Complete Guide to the 2014 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Tennis Tournaments

Jeremy Eckstein@!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

Complete Guide to the 2014 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Tennis Tournaments

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The 2014 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tennis series features the nine most important tournaments outside Grand Slam play. Typically, the entire ATP field appears, and one week of excellent matchups ensues with best of three matches.

    The Masters tour begins in March with Indian Wells and Miami in the southern corners of the United States. It swings into Europe for three clay-court tournaments in April-May. North America showcases two more events in August before the U.S. Open. The fall season finishes the tennis year with Shanghai, China and indoors courts at Paris, France.

    The following is a tennis fan's guide to each of the Masters tournaments. We provide a synopsis to the winners and highlights of 2013, an outlook for 2014 and a prediction of what we could see, at least with our perspectives in early March. The players and stories will change several times before each Masters chapter is opened.

    The fun begins this week at Indian Wells, but a long season of thrilling performances awaits us.

Indian Wells: March 6-16

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    What happened in 2013: Rafael Nadal won the 2013 title 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 versus Juan Martin del Potro. It was perhaps his biggest step forward after being sidelined seven months with injuries. It was his first hard-court title since 2010, and foreshadowed his success for his return to the No. 1 ranking.

    Nadal had to fight off a stiff challenge from Ernests Gulbis in the fourth round, before finishing off Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych in relatively easy fashion. Del Potro was impressive with back-to-back monster wins over Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, setting up his finals appearance.

    What to look for in 2014: Nadal will be one of the favorites, but he faces challenging potential matchups in his section of the draw, beginning with Andy Murray in the quarterfinals and Roger Federer in the semifinals. Del Potro has been hampered by a sore wrist and David Ferrer has already withdrawn. Roger Federer is in good form and healthier than last year; that was when his back injury at this tournament flared up to bother him for most of the year.

    There is a sense that men's tennis is gaining more depth at the top with stars who can win big tournaments. Stanislas Wawrinka and other veterans seem to have more hope in defeating the top players. Younger players like Grigor Dimitrov, Ernests Gulbis and Milos Raonic could emerge as even more legitimate top-10 threats.

    Prediction: No mention yet of Djokovic, but the Serbian is still often the odds-on favorite for most hard-court tournaments. He could be troubled by Marin Cilic in the fourth round in the bottom bracket, but the majority of the top players are in the upper bracket. Djokovic has the best chance to win if he plays his best tennis on a surface to his liking. He is our favorite here.

Miami: March 19-30

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    What happened in 2013: Andy Murray claimed his only Masters 1000 title in 2013 with a tough 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 win versus David Ferrer. It was a tournament devoid of top-notch play and excitement. Roger Federer was sidelined with a back injury. Rafael Nadal chose not to participate but to rest up for the European clay-court swing.

    The biggest upset was Tommy Haas' victory over No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic. Haas went on to the semifinals before falling to Ferrer.

    What to look for in 2014: Nadal has never won the event, but he has been a finalist every three years from 2005 (2008, 2011). The pattern indicates that Nadal could be a finalist this year, except that he could still opt out at any time. In 2012, he did not compete in his semifinal berth because of knee trouble, but he was fresh for clay-court Monte Carlo.

    Federer will likely make a push to pick up points here. The court is slower and the air humid, but he still figures to compete better than on clay. It's a chance for him to move his ranking up a few spots with a title. Djokovic could gain points in chasing Nadal, if Nadal plays poorly here. Murray still has not looked right, and he will have a tough time defending his points.

    Prediction: Chaos could reign supreme here. Right now, Grigor Dimitrov has been playing well, and he defeated Andy Murray on a similar surface at the Mexican Open. We will go with a bold pick and select him to get his first Masters 1000 title.

Monte Carlo: April 13-20

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    Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

    What happened in 2013: Novak Djokovic's status for Monte Carlo was in jeopardy after suffering an ankle injury during Davis Cup competition. He turned in a dominant first set in the final against Rafael Nadal, and then held on to snap his rival's epic eight-year stranglehold at Monte Carlo, 6-2, 7-6. Djokovic looked ready to win the French Open.

