2017 ATP Indian Wells Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The early part of the 2017 ATP World Tour season has drawn battle lines for the first Masters 1000 tournament this year. The ATP World Tour’s best (and the WTA’s best) have once again returned to the California desert for one of the biggest tournaments of the season. Veterans, young guns, and everyone in between will face off in the coming week, and here is your look at the action to come.
BNP Paribas Open
ATP World Tour Masters 1000
Indian Wells, CA, USA
March 9-19, 2017
Prize Money: $6,993,450
Top 8 seeds (ATP Rankings in parentheses) (32 seeds get first round byes)
1: Andy Murray (1)
2: Novak Djokovic (2)
3: Stan Wawrinka (3)
4: Kei Nishikori (5)
5: Rafael Nadal (6)
6: Marin Cilic (7)
7: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
8: Dominic Thiem (9)
Defending finalist Milos Raonic is missing, also notably absent from the first Masters 1000 of the year is Spanish veteran David Ferrer and French veterans Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon.
First round matches to watch:
Damir Dzumhur vs. Ryan Harrison
Twice an ATP quarterfinalist this season, Bosnia’s best player Dzumhur is rounding into form, but his run in IW is likely to end early because he drew the red hot Ryan Harrison in the opening round. More experienced, and more focused than ever, Harrison claimed an ATP title in Memphis and is relying on an effective forehand and aggressive tennis to win matches. He’s been playing well stateside and with the crowd behind him he should win this intriguing match.
Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Viktor Troicki
Troicki is 3-0 in the h2h against Dolgopolov but he’s lost three straight matches, while Dolgopolov won an ATP title on clay not that long ago. Both players can make some fantastic shots, and both focus and fitness will be a factor in this one. Dolgopolov has more upside here, but a steadier Troicki should have a slight edge.
Benoit Paire vs. (WC)Taylor Fritz
Benoit Paire enters IW on a four match losing streak. He has the talent to turn things around and make a run, but he may be sapped of confidence, giving young American Taylor Fritz a chance at a solid tour victory in this one. Fritz has struggled early in 2017, but Paire’s one dimensional game may result in a chance for him to find some momentum and kick start his season. With the fans behind him, as I have Fritz posting the win.
Andy Murray is world #1, but he has a relatively poor record in Indian Wells, particular compared to the other Masters tournaments. The British hero should make quick work of qualifier Vasek Pospisil or Rendy Lu though, and also defeat either Frances Tiafoe/Dusan Lajovic or a struggling Feliciano Lopez in the third round. The young Tiafoe has a great shot at the third round given that Lajovic isn’t an elite player and Lopez has lost three straight. Pospisil should beat Lu.
Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut should be good enough to defeat Adrian Mannarino/Juan Monaco, and also big server Reilly Opelka in round 3. Standing in the American wild card’s path to the third round is qualifier Peter Gojowczyk, and seed Pablo Carreno Busta, who much prefers clay. If he plays his best, particularly on serve, Opelka is a threat in this draw, and only RBA’s rock solid return game should stop him.
David Goffin and Ryan Harrison should face off in a big third round match. Harrison needs only to defeat Dzumhur and dirtballer Albert Ramos, while Goffin will face Russian young gun Karen Khachanov or veteran Tommy Robredo. Twice an ATP finalist this season, Goffin should ease past a struggling Khachanov, but in the third round I’ll take Harrison in an upset given the momentum behind RH right now.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can’t complain about his path to the late stages of the tournament. Neither Konstantin Kravchuk or Fabio Fognini are much of a threat right now, and the toughest hard court player in his section is the unseeded Martin Klizan, a streaky ball basher. Also here are dirtballers Thiago Monteiro and Pablo Cuevas. After capturing two titles this season, Tsonga has his sights set on Masters success, and he should ease past Klizan to reach the round of 16.
