Complete Preview for the 2016 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Tournaments

Jeremy Eckstein@!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistMarch 7, 2016

Complete Preview for the 2016 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Tournaments

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Our annual preview of the ATP Masters 1000 series tips off in time for Indian Wells 2016. This is the first of a series of the biggest tournaments outside the four majors, the World Tour Finals and (this year) the Olympics.

    We span the globe from the hard courts of the southern United States to the red clay of Europe to set up the French Open. Mid-summer sizzles with stops in more Northern America cities before winding down in Shanghai and Paris.

    The following slides will review the highlights from 2015 and suggest what to expect as 2016 moves forward. At the moment, it would be easy to select Novak Djokovic as the favorite for every tournament, but we will identify which of the tournaments could be more difficult for him to win.

    Who else could rise up and make a bid for dominance? It’s all part of this preview.

Indian Wells: March 10-20

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    What happened in 2015: Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal let a second-set tiebreaker slip away 12-10 in the quarterfinals, and Milos Raonic showed impressive composure to crash the semifinals. It denied a meeting between Nadal and Federer.

    Ultimately, Djokovic set the tone for his year by smoking Federer in the first and third sets of the final with the Swiss piecing together a second-set tiebreak victory. It was the kind of excitement that tantalized tennis fans, but the reality was another stamp in the championship passport for the Serbian’s world tour as the No. 1 king.

    Outlook 2016: The biggest loss of the tournament is not a match. Federer will not play as he further rehabilitates from a torn meniscus last month. Otherwise, it’s Djokovic’s show to lose. Besides the usual suspects, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, tennis fans will watch carefully to see if younger, seasoned players can bloom out in the California desert.

    Can Raonic get back to the semifinals with his improved play from Australia? Will February’s top player Dominic Thiem channel his growing toughness into a deep run? Will Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic spill more drama on the other side of the Pacific? Will Nadal use the grittier, outdoor surface to make a comeback?

    Meanwhile, the Djokovic road show continues. He’s looking for his third consecutive title and fifth overall at the New World’s most prestigious Masters 1000 venue. It's not wise to bet against him.

Miami: March 23-April 3

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    What happened in 2015: Roger Federer missed Miami last year, and he will not play this year either, making it three of four times he has not shown up for Florida’s big venue. Otherwise, it was a fairly straightforward title for Djokovic who was pushed to a third set in the final by Murray. No matter, he fed his Scottish “Little Brother” a bagel in the final frame.

    Not a lot of drama when the Serbian’s excellence is in full flight.

    Outlook 2016: Let’s get right to the point. Djokovic already has five Miami titles, including four in the last five. With six Australian Open titles, four at Indian Wells (as of early March) and five at Miami, is Djokovic the greatest player ever on slow hard courts? It’s hard to argue that.

    Two choices here. Say Djokovic trips at Indian Wells. He would be extra motivated to win Miami. If he wins Indian Wells, would he be more vulnerable to dropping the ball in Miami?

    First, it might take an injury, eye infections or shocking upset (like Tommy Haas in 2013). Second. it might depend on who he would play in a possible final. It’s very unlikely he would let up against Murray or Nadal, for instance. Would he be more vulnerable against a hot big server like Raonic or Kyrgios?

Monte Carlo: April 10-17

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    Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

    What happened in 2015: By now this looks like a Novak Djokovic slideshow as we continue to feature the defending champion’s photo for each tournament. And this is the only time a player has ever won the first three Masters 1000 tournaments of the year.

    In what was supposed to be the return of finely tuned Rafael Nadal, instead it turned into a very mortal performance by the King of Clay. He staggered through three-set matches against John Isner and David Ferrer before getting doubled up by Djokovic in the semifinals, 6-3, 6-3. 

    Nadal, who won Monte Carlo eight straight years has now gone four years since that last crown in 2012. Times have certainly changed.

    Djokovic went on to ruin Tomas Berdych's surprising appearance in the final.

    Outlook 2016: Who best to challenge Djokovic?

    • Wawrinka won Monte Carlo two years ago with a strong third set against Federer in the final. The slow red clay allows him to wind up and tattoo his groundstrokes.
    • Maybe Murray slides into the winner’s circle with a second clay-court Masters 1000 title in less than one year.
    • How about Kei Nishikori who has won back-to-back titles in Barcelona to break up Spain’s clay-court dominance there.
    • Perhaps the new king of little clay-court tournaments, Dominic Thiem, can show he is a legitimate French Open contender by winning Monte Carlo. It would be a huge statement.
    • Oh, and there’s also Nadal.

Madrid: May 1-8

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    Paul White/Associated Press

    What happened in 2015: Andy Murray stopped Nadal from winning a third consecutive title at Madrid. It was a huge moment for Murray to win his only Masters 1000 tournament on clay just after winning his first ever clay-court title at Munich.

    Djokovic did not play Madrid as he chose to prioritize his energy for Rome and the French Open. He missed a chance to sweep the year’s first five Masters 1000 tournaments, a nearly incomprehensible feat considering that nobody else had won more than the first two of the year.

    Federer lost two of the three tiebreakers he played against teenage Nick Kyrgios in the second round. Berdych continued his fine play on clay with a semifinal appearance. In the other semifinal, Nishikori looked to be a strong candidate for the title, but he went down quietly against Murray.

    Outlook 2016: Who will win this wacky tournament? Djokovic could very well skip it again, and Federer is not slated to show up. The higher altitude makes it a faster clay-court tournament, something that could also play into the hands of Nishikori’s fast reflexes or Thiem’s groundstrokes on all surfaces after his title at Mexico last week.

