2016 ATP Indian Wells Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The 2016 ATP Masters series calendar kicks off with the joint ATP/WTA event in sunny Indian Wells, CA, with most of the world’s best players participating.
BNP Paribas Open
ATP World Tour Masters 1000*
Indian Wells, CA, USA
March 10-20, 2016
Prize Money: $6,134,605
Top 8 seeds (ATP ranking in parentheses) (32 seeds receive first round byes)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Andy Murray (2)
3: Stan Wawrinka (4)
4: Rafael Nadal (5)
5: Kei Nishikori (6)
6: Tomas Berdych (7)
7: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (9)
8: Richard Gasquet (10)
Roger Federer, David Ferrer, Kevin Anderson, Marcos Baghdatis, and Fabio Fognini are among notable names missing from this Masters tournament.
First round matchups to watch:
Ernests Gulbis vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Ernests Gulbis is ranked outside the top 70, but the big hitting Latvian can still have moments of greatness, and he has a 2-1 h2h edge over his first round opponent Garcia-Lopez. GGL has lost three straight matches, and really could use a win in this one, expect a competitive contest with Gulbis having a slight edge.
Vasek Pospisil vs. (WC)Jared Donaldson
It’s been a disappointing year thus far for young American Jared Donaldson. He has just three match wins, and no main draw wins through March. Vasek Pospisil has also had a miserable year with just two match wins all season (2-6 record). Pospisil has a big serve and he’s higher ranked, thus he’s the favorite, but both guys need spring renewal in Indian Wells.
Lukas Rosol vs. Adrian Mannarino
The big hitting Rosol is 3-1 against Mannarino on hard courts, and he’s had an inconsistent year thus far. Mannarino has a pair of ATP quarterfinals on his resume, but his game isn’t a great matchup against Rosol, and he’s likely the underdog in this style contrast.
(WC)Frances Tiafoe vs. (WC)Taylor Fritz
A battle of teenagers, Tiafoe has a pair of challenger quarterfinals this year as he is working his way up on tour. Fritz has risen into the top 80 with an ATP final (Memphis) and a quarterfinal (Acapulco). Both have a bright future, and could be the two stars of American tennis within a few years, in this matchup though, Fritz is a clear favorite.
(Q)Tim Smyczek vs. (WC)Juan Martin Del Potro
Del Potro made a successful return to the ATP tour in Delray Beach, where he reached the semifinals. Smyczek qualified, and has a quarterfinal in Delray Beach as well. Del Potro is the better player, and should be the favorite, but Smyczek is a good form test for him, and his wrist.
Borna Coric vs. Lucas Pouille
Borna Coric hasn’t been in great form since he reached an ATP final at the start of the season. The young Croatian is a great talent though, and should be able to outpace Pouille and his powerful forehand. Pouille is seeking an ATP breakthrough in a big tournament like this, and he’ll take his chances in this match between young guns.
Rajeev Ram vs. (Q)Noah Rubin
Delray Beach finalist Rajeev Ram will put his serve and volley game up against qualifier Noah Rubin. The young Rubin has a bright future, and American tennis fans should be sure to check out his game. He’s a bit of an underdog in this match, but it could go either way.
Novak Djokovic had a tough time in Davis Cup play over the weekend, and retired with an eye infection at his last tournament in Dubai. With that said, when he’s healthy the world #1 is practically impossible to stop, as he’s proven at tournaments prior to Dubai over the past few months. Presuming good health, Djokovic should get past qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo, or a struggling Teymuraz Gabashvili before running into #27 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round. Kohlschreiber is 10-5 on the season and went 2-0 in Davis Cup action over the weekend. The veteran’s solid recent hard court form should give him an edge over Denis Kudla or Denis Istomin in round 2. Istomin hasn’t won a match this season, and Kudla has lost three straight. Djokovic is 4-0 against Kohli on hard courts and should advance to the fourth round.
#14 seed Roberto Bautista Agut is on track to face Djokovic in the 4th round. RBA is 16-4 on the season, and has been playing the tennis of his career. He’ll open with either Mikhail Youzhny or Aljaz Bedene, most likely the in-form Youzhny, with #18 seed Feliciano Lopez likely to follow. The Dubai semifinalist Lopez will face Gulbis/Garcia-Lopez round 2. Lopez won their only h2h meeting but given his recent form RBA has an edge.
#7 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will face qualifier Vincent Millot, or wild card Mackenzie McDonald in his opening match. Tsonga has struggled as of late and he should be on upset alert against American Sam Querrey. The 28 year old is 11-4 on the tour this year with two ATP semifinals, and an ATP final in recent weeks. Querrey will be the favorite against Jiri Vesely or Thiemo De Bakker in his first match. Tsonga and Querrey are 1-1 in the h2h on hard courts.
