The U.S. hardcourt swing is under way this week as players compete at the ATP Masters Series Tennis Tournament in the desert at Indian Wells followed by another sunny outing at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.
Last year’s champion at Indian Wells, Rafael Nadal, has been sidelined with injuries since the Australian Open. No. 1 seed Roger Federer has also been absent from play since the Australian Open with a lung infection.
As the top players vie once again for supremacy, look for the rankings race to heat up as the lull is set aside and the summer season beckons.
The Top 10
1. Novak Djokovic (Last Power Ranking: OLI; ATP Ranking: 2)
Last Four Tournaments: Dubai [Winner], Rotterdam [Semifinalist], 2010 Australian Open [Quarterfinalist], ATP WTF London [RR 2-1]
Power Ranking Points: 382
Taking over the top spot this week is the Serb Djokovic, who just repeated as the champion in Dubai by overcoming Mikhail Youzhny in the final. Even though Djokovic was not playing his best tennis, he found a way to win this event and cement his No. 2 status on the ATP tour.
This weekend Djokovic played Davis Cup for the Serbs against the U.S., and, even though the U.S. team came back to win the doubles match, ultimately the Serbs prevailed thanks in part to Djokovic’s dual wins in singles.
Last year at Indian Wells Djokovic lost in the quarterfinals to American Andy Roddick, 6-3, 6-2. This year as the No. 2 seed, Djokovic will expect to do much better. Much will depend upon the draw, which is to be released shortly.
The current state of tennis mastery will become much clearer once the two ATP hard court Master Series events are concluded at Indian Wells and Miami.
2. Roger Federer (Last Power Ranking: 2; ATP Ranking: 1)
Last Four Tournaments: Australian Open [Winner]; Doha [Semifinalist]; London [Semifinalist]; Paris [R64]
Power Ranking Points: 371
Federer is scheduled to play his first tournament since winning the 2010 Australian Open. Sidelined with a lung infection that kept him out of Dubai, the outing at Indian Wells should hopefully reawaken the skills of the tennis giant. Certainly his fans are anxious to see the Swiss return once again to the courts.
It would be hard to imagine that Federer will be in peak performance mode after the long lay off and the subsequent illness; but, just to see him play again should suffice. Also returning to play is Rafael Nadal and everyone will be focused on the two of them until they lose. Nadal is the defending champion and Federer went out at Indian Wells in 2009 during the semifinals, losing to Andy Murray.
Unlike last year when Federer was recovering from a back injury, this year hopefully his conditioning will not be as severely compromised. Regardless, it will be good to see the Swiss competing again.
3. David Ferrer (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 16)
Last Four Tournaments: Acapulco [Winner], Buenos Aires [Finalist]; South Africa [Semifinalist]; Australian Open [R64].
Power Ranking Points: 326
The fiery Spaniard David Ferrer is back after ending his friend and fellow countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero’s 14-match winning streak on clay. Ferrer hung on to win in Acapulco during a hard fought contest winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
Ferrer clung doggedly to the lead, as is his custom, and finally secured another ATP title to add to his collection now sitting at eight. Ferrer would like to regain his top 10 ATP status—a ranking he held as recently as 2008.
Ferrer played Davis Cup this past weekend against the Swiss and helped his teammates secure another win for Spain. Unfortunately for fans neither Federer nor Nadal played in this tie. Next up for the Spaniard is Indian Wells where he hopes to build upon his win at Acapulco and begin his climb back up the rankings ladder.
4. Juan Carlos Ferrero (Last Power Ranking: 4; ATP Ranking: 14)
Last Four Tournaments: Acapulco [Finalist], Buenos Aires [Winner]; Costa Do Sauipe [Winner]; Australian Open [R128].
Power Ranking Points: 298
David Ferrer ended Ferrero’s 14-match winning streak on clay during the final in Acapulco 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. The week before in Buenos Aires, Ferrero had come away the winner.
It is not an exaggeration to state that Ferrero had been red hot during the Latin American clay court swing, winning two of the three tournaments he entered. These results have added to his staying power in the top five of our Power Rankings and his rise into the top 20 in the ATP rankings.
Ferrero was scheduled to play for Spain during their Davis Cup tie with Switzerland but he had to withdraw. Hopefully, he will regain his edge in time to compete well during the ATP Masters Series event at Indian Wells that starts Monday.
