The semifinals on the men's side of the BNP Paribas Open offer a perfect combination of stars. Fans get to see one of the most in-form players on tour in Alexandr Dolgopolov, American John Isner playing on home soil and two of the best in the world in Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
Indian Wells is always one of the biggest stops for tennis outside of the majors. It attracts top players in both the men's and women's draws and definitely provides a big-tournament feel during the final few rounds with coveted titles on the line.
The question now is whether we're heading toward another final featuring Federer and Djokovic or if there's an upset in the cards. Let's take a closer look at each of the semifinal matchups and make predictions for each.
Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Roger Federer
Dolgopolov looked like a star on the rise when he reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2011. His results since that point have failed to impress, however, as he's lacked the consistency necessary to take full advantage of the power he possesses off both wings.
He's showing signs of turning the corner, though. The Ukrainian reached the final in Rio de Janeiro, a run highlighted by wins over Nicolas Almagro, Fabio Fognini and David Ferrer. He followed it up with a semifinal appearance in Acapulco.
Which player will advance to the final?
Now he finds himself two wins away from the biggest tournament win of his career. Reaching this point has been a testament of his improved play. He's eliminated Rafael Nadal, Fognini and Milos Raonic over the last three rounds.
Stringing together big victories like those is a sign of a maturing player. He'll be put to the test again by Federer. The two have only met once before and that was all the way back in 2010. Dolgopolov retired with the Swiss sensation one game from a straight-sets win.
While the talented 25-year-old power player continues the process of asserting himself as a serious threat, Federer is looking to move back up the rankings. Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times notes he could move back into the top four by winning the title:
Federer will play Alexandr Dolgopolov in the semifinals on Saturday. Roger moves up to No5, and would be No4 with a title here. #BNPPO14— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 14, 2014
It should be an entertaining match. The 17-time major champion will attempt to use his craft, guile and experience to overcome the hard hitting of Dolgopolov. How well Federer is able to defend will obviously be a major factor in determining if his game plan works.
Unfortunately for Dolgopolov, he runs into one of the few players who can match his recent form. Federer is 9-0 since a brief break following Switzerland's Davis Cup tie with Serbia. That includes winning the Dubai title in his last event.
Given the fact both players are on a roll, it certainly wouldn't be a surprise to see the match go the distance. If so, a few key points in the third set will decide it, with a slight edge to Federer.
Prediction: Federer in three sets
John Isner vs. Novak Djokovic
The second semifinal features players with a little more experience against each other. Isner and Djokovic have faced off six times with the Serbian superstar owning a 4-2 edge, which is actually a very respectable tally for the American.
Which player will advance to the final?
Isner opened the season by claiming the title in Auckland. Since that point his results have dropped off, however. He had to retire in the first round of the Australian Open, was hardly convincing against a weak field in Delray Beach and got knocked out in his opening match in Acapulco.
In other words, his run to the semifinals of Indian Wells is a bit unexpected. Great play in tiebreakers has fueled the success. Isner has won all four he's played in the event, including both sets in his triumph over Ernests Gulbis in the quarterfinals.
Playing with that little margin for error going into a match against Djokovic doesn't bode well.
The second-ranked player arrived to the BNP Paribas Open with extra motivation since he hasn't captured a title in 2014. He explained that unusual situation for himself in comments passed along by Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated:
I didn't win the Australian Open this year, as was the case in the last three years... I came to Indian Wells without a title this season, and that is a different feeling from previous years. So, of course, it's important for me to do well.
The problem for Isner is illustrated by the last meeting between the pair, which came at the Paris Masters last year. He actually won the opening set in a tiebreak, but Djokovic fought back and won the next two sets in routine fashion (6-1, 6-2).
He needs to play perfect tennis to win sets. If Djokovic finds top form, he can roll since he's far better on the return. To Isner's credit, he's still been able to pull off the upset twice, but given his play so far in 2014, it's hard to see him making it three.
Look for Djokovic to remain strong on the serve and pick up one break in each set en route to pushing his ticket to the championship match.
Prediction: Djokovic in straight sets