On Thursday, ATP main draw play will begin at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, the first of nine Masters 1000 events on the 2013 calender.
In 2012, No. 3 seed Roger Federer captured the title over surprise finalist John Isner 7-6(7), 6-3. Isner, the No. 11 seed, pulled off a huge upset in one of the most memorable matches of the year in the semifinals when he defeated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 7-6(7), 3-6, 7-6(5).
Both Federer and Isner are hoping to repeat their success from last year and turn around what has been a disappointing 2013 up to this point. Federer has yet to reach a final in the three events he has played, and Isner has lost to a lower-ranked opponent in all five of his tournaments this year.
This will also be the first time since Wimbledon that Djokovic, Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal will be in the same draw as Nadal missed several months due to a knee injury. He is coming into Indian Wells in good form after winning two straights events on clay in Brazil and Mexico.
If Murray can walk away from the BNP Paribas Open victorious, he will take over the No. 2 ranking from Federer in the process. Djokovic will be a threat as always as he attempts to remain on top of the game and reclaim the title that he won in 2011.
With the "Big Four" back in action and major ATP points at stake over the next two weeks in Indian Wells, you can look forward to some high quality tennis in the desert with some of the sport's biggest rivalries hopefully on the schedule.
Read on for predictions of the entire tournament. Draws can be found here.
Novak Djokovic (1)
Grigor Dimitrov (31)
Sam Querrey (23)
Juan Monaco (14)
Marin Cilic (12)
Milos Raonic (17)
Mardy Fish (32)
Potential Sleeper: Milos Raonic. The 22-year-old Canadian has arguably the best serve in the world and recently won his third-straight SAP Open in early February without dropping a set. While Cilic and Tsonga are obviously tough outs, Raonic possesses the fire power to possibly make it all the way to the quarterfinals.
Up-and-Coming Player to Watch For: Jack Sock. The young American wild card has a good opportunity here as he faces a qualifier in the first round. If Sock can win the match, he will boost his career-high ranking of No. 125 even higher before facing fellow American Sam Querrey in the second round.
Best Possible Matchup: Marin Cilic vs. Milos Raonic, Round of 32. These tall, big serving players could face off in the third round in a match sure to be full of aces and probably a few tiebreakers.
Round of 16 Predictions:
Novak Djokovic (1) defeats Sam Querrey (23) in two sets
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8) defeats Milos Raonic (17) in three sets
Novak Djokovic (1) defeats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8) in two sets
Andy Murray (3)
Martin Klizan (26)
Alexandr Dolgopolov (22)
Kei Nishikori (16)
Nicolas Almagro (11)
Tommy Haas (19)
Jeremy Chardy (25)
Potential Sleeper: Kei Nishikori. The Japanese rising star won the biggest tournament of his career at the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships in Memphis just a few weeks ago. He is set up well with a bye in the first round and the winner of two qualifiers in the second round, so he should go into the later rounds of the event well rested.
Up-and-Coming Player to Watch For: Martin Klizan. The 23-year-old from Slovakia showed top-10 potential in his run to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Open last September, but has struggles so far this season. His potential Round of 32 match against Andy Murray may give us a better idea of just how good he really is.
Best Possible Matchup: Andy Murray vs. Juan Martin Del Potro, Quarterfinals. Two of the most talented players in the world going toe-to-toe is always fun. Del Potro has been playing well and is a decent bet for the upset here against Murray who has not played since the Aussie Open.
Round of 16 Predictions:
Andy Murray (3) defeats Kei Nishikori (16) in two sets
Juan Martin Del Potro (7) defeats Tommy Haas (19) in two sets
Andy Murray (3) defeats Juan Martin Del Potro (7) in three sets
Tomas Berdych (6)
Florian Mayer (27)
Jerzy Janowicz (24)
Richard Gasquet (10)
Gilles Simon (13)
Philipp Kohlschreiber (21)
Fernando Verdasco (29)
David Ferrer (4)
Potential Sleeper: Kevin Anderson. The 6'8'' South African is one of the first players out of being seeded and presents a very tough first match for No. 4 seed David Ferrer if Anderson can get past Victor Hanescu. Considering that Ferrer only won two games in his last match against Nadal, he may not come out of the gates too confident and leave an opening for Anderson to take.
Up-and-Coming Player to Watch For: Benoit Paire. Consistency has been the issue for this young Frenchman as was on display recently. After reaching the final of Montpellier in early February, he has lost three straight first-round contests. Nonetheless, he has the talent to make a run here and possibly upset No. 21 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber and No. 13 seed Gilles Simon, whom he beat just a month ago at Montpellier.
Best Possible Matchup: Tomas Berdych vs. Richard Gasquet, Round of 16. Both of these players are incredibly talented off the baseline and can hit some of the most jaw-dropping winners in the game. Gasquet is always fun to watch play with his beautiful strokes, and Berdych is playing very well as he beat Federer this past week in Dubai.
