Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Indian Wells: What to Expect from the Top Half of the Draw

A quick glance at the draw shows that Novak Djokovic couldn't have asked for a much easier path to the finals.  He could face the talented and young Jiri Vesely in his first match, but Vesely has lost five straight matches since winning the title in Auckland.  Other seeds in Djokovic's section include Julien Benneteau (who has a grand total of one win on the year), the slumping John Isner and Kevin Anderson, to whom he hasn't lost since 2008.  Djokovic should reach the quarterfinals with little trouble, though Anderson could potentially bother him for a set if he wakes up on the right side of the bed.

The next section features US Open champion Marin Cilic, who is playing his first tournament of the year, and David Ferrer.  While its nice to see Cilic back from his wrist injury, its hard to imagine he'll be much of a threat in his first tournament back.  18 year old future superstar Thanasi Kokkinakis could take advantage of Cilic's rust and make a run if he can get past the talented Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the first round.  However, David Ferrer has been on fire to start the year, and its hard to see anyone else making the quarters.

On paper Andy Murray shouldn't have any trouble reaching the quarters out of his section, though if the Murray who only managed 4 games against Borna Coric shows up it could be a different story.  The next highest seed in Murray's quarter is Ernests Gulbis, who still hasn't won a match in 2015.  While Philipp Kohlschreiber and Fabio Fognini have their moments, neither look like they're in good enough form to challenge Murray.

Waiting for Murray in the quarters should be Kei Nishikori, who has a relatively easy path himself.  Nishikori will face the winner of the match between Mardy Fish (making his return from health/anxiety issues) and Ryan Harrison.  Harrison has been playing well lately and played Nishikori close a month ago, but neither Harrison, Fernando Verdasco or Feliciano Lopez will keep Nishikori from reaching the quarters.

In the first quarterfinal, Ferrer should put up a tough fight against Djokovic, but it would be a big surprise if he actually pulls the upset.  Djokovic has won their last seven matches, and generally plays well at Indian Wells.  As good as Ferrer has been playing, expect his run to come to an end against the Serbian world number one.

In the next quarterfinal, Murray vs. Nishikori is a tougher match to predict.  Nishikori won their last match, but Murray won the three before that.  While Murray has slipped off since reaching the Australian Open finals, he should be rejuvenated from his Davis Cup win.  Murray gets the edge based on his movement and variety, but it certainly won't be surprising if Nishikori is the one to advance.

In the semifinals, Djokovic vs. Murray would give us a rematch of the Australian Open finals.  This is a rivalry that has increasingly gotten away from Murray, as he's now lost five straight and eight of the last nine.  Djokovic may be coming off a loss to Federer in Dubai, but he is more suited to the slower courts at Indian Wells.  There's simply no reason to believe Murray will turn around the rivalry here, and Djokovic should be the last man standing in the top half.

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