The best of the best on the ATP tour are back in action today at Indian Wells, Calif.
The tournament is the first ATP Masters event of the season and the biggest draw since the Australian Open. Novak Djokovic won down under and has been the hottest player on the tour this year. In fact, Djokovic has yet to lose a match in 2011.
Djokovic is closing on the No. 2 ranking, putting serious pressure on a certain future Hall of Famer, Roger Federer. The rest of the tour must know this is the first chance since Australia to make some noise.
There are a handful of players in the field that have question marks floating around their head.
Am I too old?
Will I be the same after my last injury?
Will I be able to break through this year?
Can I recover from that loss?
Here are 10 players that could use a good showing in California to spark a productive 2011.
It was about this time last year when the 22-year-old Latvian won his first career title at Delray Beach.
This season, Ernests Gulbis decided to play Dubai instead of Delray Beach, losing in the second round to Sergiy Stakhovsky. Gulbis was ranked higher than Stakhovsky—which has been the case in four of his five losses this season.
His only other loss—Rafael Nadal.
Gulbis has yet to display the consistency of a top-tier player, but he surely has the talent. He has drawn comparisons to Marat Safin because of his on-court temper tantrums.
Guess who used to be a headcase early on in his career—Roger Federer.
Gulbis will likely face Lleyton Hewitt in the second round. If he wins—which he should—he'll play Djokovic in the third round. If he goes into that match with the right mindset (only good can come of that), then Gulbis can play freely.
Prediction: Third round (loss to Djokovic)
Lleyton Hewitt is now 30 years old.
Once a player turns 30, their career usually starts to decline. In Hewitt's case, the decline has already started to show.
The former world No. 1 has dropped to No. 64 and looks like he's on his way out of the ATP. He struggles to contend with the big hitters on tour because his game hinges on defense.
With age, Hewitt's defense has slipped off a bit, and he's been hit off the court on various occasions. Coupled with injuries, this year looks to be Hewitt's last chance to win a big tournament.
He probably won't contend in a major again, so a Masters event is the next best thing.
In the first round, Hewitt matches up with Yen-Hsun Lu, a player he beat less than a month ago. If he gets by Lu, he takes the court against Gulbis. After that would likely be a match against Novak.
If Hewitt wants to get out of his quarter of the draw, he's going to have to be aggressive and decisive.
Prediction: Third round (loss to Gulbis)
Nikolay Davydenko mimicked his start to last season when he raced to the finals in Doha.
However, he lost to Federer this time; not quite making the impact he did before last year's Australian Open. He did register a straight-set victory over Nadal in the semifinals.
Since Doha, Davydenko has been less than impressive. He's lost four of his last five matches, and has little confidence coming into Indian Wells. However, all of Davydenko's matches have been against players in the top 40, giving the Russian some hope that it's not all on him.
He is set to play Fabio Fognini in the first round, whom he beat convincingly in his first match of 2011. With a win, Davydenko will then challenge Stanislas Wawrinka in the second round. Things don't get easier after that, with Marin Cilic likely awaiting the winner of that match.
Davydenko has seen his window of opportunity come and pass—now he's just hoping to surprise the world—and himself.
Prediction: Second round (loss to Wawrinka)
Last year, Marin Cilic was the talk of tennis fanatics everywhere.
The young Croatian won in Chennai, India right before the start of the Australian Open. Considered the "dark horse" in Australia, Cilic lived up to his billing. He beat Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick on the way to the semifinals.
He won the very next tournament in Zagreb, Croatia, and looked like he'd be a threat in each major tournament. He hasn't made it past the Round of 16 in any of the Grand Slams since the win in his home country. In fact, he hasn't won a tournament since the triumph.
Cilic hasn't been playing badly, he just hasn't broken through.
Fellow countrymen Mario Ancic just retired after a very similar start to his career almost a decade prior to Cilic. If Ancic wants to complete the breakthrough, he has to do it while he still has confidence in his game.
Cilic has an easy road until the third round, where he will likely meet Wawrinka. If he gets by Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych could be waiting in the Round of 16.
It won't be easy for Cilic, but he has the talent to make something happen.
Prediction: Third round (loss to Wawrinka)
If Marin Cilic thinks it's been a while since he won a tournament, he should talk to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Tsonga hasn't held a championship trophy since October of 2009, when he won in Tokyo, Japan. Tsonga burst onto the scene when he made it all the way to the Australian Open finals in 2008.
Since that appearance, Tsonga has been anything but consistent. Tsonga has been hit or miss in tournaments for a few years now. Last year, Tsonga took a long break to rehab a knee injury that had plagued him for quite some time.
Tsonga has been impressive this season, at 10-4, but has yet to post an upset victory. Tsonga doesn't face any significant trouble until he sees Marcos Baghdatis in the Round of 16. If he beats Baghdatis, he could play Nadal in the quarterfinals.
Tsonga is a huge hitter with a tremendous upside, but he won't make his upturn until the hard court season.
