitsipas and Medvedev making headlines, the expectations remain for Zverev. Maybe he needs to keep losing, that’s one way to take some weight off. But the kid has a lot of game and I think eventually he’ll get it right. As for this event, he’ll be favored in every match in his quarter, but it could be tricky – last year he lost his first match to Sousa! He’ll potentially start with brother Mischa, then Grigor Dimitrov who seems due to a big win. In the fourth, Milos Raonic is ready to play spoiler again and then Tsitsipas or Kevin Anderson in the quarters. Roberto Bautista Agut, Sam Querrey and De Minaur are also in this deep section. I’m leaning to either Zverev, Roanic, Tsitsipas or Anderson to come out. I think Zverev is still not playing up to par, Tsitsipas might not be fully accustomed to the desert conditions while Anderson has never been past the quarters. Meanwhile, Raonic has made the semifinals in his last three trips to Indian Wells including the finals three years ago. So for whatever the reason, he just clicks in the desert, and I’ll try to click with him.
The Pick: Milos Raonic
Well, now that the chase for 100 is over, what’s next for Federer? At Indian Wells, it’s a 6th title which would break the tie with Djokovic. And Roger has to be happy with his draw early on, with at worst Andreas Seppi, Stan Wawrinka and then Fabio Fognini in the fourth. In the quarters, though, it could be Kei Nishikori. The Japanese No. 1 has made the quarters at Indian Wells in his last two visits, and has enjoyed a strong start to 2019. He also snapped a 5-match losing streak to Federer at the end of last year in London, and I think he keeps that momentum next week. Nishikori will have to get by Lucas Pouille and Marin Cilic to get there, but I think he can and then stun Federer.
The Pick: Kei Nishikori
Rafa loves Indian Wells and is good friends with owner Larry Ellison. But Rafa has under-performed in the desert, failing to make the finals since his third title there in 2013. Last year it was Federer in the fourth. In 2017, Djokovic got him in the semifinals while Raonic and Alexandr Dolgopolov also upset the Spaniard since that title run. This year, he comes in off tough losses to Djokovic in Melbourne and Kyrgios last week in Acapulco. And it’s a tough draw on his toughest surface. After opening agaist the returning Jared Donaldson, Diego Schwartzman will make him work, then it’s the rapidly rising Daniil Medvedev followed by either John Isner or Karen Khachanov in the quarters if he makes it that far. And I don’t think he does. Medvedev is really playing solid tennis so far this season — I loved how he fought against Djokovic in Melbourne — and I think he gets the big upset and then goes on to the semifinals.
The Pick: Daniil Medvedev
Djokovic d Raonic: Djokovic shows his class breaking apart the Canadian’s serve.
Nishikori d Medvedev: Nishikori’s experience gets him through the tough Russian.
Djokovic d Nishikori: Rack up another crown for Novak who’s just too good for Nishikori.
Again, too bad Delpo can’t defend his title and it’s unfortunate Andy Murray may never play Indian Wells again. But the event stays strong with the Big 3 and all these young guys who are starting to make their presence felt.
Zverev is firmly in the Top 10, Tsitsipas has now joined in and someone like Medvedev or Khachanov could also get in there in a few weeks.
The desert has done funny things to the ball and we’ve seen it in the results. Guys like Coric, Carreno Busta, Sock and Dolgopolov have all made the semifinals there in recent years, so the event has a history of surprises, so what’s in store this year?
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