Steen Kirby, Courtney Massey, Niall Clarke and Joe Craven, all of Tennis Atlantic, got together on Google Hangouts to discuss the 2015 ATP and WTA Indian Wells BNP Paribas Open Draws, making their predictions and previewing all of the action from March 12-March 22. In addition, Joe, who was a credentialed journalist at the GB vs. USA Davis Cup tie in Glasgow, gave some insights on that experience, and a discussion of the 2015 World Group round was held. Last, and certainly not least, Steen and Courtney debated on whether the Indian Wells tournament should be moved or demoted, with Steen saying yes, and Courtney saying no, while Joe also gave his 2 cents. Check out the link below and enjoy! Comments and feedback are greatly appreciated.
2015 ATP Indian Wells Preview and Prediction Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
2015 ATP Indian Wells Preview
The first Masters event of the 2015 ATP World Tour Season is here, as it’s time for the celebrated, modern, BNP Paribas Open from the sweltering hard courts of the California desert in Indian Wells. I’m not as fond of Larry Ellison’s oasis in the desert as many fans and players are, but all the same the season is beginning to kick into high gear as all but a handful of the worlds best men’s tennis players will be battling for points, prize money and prestige over the next two weeks.
BNP Paribas Open
ATP World Tour Masters 1000
March 12-March 22, 2015
Prize Money: $5.381,235
Indian Wells put up even more cash this year, as prize money increased by over half a million dollars compared to 2014.
Top 8 seeds (All 32 seeds receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (2)
3: Rafael Nadal (3)
4: Andy Murray (4)
5: Kei Nishkori (5)
6: Milos Raonic (6)
7: Stan Wawrinka (7)
8: David Ferrer (8)
Notable players missing Indian Wells include a pair of top Frenchmen, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who are joined in absence by David Goffin, Lleyton Hewitt, Leonardo Mayer, and Nicolas Almagro.
First round matchups to watch:
Jan–Lennard Struff vs. (WC)Thanasi Kokkinakis
Both players come off putting in hard work in the Davis Cup over the weekend. Kokkinakis helped lead Australia to a victory in their tie, while Struff put in a valiant effort but lost to Gilles Simon in 5 sets. Struff has a h2h win on clay, but he’s just 4-7 on the season in all competitive matches. Kokkinakis by contrast has been on the rise with a 12-5 record in the same span including three straight qualifications for ATP main draw events in Memphis, Delray Beach and Acapulco, all on hard courts. Struff should make this match closer than expected but the young gun Australian should prevail.
Kukushkin beat Pospisil at Indian Wells last year in straights, and he may be on track to do so again this year after two massive straight set wins over top 50 players Simone Bolelli and Andreas Seppi in Davis Cup over the weekend to help his nation clinch their tie. The unpredictable, and undersized ballstriker Kukushkin, who has an ATP hard court final on his resume this season (Sydney), snapped a four match losing streak with those Davis Cup wins. Pospisil by contrast went 1-1 in Davis Cup play, and has only won consecutive matches this year in one tournament, the Australian Open, resulting in an even .500 record. Pospisil certainly has the ability on this surface, but I’m endorsing the upset this time and picking Kukushkin to reach round 2.
Nick Kyrgios vs. (WC)Denis Kudla
Kyrgios, three years the junior of Kudla, should be able to beat the American wild card, but Denis has shown some good form at points this season, and Kyrgios is playing his first tournament since the Australian Open, having taken time off to recover from a back injury. Kyrgios is without a doubt the more talented player, but he will need to deal with the California weather conditions, and may have some rust in his game, so Kudla could give himself belief if he could strike while the iron is hot and get off to a confident start. All eyes will be on Kyrgios this year as he begins to play the Masters level full-time, and the journey this time around will begin with a young American on home soil, drawing even more attention the match. As we all know, Kyrgios feasts off the attention.