Prediction: Round of 16 (loss to Baghdatis)
The hype surrounding Juan Martin del Potro is absolutely ludicrous.
The Argentinian squeaked out a five-set victory over Roger Federer in the 2009 US Open final. By doing this, he became one of very few active players to earn a Grand Slam title.
Shortly after, del Potro fell victim to a severe wrist injury that kept him out for most of the 2010 season and plummeted his No. 4 ranking to above 200. He has since recovered to No. 90 after winning at Delray Beach a couple weeks ago.
In that tournament, he beat Mardy Fish and Janko Tipsarevic to capture his first title since his return. Del Potro has arguably the hardest forehand on tour, and a powerful serve to complement it.
He has already moved past Radek Stepanek with relative ease, and will take on Ivan Ljubicic next. If he beats Ljubicic, he may have to play up-and-comer Alexandr Dolgopolov. If he pulls out another upset—in terms of rankings—he'll face red-hot Robin Soderling.
Del Potro has a promising career ahead of him, but he's not ready to slug it out with Soderling just yet.
Prediction: Round of 16 (loss to Soderling)
It's hard to think that Roger Federer has anything left to prove.
His continued ability to be elite and apparent desire to still be the best in the game are evident.
Federer is 14-2 on the season, with a pair of losses to Djokovic. He has only dropped three sets in his 14 wins, but has lost all five sets he's played against the Serb.
Federer doesn't take kindly to losing and he hates challenges to his throne.
When Nadal thought he had Federer's number, Federer would come out and bully the Spaniard in a win. At one point, Nadal held a five-match winning streak over Federer—having won on all services. Federer straight-setted Nadal on clay in Madrid to prove a point.
If Federer gets the chance to play Djokovic, don't expect the Swiss star to leave without a set. The two could face each other in the semifinals.
If that's the case, the world should watch.
Prediction: Semifinals (loss to Djokovic)
Rafael Nadal also has two losses on the season.
He was defeated soundly by an in-form Davydenko in Doha. In the Australian Open semifinals, injuries helped David Ferrer beat Nadal for the first time since 2007.
Every time Nadal is hampered by an injury, people begin to write him off. They say that his body can't last, and that if he doesn't drastically change his playing style, he won't be able to return.
Well, Nadal has returned once again. He was decisive in two Davis Cup victories over Belgium, and he looks to take home another win at Indian Wells. He won the California tournament in 2007 and 2009.
If Nadal is as ready as he suggests, there are very few that even stand a chance against him. Even if he's not at his best, he can easily advance to the quarterfinals.
He'll likely face either Tsonga or Baghdatis in the quarterfinals. If he gets out of his quarter, Soderling could be waiting in the semifinals.
A duel with Soderling would be a good test to gauge where Nadal stands in his return.
Prediction: Finals (loss to Djokovic)
Tomas Berdych is probably the best headcase on tour.
He's the only player in the top 10 that can rarely—if ever—control his temper, causing him to finish short of his goals on most occasions.
The most recent bout of Berdych's anger ended in a loss to underdog Andrey Golubev in Davis Cup play.
The loss swung momentum in the Czech Republic's fall to Kazakhstan. This is seemingly a defeat that Berdych won't soon forget.
After making last year's Wimbledon final, Berdych has failed to post any results that would suggest improved consistency. The Czech player can beat anyone in the world—which he proved in grass-court victories over Federer and Djokovic in back-to-back rounds.
He can also lose to anyone—as he's proved time and time again.
If Berdych stays calm, he should have an easy road to the Round of 16. He will likely play Wawrinka in the quarterfinals and if he can beat the No. 2 Swiss player, he'll probably draw the No. 1 Swiss star in the next round.
Prediction: Quarterfinals (loss to Federer)
No one's confidence has taken a hit quite like Andy Murray.
The young Scot wasn't anywhere near his best in a straight-set loss to Djokovic in the Australian Open final. Murray was the trendy pick to win his first major after both Federer and Nadal were plucked from the field.
However, Murray was sluggish and defensive in the finals—which he has a reputation for in big matches. After the loss, Murray said he would take significant time away from tennis to re-evaluate things. He was back in action a little over a week later.
Although he was on the court, Murray's head wasn't in the match. He was handled by Baghdatis, who beat him 6-4, 6-1. Murray has not played a match since that loss.
If he wants to turn it around, Indian Wells is a good place to start. He plays American Donald Young in the second round, which should be an easy victory. The next round could be a match against Tommy Robredo, whom Murray has beat handily in their last two meetings.
After that, either Sam Querrey or Fernando Verdasco likely awaits. He holds a combined 12-2 record against the two, losing one match to each player. If Murray makes the quarterfinals, Soderling will most likely be on the other side of the net.
Soderling is the player that passed Murray in the rankings to claim the No. 4 spot. He is 18-1 this season with three titles. His lone loss was in the Australian Open. He has also only dropped three sets in his 18 victories.
If Murray can get by Soderling, his confidence will be restored.
Prediction: Quarterfinals (loss to Soderling)