Finally play gets underway this week for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells with a lineup that includes almost all the usual suspects.
Who will survive the test of time and layoffs to take the title this year? That is the question lingering on everyone’s lips.
Roger Federer’s Quarter
There are some very intriguing matchups possible in Federer’s quarter of the draw including a potential third-round clash with the No. 27 seed Marcos Baghdatis. The Cypriot who found his way out of the deep freeze and into the semifinals at Dubai is well on his way to a legitimate comeback after spending much of 2009 on the injured reserve list.
Seeded players hoping to advance to week two of the tournament include Tommy Robredo, seeded No. 18, and the always dangerous Radek Stepanek, who has been known to throw wrenches into the plans of many a higher seeded player. Stepanek lives to wreak havoc with the draw and could meet Federer in the fourth round.
The ever entertaining Gael Monfils, seeded No. 12, faces a potential matchup with fellow countryman Richard Gasquet, should Gasquet overcome Simon Greul in his opener. While David Nalbandian, who received a wild card into this tournament, will be fully tested by Jurgen Melzer, who also made it to the semifinals in Dubai.
No one can be happy to see the Serb Janko Tipsarevic waiting in his corner, but that is exactly what the No. 7 seed Andy Roddick faces as he looks at a potential third-round match with the unpredictable and enigmatic Serb.
There are many “wounded” players coming back at Indian Wells, like Federer, Nalbandian, and Roddick. It is hard to predict what their playing status might be after a long lay-off (in Federer’s case) or after enduring recent struggles (like Nalbandian, who was called into action during Argentina’s Davis Cup tie against Sweden as he tried to recover from hip surgery).
Still, it is difficult to go against the No. 1-ranked player in the world. So, look for Federer to survive his quarterfinal matchup. He loves to make it to at least the semifinals.
Quarterfinal Winner: Federer
Andy Murray’s Quarter
As Andy Murray surveyed the potential matchups in his quarter of the draw, he must have come across some names that caused him concern. His first potential seeded opponent would be Russian Igor Andreev, seeded No. 32 at Indian Wells.
Although the two have never met on the ATP tour, Andreev has some real weapons that could conceivably trouble the young Scot—first and foremost his serve.
Should Murray survive the third-round matchup with Andreev, his next opponent might be either Ivo Karlovic or No. 13 seed David Ferrer, fresh off his victory in Acapulco. Murray defeated Karlovic at Indian Wells in 2008, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3.
It is not easy to defeat the hard serving Karlovic, though, and no one wishes to see him across the net, especially if dealing with serving struggles that day. Murray, however, holds the head to head with the Croat at 3-0, and that must provide some comfort.
The last time Murray met Ferrer was in 2006 where they split—Ferrer winning on clay and Murray winning on hardcourts. It is hard to imagine that Murray will not hold a significant edge on the hardcourts at Indian Wells.
The bottom half of Murray’s quarter includes seeded player No. 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who struggled during Davis Cup play and had to retire in his final dead rubber match. Other potential stumbling blocks could be Albert Montanes, seeded 24, and No. 28 Feliciano Lopez, who has been dealing with his own injuries of late.
There are also some unseeded surprises that might upset the top seeds at any stage, including Nicolas Almagro, James Blake, and Michael Llodra.
But the player most expect to make it to the quarterfinals along with No. 4 seed Murray is Robin Soderling, No. 6 in the draw at Indian Wells. If Soderling has his game intact, he should meet Murray in the quarterfinal match to determine who will advance conceivably to meet Federer in the semifinals.
Quarterfinal winner: Murray
Rafael Nadal’s Quarter
Nothing can be easy for the Spaniard returning again from sore knees on fast American hardcourts. It does not help his cause any that he potentially could face Julien Benneteau, Sam Querry, John Isner, Fernando Verdasco, Tomas Berdych, Viktor Troicki, or Nikolay Davydenko in his section of the draw.
All of these players have the game to make Nadal’s task to repeat as champion difficult, especially since the Spaniard is coming back after a long lay-off when he could not focus on his game.
Also lurking in his quarter of the draw are Mario Ancic, back in action again, and Ernest Gulbis, who just won his first singles title at Delray Beach.
But expect Nadal to make it through to the fourth round, where he potentially faces either red-hot American player John Isner or Sam Querry—both surviving the dusty clay, hopefully to shine once again on the hardcourts in California.
Assuming that Davydenko is not injured going into this event, expect the Russian to make it through to the quarterfinal match, where he would face either Nadal or one of the giant Americans.
At this stage of his career, the match experience of Nadal will allow him to overcome the new top-ranked U.S. players because Nadal knows what it takes to win against hard-hitting and tough serving opponents under pressure. The quarterfinal will feature Nadal versus Davydenko.
Quarterfinal winner: Davydenko
Novak Djokovic’s Quarter
It has to be said from the offset that the No. 2 seed Djokovic seems to enjoy the easiest path to the quarterfinals. The first potential seeded player the Serb meets is Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany.
Djokovic defeated Kohlschreiber in 2008 in the round of 32 at Indian Wells, 6-3, 6-2, but lost to the German on the clay at Roland Garros in 2009. It looks like a good win for the Serb, as Kohlschreiber hasn’t been playing his best of late.
Gilles Simon and Ivan Ljubicic also are potential fourth-round matchups for Djokovic, but Simon has not found his game this year and the Serb recently defeated Ljubicic in Dubai when it looked to all the world that Djokovic was going to lose, down a set and a break to the Croat.
There are some top-ranked players that might present Marin Cilic, the other top seed in this quarter, trouble on his way to the quarterfinals. Juan Monaco, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and even Thomas Bellucci are high seeds, but these players traditionally make their best inroads and have their best results on clay.
Cilic should make his way through to meet Djokovic in the quarterfinals. In their head-to-head meetings, Djokovic reigns supreme with a 4-0 record against the Croat. All their matches have been on hardcourts, the most recent in Beijing in 2009, when the Serb won by a 6-2, 7-6 score.
But Cilic is now ranked in the top 10 and has been impressive in 2010, winning titles in Chennai and Zagreb and advancing to the semifinals of the Australian Open by defeating Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick before falling to Andy Murray. He is playing with more zeal and more confidence than we have seen him play in the past.
The match of the quarter should be the one with Djokovic facing Cilic for a spot in the semifinals. They are both winning at this time of the year when most of the top players are injured and out of action.
Quarterfinal Winner: Cilic
Most tennis fans clamor for another contest between Federer and Nadal. The two have never faced each other in a final at Indian Wells. It would be magnificent to see such a matchup again.
That's not going to happen, though. Neither player is match tough and ready for such the stiff competition they will face in the California desert.
Finalists: Murray vs. Cilic