Indian Wells promised to be one of best tournaments of the year so far. And sure enough, the first Masters of the season, and the biggest tennis event outside the Grand Slams, delivered in spades.
All the top names were present and correct except for the injured world No. 5 Juan Martin Del Potro. The biggest draws in men’s tennis, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, were both back from injury or illness, and the draw promised to repeat some great former matches: Nadal versus Nikolay Davydenko, Federer versus Andy Murray, and ultimately Nadal versus Federer.
But very quickly, the picture changed as seeds fell like nine-pins. The likes of Marin Cilic, David Ferrer, Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils, Radek Stepanek, and several more, went in their first matches.
In the next round, it was Federer, Davydenko, Fernando Verdasco, and Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Murray and Novak Djokovic looked less than convincing in their progress to the quarters and fourth round respectively, and so it turned into a tournament where many of the old guard could show their credentials.
Joining a pumped up Nadal and a powerful Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals was a resurgent set of long-established names such as Ivan Ljubicic, Juan Monaco, and Tommy Robredo.
It made for fascinating tennis, capped by a final between two men with a combined total of 22 years on the professional tour, neither with a win at Indian Wells.
Their outstanding performances deservedly take them to the top of our Power Rankings.
The Top 10
1. Ivan Ljubicic (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 13)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [Winner]; Dubai [Quarterfinals]; Rotterdam [R32], Zagreb [R16].
Power Ranking Points: 1,025
What a way to celebrate turning 31, by winning your first ever Masters title? Ljubicic, one of the most respected men on the tour, thus became the oldest first-time winner of a Masters title.
Surely the icing on the cake for this quiet, popular player was beating world No. 2 Djokovic and No. 3 Nadal on the way. His finals defeat of Andy Roddick, appropriately for such big servers, took two gripping tie-breaker sets.
The articulate, 6’4” Ljubicic, one of the gentlemen of the tour, is not just one of the oldest players in the top rankings, but one of the few fathers. He had nine titles to his name prior to Indian Wells, yet had never won in the United States and had never won a Masters.
With almost nine years in the top 50, Ljubicic dipped to the mid 70s last summer, struggling with his game and confidence. He regained his enthusiasm and self-belief with his first title in two years in Lyon at the end of last season, and following this performance in Indian Wells, has jumped to No. 13 for the first time in two-and-a-half years.
He was certainly hitting his serve sweetly—he led the tournament with 83 aces—and drove that most economical of one-handed backhands through the court with precision and power. The key to his success, though, seemed to be the relaxation he has found in his game. In Indian Wells, it verged on serene.
It will be interesting to see how Ljubicic does in Miami after his giant-killing antics this week, as he lost in the first round last year. Will his 31-year-old legs bounce back from this week’s work? After watching his immaculate win over Roddick, nothing seems impossible.
2. Andy Roddick (Last Power Ranking: OLI; ATP Ranking: 8)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [Finals]; Memphis [Quarterfinals]; San Jose [Finals]; Australian Open [Quarterfinals].
Power Ranking Points: 688
What a year it’s been for everyone’s favorite American? If 2009 started well, 2010 has looked even better. He’s currently top of the ATP rankings for match wins this year, and his best-ever run at Indian Wells this week suggests that his absence from the Davis Cup at the start of the month has paid off.
Roddick’s record in North American tournaments is remarkable: 18 of his 28 career titles have been won on home ground. (He has, incidentally, the third most titles of active players after Federer and Nadal.) Indian Wells has been the one to elude him, though he’d made the semifinals three times before reaching the final this year.
He looked impressive throughout the draw: intense, focused, and business-like. His serve was in great working order, and his backhand slice was particularly resilient. His timing, too, was impeccable. He offered up remarkably few unforced errors, so his opponents had to be both patient and aggressive to outplay him.
There’s no question, too, that Roddick looks fit, lean, and fast. Now more than a year into the Larry Stefanki training regime, and almost a year after wife Brooklyn Decker urged him not to give up on his tennis career, Roddick seems as eager as ever—and for someone with his never-say-die attitude, that is saying a great deal.
Roddick first entered the top 10 nearly seven and half years ago—he slipped to 11 for just four weeks in 2006. That reflects the outstanding consistency and heart that this man has shown since he played in his very first Masters exactly 10 years ago.
He will bounce back from the disappointment of failing once again to win at Indian Wells. He didn’t play Miami last year, but you can depend on him being there or thereabouts as this year’s draw narrows down to the quarterfinals.
3. Robin Soderling (Last Power Ranking: OLI; ATP Ranking: 7)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [Semifinals]; Marseille [Quarterfinals]; Rotterdam [Winner]; Australian Open [R128].
Power Ranking Points: 454
Since Soderling’s excellent run in the WTFs last November, things have been a little mixed for the tall, slow-maturing Swede. Early losses in Chennai, and more particularly in Melbourne, had his fans scratching their heads.
