2014 ATP Indian Wells Preview, Picks
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The opening Masters 1000 event of the season is here, with live tennis starting today from Larry Ellison’s investment portfolio in Indian Wells, California. Most of the top players will be competing. Here is your preview.
ATP Indian WellsBNP Paribas Open
ATP World Tour Masters 1000
Indian Wells, California, USA
March 6-March 16, 2014
Prize Money: $4,720,380
Top 8 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (1)
2: Novak Djokovic (2)
3: Stanislas Wawrinka (3)
4: Tomas Berdych (5)
5: Andy Murray (6)
6: Juan Martin Del Potro (7)
7: Roger Federer (8)
8: Richard Gasquet (9)
All 32 seeds get byes into round 2, and 18 of the top 20 players are participating, with only the injured David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro missing.
First round matchups to watch:
Jiri Vesely vs. Igor Sijsling
A pair of talented but seemingly inconsistent players, Vesely and Sijsling are on losing streaks of 2 and 3 matches respectively and both have let consistency issues get in the way of their potential. Rising young Czech Vesely and Dutchman Sijsling made the semis of the 500 in Rotterdam last month. On a hard court I think this matchup favors Sijsling if he serves well, as Vesely doesn’t seem to be peaking right now.
(WC)Rhyne Williams vs. Jeremy Chardy
Rhyne Williams will have a nice chance for a win against French veteran Jeremy Chardy. Williams has been good on hard courts this season at both the Australian Open and Delray Beach, where he reached the quarterfinals as a qualifier. Chardy lost in round 2 of Acapulco (played on hard courts this year) and has otherwise been on clay, having a rather pedestrian average season thus far. If Rhyne is going to move up to the next tier of ATP players, he needs to beat the likes of Chardy on hard courts (his surface of choice) and in the States. This is a good test for him.
(WC)Steve Johnson vs. Roberto Bautista Agut
My favorite first round match of this trio. Johnson comes off some great play en route to the semis in Delray also as a qualifier like his buddy Rhyne Williams. He’s a California boy who played at USC, which should provide him with some local support. Like Rhyne, if Stevie J is going to move up to the next level of ATP players, he will need to pull off mild upsets like this match against RBA, who played really well in Melbourne but has cooled off since and has struggled with wrist injury issues since the Davis Cup ties. A 2-4 record post-AO is not what was expected from RBA after the spark he showed there, and this will be a good test as to whether he will refind that form on hard courts on a big stage or continue to struggle. I’ll go with the upset and pick Johnson myself.
16-1 this year, a defending and 3 time BNP Paribas Open champion, Rafael Nadal will open with Radek Stepanek or Denis Istomin, a couple of steady competitors who can put up a competitive match but aren’t likely to give him any trouble really. In round 2 he could get a Rio final rematch with Alex Dolgopolov, who seems to be in good form, and the Ukrainian has to get past Jack Sock or Tim Smyczek to set that up. Dolgo has a final and a semi in consecutive weeks in Rio and Acapulco but he is a career 0-5 against Nadal, including 0-3 on hard courts, never having taken a set off of him.
Nadal should be safe for the round of 16.
Nadal’s round of 16 opponent is most likely to be 23 seed Gael Monfils or 13 seed Fabio Fognini. Monfils will face the winner of Sergiy Stakhovsky/Lukasz Kubot in round 2 in his first tournament action since Rotterdam, while Fognini will face Andrey Golubev/Ryan Harrison in round 2. Assuming they both advance, they will meet in the round of 32. Monfils has been great this year with losses only to Nadal and Del Potro. But he has been on a bit of a hiatus, while Fognini has also been very strong this season, but mainly on clay. Their only meetings are on indoor hard and clay and the h2h is tied 2-2. A hard match to call.
5 seed Andy Murray, who has struggled this season, having not yet made a final in 4 ATP tournaments entered, opens with Lukas Rosol or a qualifier. I still expect him to make his way to the third round against Vesely/Sijsling or Pablo Andujar, who took a set off of him in Acapulco, though Murray won the match.
Murray is still the most likely player to face off with either 10 seed Milos Raonic or 18 seed Jerzy Janowicz in the round of 16. Raonic is playing for the first time since the Australian Open and may be rusty against Benjamin Becker or Edouard Roger-Vasselin, and ERV could give him trouble if he’s not at his best.
Janowicz is playing for the first time since Rotterdam himself, and plays Alejandro Falla or Sao Paulo champ Federico Delbonis in round 2. Neither JJ nor Milos have been great this year and Murray has a good draw if he can play well. Same applies for JJ or Milos.