5. Andy Murray (Last Power Ranking: 5; ATP Ranking: 4)
Last Four Tournaments: Dubai [R2], Australian Open [Finalist]; London [RR]; Paris [R16].
Power Ranking Points: 255
Murray lost earlier than most expected or desired in Dubai. He was upset by Janko Tipsarevic in a two and one-half hour contest with the Serb finally prevailing as he loves to do when the spotlight is the brightest. Murray who lost to Federer in the finals of the 2010 Australian Open hoped to recover some fitness and form in Dubai but will now wait until Indian Wells to resume his game.
He enters Indian Wells as the No. 4 seed assuming both Federer and Nadal resume their play and their seedings. Last year Murray made it to the finals in California, losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. Murray is hoping to equal or surpass his 2009 results in the upcoming tournament.
6. Marin Cilic (Last Power Ranking: 7; ATP Ranking: 9)
Last Four Tournaments: Dubai [Quarterfinalist], Zagreb [Winner]; Australian Open [Semifinalist]; Chennai [Winner].
Power Ranking Points: 243
Cilic came into Dubai on a red-hot winning streak with a win in Zagreb and a semifinal appearance at the 2010 Australian Open. Finally it seemed the Croat with so much promise was about to take another step forward. Unfortunately he ran into a player working on a hot streak of his own as Austrian Juergen Melzer defeated him 7-6, 7-5 to earn a spot in the semifinals at Dubai.
Cilic will be seeded in the top 10 at Indian Wells and hopefully he can resume his climb toward the top five. The competition to break through in the California desert will be very stiff. But the Croat has all the weapons to overtake the best.
7. Mikhail Youzhny (Last Power Ranking: OLI; ATP Ranking: 13)
Last Four Tournaments: Dubai [Finalist], Rotterdam [Finalist], 2010 Australian Open [R32], Doha [R32].
Power Ranking Points: 240
Youzhny thrives during the tournament in Dubai and traditionally does well there. He came back to make it a match against Djokovic but lost in the final taking it to three sets, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3. Earlier in the season he suffered an injury that forced him to retire against Soderling in Rotterdam; but he has managed to find his way back into form in time for the tournament in Dubai and for Davis Cup play as the Russians battled players from India, ultimately prevailing.
Youzhny has a superb backhand and he hits the ball flat with much power on the rise. Fighting periodic injury, his progress has often been sidetracked by protracted time off the court. Back again in the top 20, Youzhny is a player no one likes to face in the draw because he is capable of defeating anybody when his game is on.
8. Sam Querrey (Last Power Ranking: 1; ATP Ranking: 22)
Last Four Tournaments: Acapulco [R1], Memphis [Winner]; San Jose [Semifinalist]; Australian Open [R128].
Power Ranking Points: 191
After winning his first title of the season in Memphis, Sam Querry journeyed to Acapulco to practice on the clay in singles and doubles with his new partner John Isner. Querry didn’t fare too well in either discipline losing in the first round in both.
He was gearing up for Davis Cup with Serbia. noting a true changing of the guard for U.S. Davis Cup competition. Vanguards Andy Roddick and James Blake not in the mix for this outing, the U.S. first-timers faced a true test of their newly honed skills.
Ranked No. 1 in our last Power Ranking, Querry stumbled a bit on the clay, as is customary for U.S. participants. The Americans were out-manned in their contest with Serbia but learned a great deal about the nature of Davis Cup competition. It definitely put what Andy Roddick, James Blake, and the Bryan Brothers accomplished throughout the years in perspective.
This coming week Querry is scheduled to compete at Indian Wells on U.S. hard courts where Querry can expect his game to serve him better than on Serbian clay.
9 . Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Last Power Ranking: 10; ATP Ranking: 11)
Last Four Tournaments: Dubai [R2], Marseille [Semifinalist]; Australian Open [Semifinalist]; Paris [Quarterfinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 184
Entering Dubai as a wild card, Tsonga, seeded No. 5, fell to a newly inspired Ivan Ljubicic 7-5, 6-3. Throughout the early stages of the season, Tsonga continues to exhibit moments of brilliant tennis. But he never seems to utilize his talents all the way through an event.
Assisting France in their defeat of Germany in Davis Cup play, Tsonga will head into Indian Wells hoping to make his way back into the ATP top 10.