#11 seed Dominic Thiem is set to face Querrey/Tsonga in the round of 16. Thiem has 2 ATP titles, and a 10-3 record this season. He’s making a push for a top 10 ranking at 22 years old, and will be a favorite against either Pierre- Hugues Herbert or Jozef Kovalik in round 2, both are qualifiers, with Herbert likely better on a hard court. #21 seed Jack Sock should defeat either qualifier Michael Berrer, or Juan Monaco. Thiem beat Sock last year in Miami, and he’ll be the favorite once more in round 3.
#4 seed Rafael Nadal is just 8-4 this year, and playing well below his usual lofty standards. With that said, he’s still a likely favorite against either Gilles Muller or Victor Estrella in round 2, with both players in poor form as of late. Nadal is likely to face Martin Klizan in round 3. The Rotterdam champion is a big hitter who has been in good form, and he should dispatch Fernando Verdasco in round 2. Verdasco opens with qualifier Peter Polansky. Klizan has a hard court win over Nadal, and Rafa should be on upset alert, but I still give him an edge to prevail due to his experience and fight.
A battle between the veteran Gilles Simon, and Grigor Dimitrov is likely to conspire in the third round for the right to face Nadal/Klizan. Dimitrov is likely to open with young gun Alexander Zverev, Zverev is rising fast with an ATP semifinal and quarterfinal this season. He opens with serve and volleyer Ivan Dodig. Dimitrov is a solid 12-5 on the season, and should get past that matchup to face Simon. Gilles hasn’t been great this year (4-5), but he should defeat Donaldson/Pospisil, as he just beat Pospisil in Davis Cup. Dimitrov was 0-4 against Simon until he beat him in Brisbane this year, and he should beat him again to reach the fourth round.
American #1 John Isner is set to have a good tournament on North American hard courts. The hard serving big man should defeat either Andreas Seppi or Donald Young to setup a third round match with Benoit Paire. Paire has two ATP semis this year but is wildly inconsistent. His first opponent will be Rosol or Mannarino. Paire and Rosol have met twice this year on hard courts, and split meetings. Isner is 1-0 against Paire on hard courts, and a better player on the surface.
#5 seed Kei Nishikori comes off a Davis Cup weekend to face either Mikhail Kukushkin or Daniel Munoz De La Nava first up. Kei is 11-4 on the season with 1 ATP title, he’s been slightly disappointing, but he should roll past Kukushkin and setup a third round match with Southern California native Steve Johnson. Johnson has struggled to a 3-6 record this year, but IW is his home tournament, and hard courts are his best surface. He should defeat Alexander Sarkissian or John Millman in round 2 as Millman hasn’t been in great form either. Nishikori is 3-0 against Johnson.
The British #1 opens with either Damir Dzumhur or Marcel Granollers. Andy Murray should handle that with ease, and also slip past Joao Sousa in the third round as he has a routine early draw. Sousa opens with Santiago Giraldo or Federico Delbonis as this section is full of players who prefer clay. Sousa is looking for his first ATP win since the Aussie open, where he lost to Murray in round 3.
Gael Monfils and Nick Kyrgios should setup a star studded third round matchup for the right to face Murray. Monfils opens with either Evgeny Donskoy or Pablo Carreno Busta, both of whom are well below his level, while Kyrgios will face either Hyeon Chung or Albert Ramos. Monfils has a lone h2h win over Kyrgios, and both are in great form (9-3 for Monfils, and 10-2 for Kyrgios). I give Monfils a slight edge to advance given Kyrgios has been struggling with back problems.
Aussie open semifinalist Milos Raonic returns from an injury to face either Nicolas Almagro or Inigo Cervantes in his first match. Raonic is a dangerous player on hard courts and already has an ATP title this year. If he stays aggressive, and doesn’t have too much rust he should do some damage in the draw and slide past Bernard Tomic in the third round. Tomic, the #17 seed, opens with Ram/Rubin, and should defeat most likely Ram once again. Raonic beat Tomic in Brisbane this year and should do so again if he’s fit.
Tomas Berdych opens with either Smyczek or Del Potro, and unless Del Potro is rapidly improving, the Czech should prevail. Berdych retired injured in Davis Cup play over the weekend, but if that was precautionary he should defeat Borna Coric or Thomaz Bellucci, most likely the young Coric in round 3. Bellucci is just 1-3 on hard courts this year. Berdych will be a heavy favorite against Coric if healthy.