3 seed Stan Wawrinka, playing for the first time since his Australian Open triumph (Davis Cup excluded), will do battle with Ivo Karlovic or Alex Bogomolov in round 2. Karlovic is always a threat on hard courts to upset most players, but I still expect Wawrinka vs. a qualifier/Sam Querrey/Andreas Seppi in round 3. All of those players are pretty much out of form, especially Querrey. The qualifier will have a nice shot at a round 3 showing here.
Wawrinka/Karlovic vs. 17 seed Kevin Anderson, 14 seed Mikhail Youzhny or Lleyton Hewitt is the most likely round of 16 matchup. Anderson, the Acapulco and Delray finalist, will face Hewitt or his fellow Aussie Matt Ebden in round 2, and then is likely to get Youzhny in round 3. The Colonel has been struggling this year and he needs to get past Michael Russell/Donald Young first.
Youzhny and Hewitt both retired in their last matches In Dubai and Delray respectively.
Dubai Champion Roger Federer has won IW 4 previous times, the last being 2 years ago, and has been strong this year. He faces off with a qualifier in round 2, and then Dmitry Tursunov/Juan Monaco/qualifier in round 3. This is a really easy draw for the Swissman. There really isn’t much to say about that, except he is almost a lock for the round of 16 with nobody to give him trouble at all.
Federer vs. Kei Nishikori, the 19 seed, is a strong possibility for the round of 16 in what would be a good match of reasonably in-form players. Nishikori needs to beat Santiago Giraldo/Daniel Gimeno-Traver in round 2, and then Chardy/Williams or 11 seed Tommy Haas in round 3. Haas has struggled a bit this year and Nishikori is a solid 12-3 in 2014. Williams has a shot to sneak into the third round, given Haas has struggled against American players this year (losses to Sock and Johnson on hard courts this season).
Two-time IW champion Novak Djokovic will face a qualifier or Victor Hanescu in round 2, and Novak should cruise into round 2 against one of Ivan Dodig/Alejandro Gonzalez/Adrian Mannarino. Dodig is the most likely opponent, but of no real threat to trouble the Serbian superstar.
Djokovic vs. 24 seed Marin Cilic, who is a tremendous 18-4 this year (including 14-1 post Australian Open) would be a highly anticipated round of 16 matchup. Cilic has won 2 titles this year and reached the final of another tournament all on hard courts. He opens with a qualifier or Pablo Carreno Busta and then will face one of Tommy Robredo/Bradley Klahn/Marinko Matosevic in round 3. Robredo is the 16 seed but has mainly been playing on clay and his form has been average this year.
Juan Martin Del Potro has struggled with a wrist injury and retired from his last match in Dubai. He’ll face Feliciano Lopez or Dudi Sela in round 2, and given his struggles with that wrist and all the talk of surgery possibly being needed, he may well crash out early again and open up the draw for Lopez.
The 3rd round participant from that section will face Mikhail Kukushkin/qualifier or 25 seed Vasek Pospisil, still feeling his way back from a back injury, in round 3 of a weak section.
Whoever makes the round of 16 from the above section will face either 9 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 21 seed Gilles Simon, Julien Benneteau, or one of 3 qualifiers in the round of 16. This is an all-French section at the present. Simon has struggled all year but did make the quarters in Acapulco, while Tsonga did the same in Dubai, though he also hasn’t been great this year.
Tsonga has won all of their outdoor hard court meetings (3-0 vs. Simon on outdoor hard including a win this year in Melbourne) and is the favorite to get there.
Dubai finalist Tomas Berdych has been very, very good this year, with losses only to Karlovic, Wawrinka and Federer on the year and a title and a final in his last 2 events. He opens with Johnson or RBA in round 2 in what is not an easy match, but he should win it to face Florian Mayer/Daniel Brands/Jarkko Nieminen in round 3. Mayer has been good this year but lost in the first round of Doha. Brands has been nothing special and Nieminen says he’s out of shape, so Berdych should be safe for the round of 16.
Ernests Gulbis, the 20 seed, and Grigor Dimitrov, the 15 seed, are likely to clash in the third round of a competitive section above the Berdych section of the draw. Gulbis will face Joao Sousa or Aleksandr Nedovyesov in round 2, while Dimitrov, the Acapulco champion, gets Robin Haase or a qualifier.
Dimitrov outfought Gulbis in a long competitive three set match in Acapulco just recently, and Gulbis will be looking for revenge. But Dimitrov is in great form and I think he sets up a clash of the titans with Berdych.
8 seed Richard Gasquet, who is 10-5 on the year, faces Nicolas Mahut or Teymuraz Gabashvili round 2, and then Horacio Zeballos/Rajeev Ram/Fernando Verdasco in round 3.