Then the old form returned to steal his first 500 title in Rotterdam. He performed reasonably well again on the indoor courts in Marseille and Sweden (where he scored two strong wins in the Davis Cup). Could he carry that form to the windy outdoors of Indian Wells? The answer was a resounding “yes.”
Soderling seems to have grown more comfortable in his skin this last year, more relaxed and purposeful. That translated into purposeful, consistent and shockingly fast ground strokes. Rarely has he looked more quick and powerful than in beating Andy Murray in the quarters.
Soderling fell, finally, to Roddick in three sets, but on this form, he’s going to be one to watch in Miami. He made a first round exit there last year, and can expect to put on decent points this time round.
4. Rafael Nadal (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 4)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [Semifinals]; Australian Open [Quarterfinals]; Doha [Finals]; London [RR, 0-3].
Power Ranking Points: 419
Well he’s been missed, but at last he’s back where he belongs. With just two tournaments under his belt ahead of Indian Wells, and his retirement with more knee problems in Melbourne, the quality of his performance in defence of his Indian Wells title was under huge scrutiny.
His fans need not have worried. He looked in fine form: fit and hungry, fast and fighting, the old passionate Rafa. His serve was working well, he threw in some volleys, and his whipped forehand seemed stronger than ever, aided by ideal playing conditions.
It was, therefore, a shock to see him flounder half way through his match against Ljubicic. Drives started to go long and his serve went awry. But that could simply be down to lack of match play after his long layoff.
There’s no doubting the hard work he’s put in to get back to prime physical condition. He even played in the doubles in Indian Wells, and won: a good sign not just for his fitness but also for his fast-evolving net game.
He will be in Miami with new shorts, thank goodness. He will also be out there hammering the courts in every spare moment. Perhaps he won’t manage his first title since last Rome until he gets onto his beloved clay, but it won’t be for want of trying.
5. Andy Murray (Last Power Ranking: 5; ATP Ranking: 3)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [Quarterfinals]; Dubai [R16]; Australian Open [Finals]; London [RR, 2-1].
Power Ranking Points: 365
When the draw appeared for Indian Wells, many expected Murray to repeat his run of last year, taking on Federer in the semis towards a match-up with Nadal in finals.
In fact, his run to the quarterfinals was a good deal easier than last year’s, with not a seed to upset his rhythm. But his performances certainly didn’t set the tournament alight. Indeed there was a disconcerting return to the hang-dog, shouting Murray of former years: it’s a wearisome quality.
The lack of creativity in his game plan was a surprise too. He appeared to have little answer to the power play of Soderling and only narrowly avoided a bagel in the first of his straight sets loss.
Miami is his training ground and a favorite tournament for Murray. He is the title holder there, too. Let’s hope that the Murray confidence and flair get the upper hand again. Assuming they do, he will be one of the toughest to beat.
6. Roger Federer (Last Power Ranking: 2; ATP Ranking: 1)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [R32]; Australian Open [Winner]; Doha [Semifinals]; London [Semifinals].
Power Ranking Points: 327
Federer is still benefiting from his outstanding run in Melbourne, but with no court-time since then due to a lung infection, his return to the tour was eagerly anticipated.
While he looked very fit—indeed lean and mean—it was quickly apparent that his lack of match practice was a problem. His performance against Victor Hanescu in Round 2 was inconsistent and tetchy. He then faced the fast-improving Marcos Baghdatis in a see-saw match that looked all Federer’s until dozens of over-hit ground strokes—he produced 46 unforced errors—allowed the Cypriot to claw back and take the third set.
Good signs included his reliable serve and his keenness to come to the net. But he needs to get his ground strokes back in the groove, and that is exactly what he claimed he would do ahead of Miami.
Having failed to match his 2009 semifinal finish in Indian Wells, he will be keen to do so in Miami. He does, after all, have huge points to defend in the next few months.
7. Novak Djokovic (Last Power Ranking: 1; ATP Ranking: 2)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [R16]; Dubai [Winner]; Rotterdam [Semifinals]; Australian Open [Quarterfinals].
Power Ranking Points: 290
Djokovic’s draw for Indian Wells was a decent one—possibly the most benign of the four quarters—but his game was far from convincing. Despite coming into North America on the back of a win in Dubai, he exited at the same stage as in 2009: the fourth round. In his opening match, he was bagelled in the second set by Mardy Fish, in his second match he lost a set to Philip Kohlschreiber, and finally he lost in straight sets to Ljubicic.
All seems not quite right in Djokovic’s game at the moment. His will and commitment are not in doubt: indeed it was guts as much as tennis that got him through to the quarters. He claimed “This is a tournament where I definitely didn’t feel comfortable on the court,” and cited his tiring matches in the Davis Cup as a factor.
He now needs to thoroughly recharge the batteries. He made the final of Miami last year, and then the finals of his next three tournaments as well, so he has a lot of points to defend.
8. Juan Monaco (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 26)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [Quarterfinals]; Acapulco [Semifinals]; Buenos Aires [Semifinals]; Santiago [Finals].
Power Ranking Points: 264
The Argentinian Monaco came into Indians Wells after a month on the Latin American clay, and managed to achieve his best hard-court showing in a Masters tournament. Some achievement.
His only previous quarterfinal in a Masters was on the clay of Rome last year, a more comfortable environment for this clay-court specialist. His big top spin shots and very nimble footwork also reaped some excellent results in the Latin American swing, with three back-to-back final or semifinal showings. As a result, Monaco is enjoying his highest ranking in almost two years.
He is unlikely to cause too many upsets in Miami, but keep a weather eye on him when the tour hits clay again. He’s brimming with confidence, especially now that he’s taken revenge in Indian Wells on his nemesis from those Latin American tournaments, Juan Carlos Ferrero.
9. Juan Carlos Ferrero (Last Power Ranking: 4; ATP Ranking: 14)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [R32]; Acapulco [Finals]; Buenos Aires [Winner]; Costa Do Sauipe [Winner].
Power Ranking Points: 212
It’s been some 2010 for the former No. 1, another 30-year-old making fresh waves on the tour. With two wins out of three consecutive finals, it’s little wonder he had to pull out of Spain’s Davis Cup tie.
Ferrero had an easy first match in Indian Wells, but was then sent packing by a determined Monaco in a tough three-setter. However, he missed this hard-court swing completely last year, so it will be interesting to see if he takes up his place in Miami before heading back to his favourite surface next month.
Should he perform very well in Florida, he would have the chance to close in on the top 10, and that must be a very big incentive indeed.
10. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Last Power Ranking: 9; ATP Ranking: 10)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [R16]; Dubai [R16]; Marseille [Semifinals]; Australian Open [Semifinals].
Power Ranking Points: 209
The fire has just not ignited in the Frenchman since his gripping win over Djokovic in the Australian Open. Dubai reaped few rewards, and he was forced to retire in his second Davis Cup rubber.
In Indian Wells, he had a pretty favorable draw but struggled in what many expected to be an exciting fourth round match with Soderling.
A player who has suffered more than his share of injuries, Tsonga appears to be fit and healthy at the moment. It’s time for him to knuckle down and get those consistent wins on the board.
Outside Looking In
David Ferrer (Last Power Ranking: 3; ATP Ranking: 17)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [R64]; Acapulco [Winner]; Buenos Aires [Finals]; Johannesburg [Semifinals].
Power Ranking Points: 178
Ferrer must be feeling the work of the last few weeks in his legs. In the space of less than a month, he’s had two back-to-back finals, with a win in one, followed immediately by two more wins in his Davis Cup tie. Not surprisingly, the transition back to America and to hard courts was a step too far this week. He had the added misfortune of meeting the unseeded but dangerous James Blake in his first match.
It seems unlikely that Ferrer will make too much of an impression in Miami, but come April, the confidence won in Latin America should spur him on to more success.
John Isner (Last Power Ranking: 10; ATP Ranking: 21)
Last Four Tournaments: Indian Wells [R16]; Acapulco [R32]; Memphis [Finals]; Australian Open [R16].
Power Ranking Points: 173
Isner, too, came into Indian Wells with some hard work in his legs from the Davis Cup. Several weeks on clay was not the ideal preparation for the year’s first Masters tournament, but even so, Isner outplayed compatriot Sam Querrey to win through to a fourth round encounter with Nadal. It was a tight affair, going the full distance, but Isner looked a tired man by the concluding set.
He’s getting better all the time, though, and his big game and improving movement around the court should reap many more rewards this year. One to watch in Miami.
There’s no let-up for the tour, as both men and women head straight into the second Masters of the year and the last hard-court tournament until late July.
The top four have major points to defend, and with Del Potro and Davydenko out of the picture, it is a great opportunity for those ranged from around No. 10 through to the mid 20s to push upwards. Indeed, with the clay beckoning, there is a swath of players in that section who are currently in excellent form, especially on the red stuff: Ferrero, Ferrer, Monaco, and Robredo. Of course, they will all have the returning king of clay, Nadal, to contend with.
In the meantime, the princes of the hard courts will hope to make hay while the sun shines in Miami. Roddick, Ljubicic, Soderling, and Baghdatis—now up to No. 30 from a ranking of 151 just eight months ago—will be taking their power games to Federer, Djokovic and Murray.
It will be fascinating to see how they respond.
The Power Rankings are based on a unique formula devised by Feng Rong. Click here to see how they are calculated.