Querrey is 3-0, including 1-0 on outdoor hard against Stakhovsky, and that’s probably why he’s the bookies favorite for this one, but he’s been in terrible form but all but one tournament this season, with round 1 exits in every tournament but Memphis. Stako meanwhile had a top class month of February, reaching two 500 level quarterfinals in Rotterdam and Dubai, and a semifinal in Marseille sandwiched in between. The Californian Sam Q should be better adapted to the conditions, but I have Stakhovsky winning this one, perhaps quite comfortably. His game has been greatly improved this year overall based upon the two month sample size.
The American wild card Krajicek, who has had a career year in 2015, has another great shot at notching an upset over an ATP regular. Istomin happens to be in poor form, with just a 3-7 ATP record on the season. Krajicek by contrast qualified and reached the quarterfinals in Memphis, pushing Kei Nishikori to 3 sets, and also qualified in Acapulco. With the home crowd sure to be behind him, the former Texas A&M standout will still need to play his best to have a chance, but momentum, and venue favor him, and thus I have Krajicek, an unheralded American, into round 2 over Istomin.
Jack Sock vs. Yen-Hsun Lu
A battle of baselining ball strikers, the 22 year old American Sock is returning from hip surgery, and this is his first tournament of 2015. The 31 year old Lu has had a decent season with two ATP hard court quarterfinals (Chennai and Delray) on his resume. Lu is never going to wow or shock, his game simply is what it is, good but not great, and relatively weaponless but reliable. Sock by contrast has a gifted forehand but has had to work develop the other parts of his game to compliment that natural gift. He’s matured at the ATP level over time, when previously opponents were able to exploit his weaker backhand and poor fitness, and before the hip surgery was on an upward trend overall. This is really just a form test for Sock, and Lu, given how reliably bland he is, is actually not the best matchup for a player coming back from injury, because he is likely to be steadier than his opponent who will be feeling his way back into ATP level matches. Lu should advance, likely in 3 sets.
Three time, and defending Indian Wells champ Novak Djokovic will open with the winner of Jiri Vesely vs. Marcos Baghdatis, Vesely has been in awful form since winning his maiden ATP title, and a Baghdatis victory should extend his losing streak to six straight matches, as Vesely also lost in Davis Cup over the weekend. The Cypriot veteran has been in good form overall this year with no opening round exits in any tournament, and he’s also 2-0 in the h2h record. Djokovic is 4-0 on hard courts against Baghdatis (7-0 overall with the last meeting taking place in 2012), and shouldn’t have any issue reaching the third round, where his Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki is likely to be his next opponent. Troicki, who went 2-0 in Davis Cup most recently, and has an ATP title along with two quarterfinals on his resume should defeat dirtballer Albert Ramos, and 25 seed Julien Benneteau who has been in poor form in singles this year. Benny has a 2-0 h2h record on hard courts against Troicki but he has only won 1 match this season. Djokovic has dominated Troicki in the h2h, posting a 10-0 hard court record against the Serb who is two years his senior. I don’t expect Djokovic to drop a set before the round of 16.
16 seed Kevin Anderson likewise shouldn’t have too much competition going into the round of 16, Neither Federico Delbonis or Dusan Lajovic, his possible round 2 opponents are good hard court players. Anderson also had a good stroke of luck with the fact that the other seed in his section is 18 seed John Isner, the top American player. Isner, a former finalist at IW, has been in awful form this season, and suffered further blows to his confidence, and emotional well-being with two brutal Davis Cup losses in Glasgow that cost Team USA the tie. Isner is just 3-5 at the ATP level this year with egregious losses to James Ward most recently, and also Marinko Matosevic on home soil in Delray Beach, on outdoor hard.