    Most of the other top seeds were eliminated by the third round. Grigor Dimitrov took one set from Nadal in the quarterfinals, and Fabio Fognini showed his clay-court talents with a run to the semifinals, before falling to Djokovic.

    What to look for in 2014: It's tough to bet against Nadal here. He will be as motivated as ever to get back on top, especially if he has not won a title at Indian Wells or Miami. This will also be an opportunity for him to bolster his ranking over Djokovic with a title.

    Will Stanislas Wawrinka make a clay-court charge this spring? He has often played well on this surface, and he could very well pick off a big title like Monte Carlo. Andy Murray has struggled historically on clay. David Ferrer may or may not be ready by April after his thigh injury in Mexico.

    Prediction: Nadal should be at his best here, if anywhere. We will pick him to defeat Djokovic in a rematch of last year's finalists.

Madrid: May 4-11

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    Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

    What happened in 2013: Rafael Nadal fought off his setback at Monte Carlo with his usual title in Barcelona, and then took the Madrid title in an easy 6-2, 6-4 final over Stanislas Wawrinka. It was a welcome relief for the Spaniard that Madrid returned to red clay after the disastrous experiment with blue clay, which brought up issues of player safety and unsteady play. Nadal also survived a scare from David Ferrer in the quarterfinals, two points from defeat until his rally.

    Grigor Dimitrov scored his biggest victory with his third-round defeat of Novak Djokovic. He took one set off Wawrinka before fading. Defending champion Roger Federer fell in the third round, and Andy Murray was ousted in the quarterfinals.

    What to look for in 2014: This is not a typical red-clay tournament. The altitude and thin air in Madrid helps players who prefer quicker conditions. Players like Federer and Wawrinka should bring strong challenges to Nadal and Djokovic.

    This wildcard tournament could also open the door for another player to make his mark. Maybe this time a resurgent Tomas Berdych comes through for only his second Masters 1000 title.

    Prediction: Wawrinka has a liking for clay, good movement and the kind of power to take advantage of the conditions. He is much more confident than a year ago and a solid bet to win the title. We will give him the nod here in another minor upset.

Rome: May 11-18

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    Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press

    What happened in 2013: Rafael Nadal was in fine form for the French Open as he picked up his seventh Rome title in nine years. He whipped Roger Federer 6-1, 6-3 in a match in which was even more lopsided than the recorded score. Federer seemed to run out of gas from the beginning, and his conditioning was clearly not optimum. Nadal simply roared ahead of the field.

    Novak Djokovic had another disappointing exit, this time in the quarterfinals to Tomas Berdych. However, he would pick himself up and push Nadal to the brink of defeat at Roland Garros. Ultimately, Nadal would prevail and close out another astounding display of dominance on the European clay.

    What to look for in 2014: Besides Nadal's seven titles, Djokovic has the other two titles after 2004. This is where most of the field loses its energy and stamina with one eye towards Paris and the other anywhere else besides clay-court inferno. Rome tests this resolve, and once again Nadal and Djokovic figure to be the heavy favorites. Wawrinka's toughness and Federer's experience could prove to be factors in contending.

    Prediction: Nadal again. This is where he turns up his intensity and hopes to build up his invincible game for Roland Garros. Djokovic has been the only player to challenge this in the past several years, and at some point Nadal won't go on and win Roland Garros again, right?

Toronto: August 4-10

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    What happened in 2013: Rafael Nadal turned the corner to get past Novak Djokovic in a thrilling semifinal victory. His aggressive approach in attacking the Serbian's forehand with flatter shots was part of the adjustment package that made him an instant threat to win the U.S. Open. Nadal closed out his title with an easy win over Milos Raonic.

    Canadian tennis had a nice spike, including Raonic and Vasek Pospisil facing off in the semifinals. Roger Federer skipped the tournament with his ailing back. Andy Murray struggled with a third-round loss to talented, outspoken Ernests Gulbis, who ripped Canadian tennis following his quarterfinals loss to Raonic.