Stan Wawrinka crashed out of Dubai, and his section features Dubai semifinalist Robin Haase in round 2 (presuming Haase beats clay courter Paolo Lorenzi), with either Philipp Kohlschreiber or Troicki/Dolgopolov looming in round 3. Despite playing poorly in Dubai and having just one match since Australia, Wawrinka is still good enough to make a run in IW if his backhand finds its groove. I have Kohlschreiber beating Troicki before falling to Wawrinka in round 3. Haase is also an interesting dark horse here but he’s been unable to string together weeks of great tennis consistently in his career.
Tomas Berdych also hasn’t posted great results this season, but with Bernard Tomic reeling after losing four straight, and the big serving Ivo Karlovic the only other major threat to his early chances, the Czech veteran should reach the round of 16. I have Tomic falling to American Bjorn Fratangelo in round 1, Karlovic should beat Acapulco quarterfinalist Yoshihito Nishioka or Elias Ymer, both of whom came from qualifying. With Karlovic struggling as well, Berdych should beat him in round 3.
Fan favorite Gael Monfils and American favorite John Isner should square off in round 3, but first Monfils will need to defeat the in-form qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili, or qualifier Darian King. Isner will need to defeat Jordan Thompson or fading veteran Dmitry Tursunov. Isner has not had a good season, and although he should beat Thompson, Monfils is a clear favorite to reach the round of 16. Watch out for Memphis finalist Basilashvili here as well.
Young Dominic Thiem has a section he should dominate. Neither Jeremy Chardy or qualifier Radu Albot are playing well enough to threaten him in round 2. The seed Mischa Zverev has been in awful form since Australia, and both Joao Sousa and Diego Schwartzman are transitioning from clay. Thiem should defeat Chardy and Sousa to reach the round of 16.
Despite a potentially tricky path, Japanese #1 Kei Nishikori should reach at least the last 16. Nishikori will face Dan Evans or Dustin Brown, with big server Gilles Muller likely to follow, presuming Muller defeats Renzo Olivo/Jiri Vesely. Evans has been poor the last few weeks, and while Nishikori is not in form, he should be able to find some form and beat Evans and Muller.
Acapulco champion Sam Querrey is in great form right now, but will face the pressure of backing up his run down in Mexico against an American in round 2, either Stefan Kozlov or Donald Young. Lucas Pouille will face Santiago Giraldo or J.L. Struff for a spot in the third round opposite Querrey. Querrey served well in Acapulco and he’s never lost to Young (2-0 h2h). He should beat the x2 semifinalist in 2017, Young, then I have him defeating an in-form Lucas Pouille, after Pouille beats Struff.
One of the best matches of the tournament should be a third round clash between Grigor Dimitrov and Jack Sock. Both fan favorites, they are in excellent form, playing the best tennis of their careers, and only Borna Coric/Henri Laaksonen, and Daniil Medvedev/Mikhail Youzhny stand in their way. Dimitrov should defeat Medvedev, Sock should defeat Coric, and then their 17-2 and 12-2 tour records this season respectively should go head to head. Sock has a 2-1 h2h edge, but I feel Dimitrov is narrowly the better player in this one.
After reaching the semis in Acapulco, Marin Cilic has an easy path to the round of 16. Cilic needs only to defeat Fritz/Paire, and one of Malek Jaziri/Nicolas Mahut/Marcel Granollers to make it to that fourth round stage. I have Cilic beating Fritz and Jaziri in his first two matches. Granollers has had a poor season and Mahut is not playing great right now.
Novak Djokovic already has two losses on the season, but he’s still bidding for a fourth straight and sixth overall IW title. Djokovic has not been at the top of his game this season, which could create opportunity for Juan Martin Del Potro in round 3, presuming JMDP puts away either a struggling Andrey Kuznetsov or countryman Federico Delbonis. Even with Djokovic’s outlook in question, Del Potro lost a three setter to him in Acapulco, and although I expect them to battle, Djokovic should again have the upper hand.