I could see Isner losing to a qualifier (American Dennis Novikov or veteran Jurgen Melzer) in round 2, but if he does get through that match (he’s 1-2 on hard courts against likely round 2 opponent Melzer), a favorable h2h of 6-3 on hard courts against Anderson should at least give him hope, especially since he’s won the last four meetings between the pair. No matter, look for Anderson, who has an ATP final, and two ATP semifinals, all on hard courts, the most recent one coming in Acapulco, on his resume in 2015, to improve that h2h by 1 win, and setup a meeting with Djokovic.
David Ferrer has a flawless three ATP titles this season (Doha, Rio, Acapulco), and he has only lost one match on the season (to Kei Nishikori in Melbourne). He’s likely to get a rematch from Acapulco against 32 seed Bernard Tomic in round 3. Ferrer will need to defeat either Joao Sousa or Ivan Dodig in round 2 (Sousa in my bracket), while Tomic will need to beat Andreas Haider-Maurer or qualifier Borna Coric, most likely the qualifier Coric to set that up. Coric, who was coming off of Davis Cup duty, had to save match points to qualify for IW, and he was a semifinalist at the 500 level in Dubai. His match will Tomic will get a lot of attention, and it should be quality, but I feel Tomic is the more mature young gun, who is also in better form, and that along with being fresher should be enough to put the young Aussie over the young Croat. Tomic’s junkballing should also frustrate Coric.
As mentioned, Ferrer just beat Tomic in 3 sets in Acapulco, and prior to that Ferrer had won both their hard court meetings in 2 sets. The veteran Spaniard has been at his best thus far in 2015, and is a strong favorite to reach the last 16.
Marin Cilic, will begin his 2015 campaign in Indian Wells, coming off of a shoulder injury, and without any tournament play in 2015. The Croat, who had a major breakthrough in 2014, claiming the US Open title, his maiden slam, will get his first match against either Juan Monaco or Teymuraz Gabashvili. Gabashvili is on a four match losing streak, while Monaco has been in good form, all be it on South American clay. Cilic has a lone hard court h2h win 7 years ago against Monaco, and though rust is likely, and his form may be shaky, on a hard court surface, he should still be good enough to get past a declined Monaco. A more stern test is certain in the third round, as the Kokkinakis/Struff winner could be his opponent, or the unpredictable Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. First off, if Kokkinakis can get past Struff, and upset GGL, I feel his form will be good enough to also notch a top 20 win and upset Cilic, given the Croat number one is almost certain to be rusty. However, I also see GGL reaching the fourth round if he can beat Kokkinakis/Struff. GGL has beaten Cilic at Indian Wells before, and he has an ATP title among other good results this year. This is a hard to predict section, and in my own bracket I’m going with Garcia-Lopez over both Kokkinakis and CIlic to setup a round of 16 match with Ferrer, though either Cilic or Kokkinakis reaching the round of 16 would not shock me. I feel Kokkinakis may be emotionally spent from his Davis Cup triumph from 2 sets down, which was the key result that led to an Australian victory in the tie.
A one time finalist at Indian Wells, Andy Murray comes off doing a tremendous job in Davis Cup duty for team GB on indoor hard, having returned to the top 5 in the ATP rankings as well. Murray will have a difficult opening match against the Kukushkin/Pospisil winner, and should he show any signs of vulnerability, I could see Pospisil, or more likely Kukushkin pouncing and making it a match. Kukushkin has pushed Murray to three sets before, and as mentioned above, he was in peak form for Davis Cup while Murray has two h2h wins over Pospisil over the last two seasons, both close straight set matches. I’m not predicting an upset myself, but Murray’s opening match will be good viewing at minimum. Murray has had two early awful losses this year to Borna Coric in Dubai and Gilles Simon in Rotterdam, but his Davis Cup form was much better than those matches, and they are most likely aberrations rather than a worrying sign of things to come. Look for Murray to get past his third rounder as well, the seeded opponent would be Philipp Kohlschreiber, but Kohli is in poor form and really has been all year (3-6 on the season), most recently coming off Davis Cup play. American wild card Tim Smyczek has a nice chance at the third round, if he can get past ball striking grinder Benjamin Becker, and then upset Kohlschreiber. I have Becker in the third round in my own bracket, with wins over Smyczek and Kohlschreiber, his Davis Cup teammate. Becker most recently pushed Bernard Tomic to 3 sets in Acapulco. Murray should be untroubled by Becker or any other player though and reach the round of 16 this week.