    Or sans Djokovic, maybe Nadal storms through the draw for a retro performance that raises the hype and expectations for him to win Rome and Roland Garros. By then we will know if this is a realistic goal or mission impossible.

Rome: May 8-15

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    What happened in 2015: Following Madrid, Murray withdrew from Rome’s third round with fatigue. It was an otherwise star-studded tournament in the final rounds, but curiously Rome did little to portend the French Open.

    Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was out in the second round, but went on to the French Open semifinals.

    Federer cruised past Wawrinka 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals, but Wawrinka would turn the tables by sweeping Federer in the French Open quarterfinals.

    There was little indication in Rome that Wawrinka was ready to win the French Open, although he crushed Nadal in the second set of the Rome quarterfinals after escaping a dogfight in the first-set tiebreaker.

    Djokovic won the Rome final with another easy win over Federer, but he would not win the title at Roland Garros.

    Outlook 2016: Rome is a competitive tune-up to the French Open, but don’t tell the Italians that their majestic tournament is anything less. This is where the stars push for clay-court glory, which means Djokovic will be chomping at the bit to win here and streak all the way to seven match wins at Roland Garros.

    For the other stars, Rome could boost their confidence, but ultimately the draw and their performance at Roland Garros will be apples to Rome’s oranges.

    By Rome, we will know if Federer is in top condition, if young players like Dominic Thiem stand a chance, and if Rafael Nadal has anything left to compete for a 10th French Open title.

Rogers Cup: July 25-31

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    What happened in 2015: Andy Murray won his second Masters 1000 tournament of the year, finally getting over the hump to defeat Djokovic for the first time after eight losses and two years. The two stars and Nadal added doubles to their singles load, and by the end of the week, it was Djokovic playing in his ninth match who was visibly worn down.

    Murray deserved his title. He crushed Kei Nishikori in the semifinals who had crushed Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. The Scot outlasted Djokovic in three sets for the big title win.

    The infamous story of Nick Kyrgios "sledging" Stan Wawrinka left a bitter taste in the mouths of tennis fans who hope their athletes act with dignity and class.

    Outlook 2016: There’s usually three months from Rome until the Rogers Cup in Canada, while the French Open and Wimbledon take center stage. Then there’s the recovery in July, sort of the summer version of February when secondary stars seek titles at level-250 and level-500 venues.

    However, 2016 will be different. Wimbledon will end July 10, thus leaving only two weeks until the Rogers Cup. That allows players to take off for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in early August.

    Will it impact a star like Federer who could very well withdraw from Canada in favor of the Olympics? He didn’t play Canada last year. Looking further back in time, Federer set his ambitions in 2012 to return to the Olympics.

    How many other stars, including Djokovic, will be as tuned in to Canada. We could see some upsets and bracket chaos at Toronto.

Cincinnati: August 14-21

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    What happened in 2015: It’s hard enough to defeat Federer, but Cincinnati is one of the tournaments he owns. The Swiss Maestro took his seventh title there since 2005, and for the third time in as many tries he was the victor over Djokovic. It would be his biggest title of 2015.

    Djokovic was clearly exhausted after playing nine matches at Canada the previous week, and he was no match for Federer who chose to rest rather make the trip to Canada the previous week. Murray also hit his wall in the semifinals against Federer.

    Outlook 2016: This would be the year Federer does not win Cincinnati, given his commitment to the Olympics. If he, Federer, Murray or other stars are playing August 14 in Rio de Janeiro, they must quickly get on a plane and fly up to Cincinnati where that tournament will start on...August 14. Somebody’s going to pay the price, right?

    On the other hand, a star who gets eliminated early in Brazil might have the rest and motivation he needs to get back early to North America for the U.S. Open series. Watch those happenings when it comes time to forecasting a winner.

Shanghai: October 9-16

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    JOHANNES EISELE/Getty Images

    What happened in 2015: To nobody’s surprise, Djokovic obliterated the draw, streaking through Asia the way Alexander the Great would have enjoyed. He only lost 24 games in six matches, and it was no contest when he crushed Murray and Tsonga for the final two contests.

    Nadal came alive for a 6-2, 6-1 thrashing of Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals but fell to Tsonga a match later.

    Federer was shocked by qualifier Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the second round.

    Outlook 2016: How can anyone pick against Djokovic in Asia? He likes the post-U.S. Open series and has finished strong in recent years.

    If the Serbian slips, this could be where some young, hard-driving players look to make their mark. Veterans should be tired or beat up, and Shanghai can be a great opportunity for someone with a big serve like Raonic or Kyrgios.

Paris: October 31-November 6

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    What happened in 2015: Tennis fans were stunned when Djokovic finally dropped his first set since the U.S. Open final. That’s right, one set from September into November. It was done courtesy of Stan Wawrinka, but Djokovic struck back in the third set of that semifinal, handing Wawrinka a fat bagel. So much for losing a match.

    The reward? Djokovic's record-setting sixth Masters 1000 tournament and a walk down a space corridor that resembled the sterile world from George Lucas's THX 1138 as he held up a trophy that looked like alien antlers.

    Other tidbits included Federer’s loss of two tiebreakers to big John Isner’s serving in the third round and Wawrinka’s two long tiebreakers over Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.

    Outlook 2016: Perhaps the most unpredictable of the Masters 1000 tournaments, it’s played indoors on a surface that is surprisingly slow.

    Compound that with players who are often burned out or looking ahead to the World Tour Finals and there have been some surprising results, except for Djokovic who is constant as the "North Star" with three titles in a row at Paris.

    One thing’s for certain. There will be a lot of tennis in the months ahead, a lot of shifting in the rankings and tennis patterns that will emerge to change our outlook by the time Paris comes around.

    Enjoy the year.