This quarter of the draw is by far the best. Young guns Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev should have a big third round clash, as long as Zverev finishes off qualifier Julien Benneteau or Facundo Bagnis, and Kyrgios defeats qualifier Marius Copil or Horacio Zeballos. Kyrgios has two semifinals this season, and a win over Djokovic. Zverev has a tour title this season. Having never met at the ATP or Challenger tour level before, it’s hard to predict the winner. However on hard courts I have Kyrgios beating Copil and Zverev, after Zverev beats Benneteau.
Roger Federer suffered a stunning Dubai early defeat, but the four time IW champion has a relatively easy path to the round of 16 as long as Steve Johnson doesn’t pull a monumental upset. Federer will face over 30 straggler Dudi Sela, or 36 year old journeyman Stephane Robert in round 2, while Johnson will likely draw Kevin Anderson, looking for his first win back from injury against qualifier Federico Gaio. Johnson has been a model of consistency at reaching quarterfinals or semifinals this season, but his upside is less than Federer who hits forehand and serves better, both of Johnson’s strengths.
Acapulco finalist Rafael Nadal and Dubai finalist Fernando Verdasco are set to clash in round 3, renewing their rivalry. Nadal needs only to defeat another Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, or Argentine Guido Pella in round 2. Verdasco should draw serve and volleyer Pierre-Hugues Herbert, presuming Herbert defeats a struggling Thomaz Bellucci. Verdasco has the game to beat Nadal, but Nadal has had a great hard court season thus far, and I would not want to face him right now. A three-time champion in Indian Wells, Nadal has a shot at making it four, and should reach the round of 16 to keep his hopes alive.
Dark Horses: Ryan Harrison, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Sam Querrey, Juan Martin Del Potro
I have Harrison upsetting Goffin to reach the round of 16, he’ll have a shot against Tsonga as well, having found renewed focus and belief in his tennis. Basilashvili has it tough against Monfils but if he wins that match the quarterfinals will be within his sights. Querrey has to beat Young and Pouille just to reach the last 16, and Nishikori is tough at that point, but the California boy can pull it off. Del Potro also has a difficult draw with Djokovic and Kyrgios/Zverev back to back. The former slam champion certainly has the shots to win those matches though.
Round of 16
Murray d. Bautista Agut
Tsonga d. Harrison
Wawrinka d. Berdych
Thiem d. Monfils
Dimitrov d. Cilic
Querrey d. Nishikori
Nadal d. Federer
Djokovic d. Kyrgios
The Men’s quarterfinalists in the top half should stay true to form, as Murray and Tsonga have clear edges in their matches. Wawrinka has dominated Berdych in recent years, and Thiem leads Monfils 2-0 in the h2h.
Cilic has a 3-1 edge on Dimitrov but I can’t go against the Bulgarian’s form. Querrey has four wins against Nishikori, and form actually favors him right now. Nadal, even on a hard court, should have a narrow edge against Federer, their AO final aside, Nadal has consistently been at a higher level this season. Djokovic lost to Kyrgios in Acapulco, but he’s more likely to get revenge than Kyrgios is at winning twice in a row against an elite player.
Murray d. Tsonga
Thiem d. Wawrinka
Dimitrov d. Querrey
Nadal d. Djokovic
Murray has won five straight meetings against Tsonga, Wawrinka has a 2- h2h against Thiem, but Thiem is playing better right now in the battle of one-handed backhands. Dimitrov has never lost to Querrey (2-0), and despite not having defeated Djokovic on a hard court since 2013, Nadal has simply been better than the Serbian superstar this season. Indian Wells isn’t the fastest court in the world, and that gives Nadal a better shot than at some venues. I’ll call the upset.
Murray d. Thiem
Nadal d. Dimitrov
Murray and Nadal have dominated Thiem and Dimitrov respectively, and although it would be nice to get someone over than the big four in a Masters final, it all likelihood a mix of Murray, Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer will make-up the 2017 IW final.
Murray d. Nadal
Despite a substantive h2h edge for Nadal, Murray is the best player in the world right now, especially on hard courts. He has his struggles, but overall Murray is simply better than Nadal, Djokovic, Wawrinka, Nishikori, and Federer right now. Now is as good a time as any for him to win his first IW title.