Predicting the Male Semi-Finalists of the 2015 Indian Wells Masters
Aside from Ivan Ljubicic’s surprise win over Andy Roddick in 2010, you might not be particularly surprised to hear that one of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal has lifted the Indian Wells trophy in each year since Federer’s victory over Tim Henman in 2004.
With each of the three powerhouses remaining in the tournament going into Wednesday’s last 16 encounters, it is difficult to see a Ljubicic in the pack at present.
But, with the likes of Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori and Thomas Berdych all still fighting for their first Indian Wells titles, it certainly will not be an easy task for anyone.
Predictions are always difficult to make, but read on to see who gets our nod to reach the final four later in the week.
Novak Djokovic may argue that, as No. 1 seed and defending champion, he is entitled to a comparatively easy draw: and that he has been granted.
The Serb’s opening match against Marcos Baghdatis did not reach an hour before the Cypriot was forced to retire through injury.
He did, however, struggle in subsequently overcoming the unseeded Albert Ramos-Vinolas, hitting an uncharacteristic tally of 32 unforced errors.
He now has a very different proposition to overcome in John Isner—arguably the biggest server in the game—who memorably stunned Djokovic in the semi-final of this tournament three years ago.
But there will be no repeat of that this time, with Djokovic’s subsequent quarter-final opponent—Bernard Tomic or Thanasi Kokkinakis, both young Australians—will likely be far easier than any of his major rivals for the title, allowing him to be fresher for the semi-final.
He is not in scintillating form by any means, but often that is when Djokovic is at his most dangerous.
In his six previous visits to Indian Wells, Kei Nishikori had failed to surpass the third round.
But the highest-ranked Asian player in ATP Tour history managed to rectify that with an impressive victory over Fernando Verdasco, having lost the first set tie-breaker.
It does not get any easier for Nishikori: Next up is the evergreen No. 12 seed Feliciano Lopez, although Nishikori has never dropped a set on a hard court to the Spaniard.
Beyond that is most likely to be Andy Murray, which promises to be the most unpredictable clash of the tournament.
After Nishikori’s impressive straight-sets victory over the Scot at the World Tour Finals a few months ago, he may well hold the mental edge.
Either way, should they face off, whichever player wins is likely to be at a physical disadvantage to Djokovic in the semi-final.
Rafael Nadal overcame a stuttering start to defeat Donald Young in straight sets in the third round.
But the No. 3 seed remains relaxed of going all the way, as per the official ATP website: "I like playing here—I love the players, I love the organization, I love the fans here and I feel very comfortable.”
As a three-time winner, he is right to feel comfortable.
What may convince himself of his prospects even further are his head-to-head records against his upcoming opponents: 6-1 vs. Gilles Simon, 5-0 vs. Milos Raonic and 7-0 vs. compatriot Tommy Robredo (he will play one of the latter two in the quarter-final, should he defeat Simon).
Now that Nadal has avoided a repeat of last year’s shock early exit, he is more than capable of a deep run, and he should have little difficulty reaching the semi-final.
Roger Federer has only one defeat to his name in 2015—the shock third-round exit to Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open when it mattered most.
It must have felt sweet, then, to avenge that loss so quickly—a feeling confirmed by the Swiss maestro. As per Sky Sports, Federer said after his third-round victory in California: "It was good to play him right away again and erase it from the memory.
"This was one of those matches where I was happy to get through and happy it was over."
Now that it is over, he faces 22-year-old American Jack Sock, one half of last year’s Wimbledon men’s doubles champions.
It will be the first time the duo have met in what promises to be an intriguing battle, with Sock appearing particularly motivated after his brother's recent illness.
Should Federer prevail as expected, however, a likely quarter-final clash with Thomas Berdych awaits, with the Czech winning two of the duo’s last three matches.
But I am backing Federer all the way to book a tantalising semi-final battle with old friend and foe Rafael Nadal.