Dubai champion Stan Wawrinka continues to be in the top tier of the men’s game. His gifted one hand backhand has won him many matches, and he should slip past either Dmitry Tursunov or Acapulco quarterfinalist Illya Marchenko, with Tursunov returning from injury. The 13-2 Wawrinka should face Jeremy Chardy in round 3, but I have Andrey Kuznetsov, an improving Russian player, defeating qualifier Marco Trungelliti, and Chardy to reach the third round. Kuznetsov beat Chardy at the Aussie Open this year and has two ATP quarterfinals to his name this season. Wawrinka should ease past Kuznetsov at that point.
David Goffin has a draw that he should be able to get to the fourth round in. Goffin opens with Fritz/Tiafoe, who could knock him off, but his third round match against one of Pablo Cuevas/Kyle Edmund/Guido Pella is an easy one. Cuevas isn’t a hard court player, but he’s been in great form as of late, and that should help him past Edmund, who has been stuck at the challenger level most of this year. Goffin is 8-4 on the year.
Richard Gasquet has his own chance to make noise at IW, but he’ll need to be fit and fresh to face his serve and volleying countryman Nicolas Mahut, or qualifier Renzo Olivo. Mahut can pull off upsets, but the real test will come for Gasquet in round 3 against Alexandr Dolgopolov, the #26 seed. Dolgopolov opens with Diego Schwartzman or Robin Haase, and he should ease into the third round. Gasquet leads the h2h with Dolgo 2-0, Dolgo has two quarterfinals and a semifinal on the ATP tour this year, but Gasquet has a title and a quarterfinal in his own right. It will be an exciting match, but I have the veteran Frenchman advancing.
Marin Cilic is the most likely opponent for Gasquet/Dolgopolov, Cilic opens with either qualifier Ryan Harrison or Dusan Lajovic. Cilic is a rather pedestrian 9-7 on the year, but hard courts are a favorable surface, and Harrison isn’t likely to pull the upset. Viktor Troicki or Leonardo Mayer will be his third round opponent. Mayer opens with a winless Sam Groth, while Troicki struggled in Davis Cup play but his 13-6 on the season and has played great for parts of this year. Troicki has won the last five meetings against Cilic, but Cilic won the first four and has been in better form.
Dark Horses (one for each quarter of the draw): Dominic Thiem, John Isner, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Juan Martin Del Potro
Thiem should beat Sock, and Tsonga/Querrey to reach the quarterfinals, Novak Djokovic is the worst opponent one could have, but if he’s not 100% Thiem could pull an upset. I have Isner reaching the semis, he tends to do well on North American hard courts and a late round path of Paire, Nishikori, and Nadal/Dimitrov is a winnable one, with all of those players showing shaky form as of late.
Dolgopolov needs to upset Gasquet and Cilic to make a deep run, but it’s quite possible he could do sow with his shotmaking game. Del Potro has to face Berdych in round 2, and he’ll likely go down in defeat, but JMDP showed a strong forehand and great serve in Delray Beach, and if he continues to improve, he should be a force on tour in the months to come.
Round of 16
Djokovic d. Bautista Agut
Thiem d. Querrey
Nadal d. Dimitrov
Isner d. Nishikori
Gasquet d. Cilic
Wawrinka d. Goffin
Raonic d. Berdych
Murray d. Monfils
Djokovic is 3-0 against RBA, Thiem beat Querrey in Acapulco, Nadal is 7-0 against Dimitrov, and Isner has split meetings against Nishikori. Gasquet is 2-0 against Cilic, Wawrinka is 3-0 against Goffin, Raonic is 3-1 on hard courts against Berdych in what will be a competitive match, and Murray is 2-1 against Monfils on hard courts.
Djokovic d. Thiem
Isner d. Nadal
Wawrinka d. Gasquet
Murray d. Raonic
Djokovic has a h2h win over Thiem, Isner is 0-6 against Nadal, but with Rafa in decline, I have him earning his first win over the Spaniard. Wawrinka vs. Gasquet should be interesting with how great their backhands are, but Wawrinka should be slightly better. Murray has won his last three meetings against Raonic, who is returning from injury.
Djokovic d. Isner
Murray d. Wawrinka
Djokovic has five straight wins over Wawrinka, Murray has lost his last three meetings against Wawrinka, but I have him defeating Stan due the fact he’s fitter and fresher most likely for Indian Wells tennis.
Djokovic d. Murray
Djokovic has had a clear edge over Murray as of late, Andy will have his chances, but this tournament is Novak’s to lose. The four time, and twice defending champion Novak should take title #5 in IW.