14 seed Ernests Gulbis is in atrocious form. He hasn’t won a match in 2015, and he may be better off playing challengers to build his confidence at this point, rather than Masters events. I’m just about certain Gulbis will lose to either qualifier Daniel Gimeno-Traver, a veteran dirtballer, or Sam Groth in round 2. The big serving Groth has been steadily improving his game up to an ATP caliber level of play, and his rhythm on serve should frustrate a struggling Gulbis should they meet. With the qualifers placed, I’d place Groth into third round, with a shot at the round of 16, given that the other seed here is the 19 seed Fabio Fognini. Fogna has been in horrendous form on hard courts for months, and he most recently cost Italy their Davis Cup tie against Kazakhstan with a massive choke against challenger level player Alex Nedovyesov. I see Fognini struggling in a loss to either qualifier Mischa Zverev (who won the pre-qualifying tournament, then qualified) or Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino destroyed Fognini at the US Open last fall, and he posted an ATP semi in Delray, along with a final in Auckland as he’s an extremely streaky player to who can post big results and this lose consecutive matches early on in tournaments. Mannarino and Groth, which could be a very strange match for the third round of Masters event, have met twice prior, and split meetings on hard courts. Remarkably, I’d put Mannarino into the fourth round with a small edge in another difficult to predict section.
5 seed Kei Nishikori, who went 2-0 in Davis Cup play after reaching the final in Acapulco and winning Memphis in recent weeks, will open with the winner of Mardy Fish/Ryan Harrison. Nishikori beat Milos Raonic in Davis Cup, and appears to be streaking right now, having worked his way into the top 5, very much deserving that status. Fish/Harrison is one of the most over-hyped round 1 matches I’ve seen in quite some time, as it’s been given stadium 1 billing for Thursday. Fish hasn’t played a competitive tournament singles match since 2013, between psychological and health problems with his heart. Harrison meanwhile had one of the best results of his career with a run to the semifinals in Acapulco that included a win over top 15 player Grigor Dimitrov. I see no reason why Harrison wouldn’t routine Fish in a match that may end in a retirement, but Nishikori should beat him in round 2 and reach the third round, as he did in Memphis in 3 sets. As for his third round opponent, 28 seed Fernando Verdasco will face Dominic Thiem or qualifier James Duckworth in round 2. Duckworth is in great form, as he qualified after previously reaching a hard court challenger final in India. Still, Thiem is the superior talent and is likely to stave off the possible upset to setup a meeting with Verdasco. Verdasco and Thiem have never met, but Verdasco is perhaps slightly better at the moment, though his form has been very much average. Verdasco beat Nishikori in straights at the 2011 Aussie Open, but the tables have entirely turned since that match, and Nishikori is a much more complete player now, barring the conditions getting to him, I fully expect to see Kei into the round of 16.
12 seed Feliciano Lopez will open with Marinko Matosevic, whose form appears to be getting a bit better in recent weeks, or lucky loser Edouard Roger-Vasselin. I don’t expect Feli to have too much trouble reaching the round of 16 this week, as his third round opponent is most likely to be qualifier Thiemo De Bakker or Jarkko Nieminen in a weak section. Nieminen is decent, even at his age, on hard courts, while De Bakker, who is talented but a noted underachiever, appears to be near the cusp of a breakthrough back on the ATP stage, as he’s been doing well in ATP qualifying. Still, Lopez is better than every player in his section in terms of talent and form, and I have Lopez over De Bakker for a spot in the round of 16. The winner of Nieminen/De Bakker faces 20 seed Pablo Cuevas, who much prefers clay and comes off Davis Cup duty, in round 2. Interestingly for Lopez, he’s 0-1 against De Bakker on hard courts, and 1-3 against Nieminen likewise, he’s also had shock losses to Victor Estrella, Aljaz Bedene and Marsel Ilhan in 2015, all lower ranked journeymen (though he was sick against Ilhan in Dubai).
