Indian Wells is back, and so too are many of the top players in men’s tennis. While it’s the first Indian Wells without a Big 3 — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — since 2000, the tournament still has 17 of the Top 20 players entered.
A new men’s champion will also be crowned in two Sundays, and John Isner and Andy Murray are the only men in the 96-player field to have made the final.
So who’s going to win it? Well, US Open champion Daniil Medvedev is the clear favorite, then it has to be Alexander Zverev followed by Stefanos Tsitsipas and then it drops way off to maybe Andrey Rublev.
The “true” Big 3 may not be in the desert, but the “New 3” are. And this trio led by Medvedev continue to separate themselves from the pack, at least for now. That’s likely to change down the road, but I expect the champion to emerge from one of those three.
On to the draw.
DANIIL MEDVEDEV QUARTER
The World No. 2 looked so good during the summer and at the US Open and I expect no drop in form this week. Desert air can play havoc but Medvedev should be good in the dry surroundings. To beat Medvedev, a big game helps, but you can’t be one-dimensional. And in his quarter I don’t see many of those threats. Sebastian Korda is still a year or two away, Reilly Opelka is a self-anointed “servebot”, Aslan Karatsev I don’t think is a worry nor is Grigor Dimitrov who is playing well but past due. The two guys who could hurt Medvedev I think are Miami champ Hubert Hurkacz and Denis Shapovalov. Hurkacz could face Korda (or Frances Tiafoe in the third round), then Shapovalov in the fourth with Medvedev in the quarters. But it’s hard to see either upsetting Medvedev right now.
The Pick: Daniil Medvedev
ANDREY RUBLEV QUARTER
With Medvedev, Zverev and Tsitsipas the clear favorites in their sections, this is the quarter of opportunity. Dry desert air and altitude may get the better of Rublev so I’ll look elsewhere. Casper Ruud is rock solid with a ferocious forehand and a strong serve. And comes in off his first hard court title on Sunday. Roberto Bautista Agut loves to play spoiler. Dan Evans, Diego Schwartzman, Lloyd Harris, Cameron Norrie and Kei Nishikori are also in the section. But I’m going with Ruud. He leads the tour in titles this year and while he is not proven on hard courts at this level, he is a proven winner, and has made Masters semifinals before, just on clay. I’ll go with Ruud beating Harris, Evans and then RBA in the quarters to reach the semifinals.
The Pick: Casper Ruud
ALEXANDER ZVEREV QUARTER
Zverev is arguably the second favorite, but he’s got the most interesting draw of the top guys. The quirky Jenson Brooksby could be his opener, then Carlos Alcaraz in the third round, Gael Monfils in the fourth and either Matteo Berrettini or Jannik Sinner in the quarters. Former finalist Andy Murray is also in the Zverev section. The Scot will play Adrian Mannarino in a tough first round with Alcaraz in the second. I don’t expect much from Murray, but in best-of-3 he could certainly go a few rounds. Berrettini will have California kid Taylor Fritz and then John Isner who I think upends Sinner. Isner, also a former runner-up, beats Berrettini but Zverev gets through.
The Pick: Alexander Zverev
STEFANOS TSITSIPAS QUARTER
Tsitsipas has been one of the most consistent players in Masters on the year, making five of six quarterfinals and the semifinals at the last two, both in North America. He had a tough exit at Wimbledon and at the US Open losing to Alcaraz in five, but I feel he’ll get back into form this week in the desert, and he’s got a great draw. The 23-year-old Greek has either Fabio Fognini or Jan-Lennard Struff, possibly Alex De Minaur in the fourth round and then I’ll take sneaky-good hard court player Pablo Carreno Busta to reach the quarters to face Tsitsipas. Carreno Busta upsets Felix Auger-Aliassime but won’t beat Tsitsipas.
The Pick: Stefanos Tsitsipas
Medvedev d Ruud: On clay this could go the other way but the dirt season is months and months away.
Zverev d Tsitsipas: Teammates in Boston are enemies again. I like Zverev here.
Zverev d Medvedev: Zverev ends a 3-match losing streak overpowering the Russian.
I do think Djokovic, Nadal and Federer will return to Masters play next year, but this is the new reality going forward. It will take some time, but in a few years this “New 3” or whatever will eventually become bigger stars, and who knows, one day one of multiple will be on the level of a Djokovic-Nadal-Federer.
Speaking of Novak, if Medvedev does win Indian Wells, he will put that much more pressure on the Serb for the No. 1 ranking. After his tough summer, I don’t know how much Djokovic cares about another No. 1 finish — and I don’t blame him if tennis is the last thing on his mind — but the No. 1 race could get tight down the stretch here.
There’s also the Race for Turin. Right now it looks like two spots available with Ruud, Hurkacz, Shapovalov, Sinner and Auger-Aliassime all in the hunt. With the event in Italy now, Sinner would be a big draw (Berrettini already looks like he’ll make it), but it’s hard to say who’ll get those final berths.
The women’s event started today. The men begin tomorrow with seeds opening up on Friday.
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