Round of 16 Predictions:
Tomas Berdych (6) defeats Richard Gasquet (10) in three sets
David Ferrer (4) defeats Gilles Simon (13) in two sets
Tomas Berdych (6) defeats David Ferrer (4) in three sets
Rafael Nadal (5)
Mikhail Youzhny (30)
Andreas Seppi (20)
Janko Tipsarevic (9)
John Isner (15)
Stanislas Wawrinka (18)
Julien Benneteau (28)
Roger Federer (2)
Potential Sleeper: Marcos Baghdatis. The 27-year-old from Cyprus has been playing well of late with a win over Richard Gasquet and a close 7-6 in the third loss to Juan Martin Del Potro in the past month. He should win his first match against a qualifier and will have a good shot at taking down No. 21 seed Andreas Seppi in the second round and possibly even No. 9 seed Tipsarevic in the Round of 32.
Up-and-Coming Player to Watch For: Ryan Harrison. While Harrison has been on the ATP Tour for a few seasons now, he is still only 20 years old. He is in a tough situation this week as he reached the Round of 16 last year in Indian Wells, meaning he has a lot of points to defend. Those points will be hard to come by this year as he faces Nadal in the second round. Winning his first round matchup against Go Soeda will be huge for Harrison if he does not want to see his ranking take a big hit.
Best Possible Matchup: Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer, Quarterfinals. This is a crime! These two legends should never have to play each other in a quarterfinal round. Since Nadal missed so much time due to injury, he slipped to the No. 5 ranking, and this unfortunate draw is a result of that. While Nadal leads the all-time series 18-10, Federer took him down in the semifinals of Indian Wells last year 6-3, 6-4.
Round of 16 Predictions:
Rafael Nadal (5) defeats Janko Tipsarevic (9) in two sets
Roger Federer (2) defeats Stanislas Wawrinka (18) in three sets
Roger Federer (2) defeats Rafael Nadal (5) in three sets
Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Andy Murray (3)
The photo to the left captures the current state of these two superstars well. Djokovic is content and holding on tight to his throne above the rest of the tennis world. Murray is agonized, yet poised to make it to that top spot in the rankings.
In a rematch of the last two Grand Slam finals, this will be the second leg of many Djokovic-Murray matches that will occur in 2013. As Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal age, look for this rivalry to take over as the best matchup in tennis.
Murray has not played since losing the Australian Open back in January, but my goodness was he playing well down under. He absolutely steamrolled his way through to the semifinals and then defeated Roger Federer in five sets. Murray won the first set against Djokovic in the final, but the Serbian took his game to another level to win 6-7(2), 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-2.
Djokovic was successful in his warmup tournament for Indian Wells last week as he won in Dubai without losing a set. While Murray has a lot at stake here with a chance to get the No. 2 ranking if he wins the tournament, Djokovic is far and above the best player in the world right now.
Prediction: Djokovic defeats Murray 7-5, 4-6, 6-4
Tomas Berdych (6) vs. Roger Federer (2)
As mentioned earlier, Berdych defeated Federer in the semifinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last week 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4.
Don't expect it to happen again.
Roger Federer has got to be frustrated that he has not even reached a final yet in 2013, and you can expect him to break that streak in Indian Wells. He is under a lot of pressure as last year's champion to not only defend all of those points but to hold off Andy Murray from taking over his No. 2 ranking as well.
Berdych no doubt has the talent to beat Federer again and the win in Dubai was no fluke, but Federer will realize the enormity of this match and elevate his game to a level that Berdych simply cannot match.
Knowing that Djokovic and Murray will be in for a long, intense battle in the other semifinal, Federer will try to make quick work of this match to give him an edge going into the final.
Prediction: Federer defeats Berdych 6-3, 6-4
Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Roger Federer (2)
The only time Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer faced off in Indian Wells was in the 2011 semifinals when Djokovic won 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. That was right in the middle of Djokovic's unbelievable 43-match win streak and climb to No. 1 in the world for the first time.
It feels like Nole may be in the beginning stages of another epic streak.
The No. 1 player in the world has won his past three tournaments, including the 2012 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and the 2013 Australian Open. While Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal are on a level far above the rest of tennis, Djokovic has emerged as the clear head of the class.
Federer still leads their overall series 16-13, but Djokovic has won seven of their past 10 meetings. Djokovic will look to continue his dominant form these next two weeks and try to ride his winning streak all the way to the French Open, the only Grand Slam title he has never won.
In what will be a terrific final with two of the game's all-time greats (yes, Djokovic is making his way into that discussion), Djokovic's flawless baseline game and exceptional movement will propel him past the Swiss legend so he can again kiss the winner's trophy as he did in 2011.
Prediction: Djokovic defeats Federer 6-4, 7-6(5)
Who do you think will win the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells? Agree or disagree with my predictions? Please feel free to voice your opinions below!