    What to look for in 2014: If healthy and playing their best, Andy Murray and Roger Federer will be looking to take titles on the North American swing. This year the contest is in Montreal. (The tournament rotates with Toronto and Montreal each year, the women playing in the opposite location.)

    Prediction: Next August may as well be three years away, but as of now several players beside Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray could slip in for the title. Stanislas Wawrinka is the current dark-horse favorite for tennis fans, but Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov, Gulbis and Jerzy Janowicz have enough talent and explosiveness to win a Masters 1000 title. But they will need to prove their consistency. This will be a blind guess as of now, but let's go with Andy Murray to get one Masters title, right here, in 2014.

Cincinnati: August 10-17

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    What happened in 2013: Rafael Nadal was challenged by Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, and he had to rally back after losing the first set. But Nadal was in the midst of sweeping the three North American tournaments for the first time by any player since Andy Roddick in 2003. He defeated John Isner with two tiebreakers in the final.

    Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had been upset in the quarterfinals to Isner and Tomas Berdych respectively. Isner continued his big-serving and clutch play with a semifinal victory over Juan Martin del Potro, before falling to Nadal in the final.

    What to look for in 2014: The courts are faster at Cincinnati than at most venues. It's the last Masters 1000 title Djokovic needs to win in order to hold all nine career titles, but he may not be favored if Federer and Murray are at the top of their games, or if he must get through another grueling match with Stanislas Wawrinka. It's a deep field that can compete on fast hard courts.

    Prediction: Federer just added his sixth title at Dubai, so let's say that he repeats this at Cincinnati, one of his favorite venues. He knows how to peak when Grand Slam tournaments come around, so his performance at Cincinnati will get him ready for one more big challenge at the U.S. Open.

Shanghai: October 5-12

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    Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

    What happened in 2013: Novak Djokovic found his zone following the U.S. Open. The Serbian eked out a third-set tiebreaker in the final versus Juan Martin del Potro (6-1, 3-6, 7-6), and he celebrated his championship despite losing his No. 1 ranking that week to Rafael Nadal.

    Nadal's best tennis was now behind him, and he was easily dismissed by Del Potro in the semifinals. Andy Murray was out for the rest of 2013 with back surgery. Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer were all defeated in the third round.

    What to look for in 2014: The race for the No. 1 ranking could come down to how the players finish following the U.S. Open. Who will be motivated to climb into the top 8 for London, and will Federer, Wawrinka and others challenge Nadal and Djokovic for the very top? We will know more at the time, but motivation will be highest for players who have the most to play for.

    Prediction: Djokovic and Federer figure to contend on this surface, but Andy Murray won two titles here in 2010-11. If he is at his best, he should be right there. For now, we will take Federer to pick up his second Masters 1000 tournament title of the year.

Paris: October 27-November 2

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    Francois Mori/Associated Press

    What happened in 2013: Novak Djokovic had to defeat John Isner, Stanislas Wawrinka and Roger Federer just to get to the final. His three-setter versus Federer was another interesting clash in which both players had their moments. Ultimately, Djokovic was just playing better. He polished off David Ferrer in the final, 7-5, 7-5.

    Rafael Nadal cruised to the semifinals, but was flat versus Ferrer.

    What to look for in 2014: This has always been a strange place to dominate. The indoors surface would seem to help Federer, but the Swiss Maestro has only one title here (2011). Djokovic is the only player with two titles since 2003, and the tournament has featured champions such as Nikolay Davydenko, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Nalbandian and Robin Soderling. It truly could be another crazy mixed bag of opportunities, much as it was for the rise of surprise finalist Jerzy Janowicz in 2012.

    Prediction: There will likely be a big star or two who has nothing to gain and will sit out with an "injury," but which will actually be rest for the WTF final in London. Let's say everything is pretty much in place for the end of the year, and Tomas Berdych rides his way to an easy victory versus a depleted field.