The three time former IW champion, Rafael Nadal, who seems to like the slow, high bouncing hard courts the venue offers up, will open up another hard court campaign against Igor Sijsling or qualifier Filip Krajinovic. Krajinovic surprisingly qualified on a hard court and has won three straight matches dating back to Davis Cup for Serbia, while Sijsling has lost four straight. I expect Nadal, who won a title on clay a couple of weeks ago in Buenos Aires, to cruise through to the third round no matter whom he faces in round 2. Rafa could get a bit of a contest from fellow lefty Donald Young at that stage. Young, who played poorly in Davis Cup, had a career month in February with an ATP final and an ATP semifinal in Delray and Memphis. He should be able to score wins over dirtballer Pablo Carreno Busta, and then a pedestrian Jeremy Chardy, who has been unfortunate to have some tough draws this season though his record is floating around .500 on the year. Nadal beat the American Young 6-1 6-3 at IW in 2008, though his hard court form has been shaky since this time last year (he hasn’t even reached a hard court semifinal since Miami 2014), he still should play well enough to get into the round of 16. Though Nadal isn’t really in the conversation for the champion of a hard court masters event right now, he’s still better than all but top 10 players on the surface as a general rule.
The section above Nadal featuring a pair of French seeds, Davis Cup hero Gilles Simon, and Richard Gasquet is intriguing. Simon should beat Tatsuma Ito or Malek Jaziri with ease (Ito should be favored over Jaziri given Jaziri has lost five straight matches while Ito has a challenger final and a challenger semi since the AO, and comes off of Davis Cup duty). While Gasquet is the favorite against one of two admirable veterans, qualifier Michael Berrer, or Victor Estrella. Berrer is retiring after this season, though the serve and volleying German has played well (beat Nadal in Doha, qualified for both Zagreb and IW), and Estrella comes off Davis Cup duty, and has won both his maiden ATP title (on clay), and a challenger title (on hard courts) this season. I have Estrella over Berrer, and then Gasquet over Estrella, though Estrella shocked Gasquet in Bogota on outdoor hard courts last season. Gasquet has two ATP quarterfinals and an ATP title this year, while Simon has a title and a semi. Gasquet leads the h2h with Simon on hard courts 4-1, and is more skilled and aesthetically pleasing than the defensively strong counterpuncher Simon. I expect a three setter, and while I picked Gasquet myself, a Simon win would not surprise me either.
6 seed Milos Raonic will get a chance at revenge if he faces Simone Bolelli in round 2, Bolelli beat him in Marseille this year (though Raonic won their meeting a week prior in Rotterdam). Bolelli has played well for points this year, but he played erratically, spraying errors in the Davis Cup for Italy over the weekend, and thus I don’t give him much of a chance against Raonic, though he should still beat Thomaz Bellucci, who struggled as well in Davis Cup for Brazil). The difference is Bellucci was playing on clay in his tie, and still played poorly, while Bolelli is superior on hard courts. Look for Raonic, who went for 1-1 in Davis Cup singles play for Canada over the weekend, to take out Santiago Giraldo or Alex Dolgopolov for a spot in the round of 16. Giraldo comes off Davis Cup duty, and hasn’t done much spectacular this year, while Dolgopolov is struggling compared to the form he was in this time last year. Dolgo will face qualifier Frank Dancevic before the 29 seed Giraldo who he has beaten twice on grass. Though Dolgo is unlikely to trouble Raonic, he has beaten Giraldo twice on grass and reached consecutive ATP quarterfinals in Delray Beach and Acapulco. Dolgo beat Raonic in the IW quarterfinals last year in their only meeting, but as mentioned, that was a vastly different Dolgo than his current self, and Raonic has proven himself to be reliable in the Masters series events against all but the top 10.