Verdasco hasn’t played since a round 1 loss in Rotterdam but his draw is simple and he has met Gasquet a ridiculous number of times. Their outdoor hard court h2h is tied 2-2 with Verdasco having won the last 2 hard court meetings, the last one coming in 2009. Gasquet will be the slight favorite here but nothing more.
Below the Gasquet section, rivals John Isner (seeded 12th), and Philipp Kohlschreiber (seeded 22nd), are set to clash again in round 3.
Isner needs to beat Michal Przysiezny/Nikolay Davydenko, while Kohli needs to beat Tobias Kamke/Rendy Lu. Lu has been great for part of this season but he’s been injured recently and isn’t playing well. Kohli comes off semis in Dubai. Isner has lost 2 straight but did make the semis in Delray. Isner leads the hard court h2h 3-2, and beat Kohli in Auckland this year already. All of their matches have gone more than the minimum number of sets and that Auckland meeting was 3 close tiebreaks to decide the winner.
I personally think Kohli evens it up here and reaches the round of 16.
Dark Horses: Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Rhyne Williams, Grigor Dimitrov, Gilles Simon
I didn’t necessarily pick the most in-form players, but also those who stand to benefit from the draw. Roger Vasselin, who is only 10-7 on the year but has flashes of talent, is still most likely to lose in round 2 to Raonic. But if Milos is out of it, and then so is Jerzy Janowicz, ERV could find himself in the round of 16 against Murray, who can also have a bad day and be beatable. It’s a high risk, high reward type of situation for ERV and the quarters are the limit.
Rhyne, assuming he can beat Chardy, has a great upset chance against a seemingly out of form Haas, who will struggle with his big forehand. Then, just maybe he could upset Nishikori and give the American fans something to cheer about in round 3, but that won’t be easy. His road still likely ends there.
Dimitrov is a high seed, but he has a shot at the semis, hence why he is included. He needs to beat Gulbis in round 3, and then Berdych needs to fall to his wrath in the round of 16. But with Gasquet/Isner/Kohlschreiber/Verdasco in the section above, semis are very possible for the continually rising and improving Bulgarian, who has been very good this season.
Simon is another streaky pick who could benefit from the draw, if Tsonga is not up to snuff in round 3. The Del Potro section for the round of 16 is very open and a strong/healthy player is unlikely to emerge from it, meaning the veteran Frenchman could make the quarterfinals if he gets hot.
Nadal d. Monfils
Murray d. Janowicz
Wawrinka d. Anderson
Federer d. Nishikori
Kohlschreiber d. Gasquet
Berdych d. Dimitrov
Tsonga d. Pospisil
Djokovic d. Cilic
Nadal should defeat Monfils for the third time this year on hard courts.
Murray and Janowicz have a 2-1 h2h, but Murray has never played him on outdoor hard. It’s a tough pick but I think he ekes out a win.
Wawrinka is 3-0 against Anderson all on hard courts. It should be straight forward there, though the last 2 meetings went 3 sets.
Federer and Nishikori have never met on an outdoor hard court and the h2h is 1-1 but Fed is in such good form I think he gets through that tough test.
Kohli and Gasquet have never met on an outdoor hard court and the overall h2h is 2-2, but I think Kohli is in better form and advances.
Dimitrov-Berdych is a judgment call and Grisha leads the h2h 2-1 including an outdoor hard win in in 3 sets in 2012, but my pick is with the Czech.
Tsonga should defeat a not-quite-100% Pospisil.
Djokovic is 7-0 against Cilic, with 6 of those meetings on outdoor hard, so he should advance.
Nadal d. Murray
Federer d. Wawrinka
Berdych d. Kohlschreiber
Djokovic d. Tsonga
Nadal should not be troubled by Murray’s present level of play.
Federer is 8-0 against Wawrinka on outdoor hard including a win at IW last year, though that meeting was a close 3 sets.
Berdych just beat Kohlschreiber in Dubai and should do so again with relative ease if they meet.
I don’t see Tsonga being able to trouble Novak, as that one should also be straightforward if they meet.
Nadal d. Federer
Djokovic d. Berdych
A not-100% Nadal beat an in-form Federer in Melbourne this year already, and Rafa has simply found a gameplan that deconstructs the Federer game. Regardless of form, short of Rafa being hurt and Federer being godlike, it’s really not possible to pick him in the matchup.
Djokovic could have a tougher time with Berdych, who may give him a run, but you can’t really pick against the world number 2 on a hard court under such circumstances.
Nadal d. Djokovic
It’s not the most exciting pick, but they met a lot last year in key rivalry matchups and this would be their first meeting of the still young season. Last year, Nadal won twice and Novak won once on outdoor hard courts, and overall Djokovic has had a decided advantage on hard courts. All that said, Nadal is seemingly the better player this year and I’m going with him.