10. John Isner (Last Power Ranking: 3; ATP Ranking: 20)
Last Four Tournaments: Acapulco [R1], Memphis [Finalist]; Australian Open [R16]; Auckland [Winner].
Power Ranking Points: 161
Like Querry, his playing partner in doubles, John Isner took the Latin American route this past week instead of heading off to Dubai where his game might have garnered better results. Also like Querry, Isner lost in the first round on clay.
The two stayed on to practice in anticipation of meeting Serbia on clay during their Davis Cup match this past weekend. The U.S. lost their two opening singles matches against the Serbs. When Mike Bryan came down with food poisoning, Isner stepped in to play doubles with Bob Bryan to keep the U.S. hopes alive by winning the doubles match.
Playing doubles has vastly improved Isner’s mobility on the court and strengthened his overall game. With his serve already registered as a lethal weapon, the extra tall American has improved as much or more than any player on tour.
As Isner heads off to play again on the hard courts at Indian Wells, expect this American to find his way into the top 10 by the end of the year as he dedicates himself to improving and constructing an all around game.
Outside Looking In
Nikolay Davydenko (Last Power Ranking: 6; ATP Ranking: 6)
Last Four Tournaments: Dubai [R2], Rotterdam [Semifinalist]; Australian Open [Quarterfinalist]; Doha [Winner].
Power Ranking Points: 155
Davydenko suffered with a wrist injury that eventually made him withdraw from his match with German journeyman Michael Berrer after losing the opening set 6-3 at the Barclays Tennis Championship in Dubai.
Not scheduled to participate in Russia’s Davis Cup tie with India, Davydenko will be hoping to recover from his injury in time to do well as the ATP Masters Series Tournament this week in Indian Wells where he will be seeded No. 5 with Juan Martin del Potro’s withdrawal from the event.
We have yet to see the promise of Davydenko's impressive winning streak at the end of 2009 and early in 2010. The three set format should prove beneficial to the Russian, assuming he has recovered from his wrist injury.
Andy Roddick (Last Power Ranking: 9; ATP Ranking: 8)
Last Four Tournaments: Memphis [Quarterfinalist]; San Jose [Finalist]; Australian Open [Quarterfinalist]; Brisbane [Winner]
Power Ranking Points: 155
It seemed very strange to watch the U.S. Davis Cup team and not see American Andy Roddick leading the way for the U.S. team. But he was absent as was James Blake.
Like many others, Roddick withdrew from Dubai citing injury. We shall await his return upon the American hardcourts starting at Indian Wells. It should reveal his current playing condition. We all wonder if Roddick can repeat his stellar play of last season through Wimbledon.
Fernando Gonzalez (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 10)
Last Four Tournaments: Acapulco [Semifinalist]; Santiago [Semifinalist]; Australian Open [R16]; Paris [R16].
Power Ranking Points: 144
As Chile recovers from a devastating earthquake, Gonzalez has withdrawn from Indian Wells in an attempt to help his country recover from the losses the people have endured. Because of the devastation, Chile’s Davis Cup tie with Israel has been set back a day.
Gonzalez is engaged in this match for his country. Chile led 2-1 going into the Monday’s rounds.
Robin Soderling (Last Power Ranking: 8; ATP Ranking: 7)
Last Four Tournaments: Marseille [Quarterfinalist]; Rotterdam [Winner]; Australian Open [R128]; Chennai [R32]
Power Ranking Points: 142
Suffering from a right forearm injury, Soderling rested his injured wing in preparation for Davis Cup play and for the ATP Masters Series tournament in Indian Wells. The Swede had not played a tournament since Marseille as he led the charge against Argentina in their Davis Cup tie, playing both singles and doubles.
With Nalbandian making a surprise appearance to lead Argentina back into the lead, Sweden and Soderling had a real fight on their hands, eventually falling to Argentina. Having battled his way into the top 10 in the ATP rankings, Soderling is expected to reproduce the play that led him to defeat Nadal last year at Roland Garros. With the clay season looming, Soderling has the hard courts in the U.S. to pave his way into the clay.
With so many players returning from injury and illness, it will be interesting to see who emerges from Indian Wells and Miami with momentum heading into the clay. It promises to be another roller-coaster season, tennis fans, so buckle up...