11 seed Grigor Dimitrov, who took part in an exo at Madison Square Garden in New York on Wednesday night, is going to have some trouble in his opening match, as he will face the Kyrgios/Kudla winner. Kyrgios, assuming his form is ok (as we will find out from his match against Kudla) has to be the favorite given Dimitrov has been poor in ATP matches this year, including recent losses to Gilles Muller in Rotterdam and Ryan Harrison in Acapulco. Dimitrov has been lacking killer instinct, and passion with his tennis this year, two things that Kyrgios has in excess, meaning the Bulgarian’s chances are slim in my mind against the teenage Aussie. Look for Kyrgios to also blow past his third round opponent, as Dustin Brown and Andrey Golubev are both journeymen, with Golubev coming off of DC duty, and 17 seed Tommy Robredo has very much struggled this season. Robredo beat Kyrgios at the 2014 US Open but he’s just 3-5 on the season, and age may well be catching up to him.
Roger Federer, a four time Indian Wells champion, the defending finalist, and most recently, the champion in Dubai, will open his 2015 IW campaign against Jerzy Janowicz or Diego Sebastian Schwartzman, as he stares down a challenging draw if he is to reach at least the semifinals. Janowicz , who has an ATP final this year and played excellent in Davis Cup duty for Poland over the weekend, played him well on clay in Rome in 2013, and appears to be in improved form compared to his play in 2014. Still, one has to expect Federer to find a way past the big serving Polish number one, given how well the Swiss is playing himself. After that, Andreas Seppi, who upset him at the Australian Open, is his likely round 3 opponent. Seppi will face a veteran in round 2, as Mikhail Youzhny and qualifier Victor Hanescu will battle for the right to face the 30 seed. Youzhny has a slight 2-1 hard court h2h edge over the Romanian, though both players who are 30+, are greatly declined from their heyday in the 2000s. Hanescu has been reduced to playing ATP qualies, while Youzhny has just two wins this year. Surprisingly, Youzhny is 4-0 against Seppi on hard courts, including a win last year in Cincy, and the Italian did not play well in Davis Cup, but still he’s had a solid year already in 2015, and with a second week showing in Australia and an ATP final on his resume this year, he has to be trusted to right the ship. Still, look for Federer to get his revenge, perhaps comfortably, and dispatch Seppi for a spot in the round of 16.
15 seed Roberto Bautista Agut faces a draw that will have him face the Istomin/Krajicek winner in round 1, and then one of Sock/Lu or Gilles Muller (who replaced Leo Mayer in the draw as a seed) in round 3. I have RBA over Krajicek rather comfortably, and then over Muller as well, as Muller, who has played well in 2015, should be favored over Lu or Sock, as his serve should disrupt their rhythm and overwhelm them. Muller is 3-3 in his career on hard court against Lu, and he won their most recent meeting last year. Muller beat RBA at the AO this year, and he has won both their hard court meetings, but it’s a competitive matchup and RBA has two ATP semifinals on his record this year. I feel these courts suit his game well.
7 seed Stan Wawrinka will open with a slumping Robin Haase or qualifier Alex Bolt, who is making his ATP main draw debut against the Dutchman. I have Bolt over Haase given that Haase is 0-7 in 2015, while Bolt has an ATP challenger final and semifinal on his resume already and scored to quality wins in qualifying. Wawrinka has a very easy draw, as his round 3 opponent will be most likely the talented but erratic ballbasher Martin Klizan. Klizan opens with dirtballer Pablo Andujar, and then will face 27 seed Lukas Rosol, who is in the midst of a six match losing streak. Klizan in the third round is mostly just the luck of the draw, rather than being particularly deserved, and I don’t see Wawrinka dropping a set before the round of 16.
9 seed Tomas Berdych has a much more challenging path to the fourth round, he will face the Querrey/Stakhovsky winner round 2, and though he’s 4-0 on hard courts against Stako, including a win this year in Dubai in 3 sets, playing an in-form opponent is still never easy. Berdych has made the semifinals or better at every single tournament he’s played a match in this season, but has no titles from that, which is why he’s been posting quality results under the radar. Berdych against Steve Johnson or 21 seed Ivo Karlovic in round 3 promises to be interesting. Karlovic has an ATP title (Delray), quarterfinal and semifinal on his record this season, and is playing well. Johnson, who played his college tennis at USC and is very much a southern California boy, has been much improved under the radar, already posting three ATP quarterfinals this year, the most recent of which came in Delray Beach, where his run was ended by Karlovic. Johnson, like Berdych, has been posting his quality results under the radar, but at Indian Wells his matches are sure to get attention, including his opening contest with veteran Marcel Granollers who he beat in 3 sets in Tokyo on hard courts last year. Johnson has beaten Karlovic twice before, even with that Delray loss, and he should be motivated to do perform at his best in California, with that in mind I have him reaching the third round to face Berdych who he has never played before. He’ll have an upset chance, but Berdych has been a tough opponent to face this year, and thus the battle tested Czech should reach the round of 16.
Dark Horses: Thanasi Kokkinakis, Mikhail Kukushkin, Nick Kyrgios, Steve Johnson
Teens Kokkinakis and Kyrgios, could, or should in the case of Kyrgios, reach the round of 16. As mentioned, Kokkinakis will need to beat Struff and Garcia-Lopez, then likely Cilic to setup a meeting with Ferrer, who is likely to be too much for him at this stage in his career. Kyrgios, the other half of “special-K’ from Down Under, has a path of Kudla, Dimitrov, and then Robredo/Golubev/Brown, to setup a meeting with Raonic, who I also think will be too much (Raonic beat him at both Wimbledon and the French last year), but who knows, Kyrgios is known to rise the occasion.
Kukushkin would need to shock Murray, after scoring perhaps a minor upset over Pospisil, but should be pull off that double, he could go as far as the quarterfinals as the rest of the section is very weak (Smyczek/Kohlschreiber/Becker round 3, Mannarino/Groth/Fognini/Gulbis round of 16). Johnson has the toughest road to the round of 16, as he would need to beat big servers Karlovic and Berdych to earn the right to face a very tough opponent in Wawrinka.
Djokovic isn’t his best against big servers but he’s 2-1 against Anderson and still should advance in straights, Ferrer is in great form, and has dominated GGL in the h2h record, Murray has a weak section and shouldn’t drop a set to his round of 16 opponent, Nishikori is 2-1 on hard courts against Lopez and in better form, Raonic as mentioned has the edge on Kyrgios, Nadal dominates Gasquet in the h2h as the Frenchman has a mental block against him, Wawrinka has won the last five meetings against Berdych on a hard court, including a win in the Rotterdam final this year, and thus should win again if they meet. Last but not least, Federer beat RBA twice last year on a hard court.
Quarters: Djokovic d Ferrer
Nishikori d. Murray
Raonic d. Nadal
Federer d. Wawrinka
No matter how well Ferrer is playing, Djokovic is a bit of an unstoppable force, and he has won their last six hard court meetings since 2012, it could well be a three setter, and I wouldn’t count Ferrer out but Novak has to be the intelligent pick. Murray was 3-0 all on hard courts, before losing to Nishikori at the World Tour Finals last year, but I see that matchup as a 50/50 type of decision, and Nishikori should be slightly fresher going into it, with that in mind I have Kei slipping through, perhaps in 3.
Nadal is 4-0 on hard courts against Raonic, but Raonic is one of those top tier hard court players that should very much give this current version of Nadal trouble, with that in mind, I have him earning his first h2h win in the matchup to reach the semifinals. