How many of you picked Ivan Ljubicic to win at Indian Wells? Jelena Jankovic? Northern Iowa to upset Kansas in the NCAA basketball tournament?
Just as I thought. That is why I am a little reluctant to put my neck on the line when discussing the ATP top seeds’ chances at the Sony Ericsson Tennis Open this week in Miami.
That does not mean that the wins this past weekend were not significant or joyful each in their own way with the wily veteran Ljubicic finding a way to win against the stiffest competition the tour could throw at him.
It had to be a resounding vote of confidence, moreover, for the seasoned counter-puncher Jankovic to overcome the newly inaugurated No. 2 ranked player in the world, Caroline Wozniacki, also a counter-puncher.
The Northern Iowa victory, however, will be discussed in another venue.
Heading into Miami are all the top ranked women minus the No. 1 ranked Serena Williams and No. 3 Dinara Safina, both suffering from lingering injuries. For the men, fifth-ranked Juan Martin del Potro is still out, as is No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko, again both with lingering injuries.
In looking at the men’s draw, some interesting matchups highlight a splendid field.
Roger Federer’s Quarter
There really should be no major hurdles for world No. 1 Federer until the fourth round when he probably will meet Tomas Berdych—that is if Berdych survives Gilles Simon, which is highly likely, given the state of Simon’s game of late as the Frenchman struggles back into form.
A win would take Federer to the quarterfinals where opposition possibilities are interesting, to say the least. Sitting in the bottom of Federer’s quarter are Fernando Verdasco who has been playing hurt of late and coincidentally suffering poor results.
Either Jurgen Melzer, who lost to Andy Roddick in the fourth round at Indian Wells, or Marcos Baghdatis, who upset Roger Federer during the third round at that same tournament, could conceivably advance. The big gun sitting at the bottom of the Federer quarter, though, is Marin Cilic, who must first get by Baghdatis—then Melzer or Verdasco—before earning a chance to meet Federer in the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinal winner: Federer
Dark Horse: Baghdatis
Andy Murray’s Quarter
Murray’s quarter appears to offer a few more challenges. Right away the Scot could face Mardy Fish, who, although not enjoying great results of late, has the ability to throw a wrench into the works by getting hot and bolting through the draw.
Should Murray get past Fish, he might meet Fernando Lopez. It is never smart to discount Lopez because he, too, can catch on fire and serve up a mean game.
Waiting for Murray in the fourth round are seeds Stanislav Wawrinka or Mikhail Youzhny. Wawrinka has not fared well of late but Youzhny’s tennis fortunes have been on the rise as he made the finals at both Rotterdam and Dubai.
In the bottom of Murray’s quarter resides the No. 5 seed Robin Soderling. The Swede must first battle Janko Tipsarevic to advance to the fourth round where he possibly could do battle with either No. 9 seed Fernando Gonzalez or No. 22 seed Juan Monaco for a chance to meet Murray in the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinal winner: Murray
Dark Horse: Youzhny
Novak Djokovic’s Quarter
The No. 2 seed Djokovic lost in the fourth round at Indian Wells to eventual champion Ivan Ljubicic. Miami’s quarter also holds some potential problems for the Serb who may see unseeded Richard Gasquet of France as early as round two. While Gasquet has not enjoyed success of late, he has the potential of being a handful for the No. 2 seed.
James Blake also floats as a possible contender in the early rounds of the Serb’s draw. Either Blake or Thomas Bellucci should meet Djokovic in third round. Later are the No. 21 seed Sam Querry or No. 14 seed Gael Monfils waiting in the fourth round.
Then the draw gets really interesting because sitting in the other half of the Serb’s quarter are the No. 6 seed Andy Roddick, who could conceivably meet the No. 11 seed Ivan Ljubicic—the same two who met in the finals at Indian Wells. The rematch between those two may well decide who would meet Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinal winner: Djokovic
Dark Horse: Ljubicic
Rafael Nadal’s Quarter
Nadal’s quarter is a bit more forgiving, like Federer’s, though wild card David Nalbandian floats dangerously in the early rounds. The Argentine, however, is not back to match strength after his hip surgery, so Nadal must feel fairly well insulated from the lethal ground strokes Nalbandian can deliver.
Assuming Nalbandian does not get by Viktor Troicki, expect Nadal to meet the Serb in the third round. In their previous three meetings, Troicki has never defeated Nadal—all of their matches have been on hardcourts.
Another dangerous opponent in Nadal’s quarter is the Croat Ivo Karlovic. No one is ever delighted to see the giant Karlovic standing on the other side of the net. But getting to the fourth round might be complicated for Karlovic because along with No. 15 seed David Ferrer are potentially opportunist players like Michael Llodra and up-and-coming American Ryan Harrison.
In the other half of Nadal’s quarter are No. 9 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 17 seed John Isner, and No. 12 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero, any of whom has the game to make it to the quarterfinal match.
Quarterfinal winner: Nadal
Dark Horse: Isner
No doubt, the parity that everyone insists exists in men’s tennis will again make a mockery of the seeding, just as it did at Indian Wells. But until that happens, who would not select the top seeds, all healthy and eager to win, to advance to the quarterfinals?
Not me, that is for sure.
Tomorrow, I will take a look at the women’s draw, where seeding is just a trifle more suspect...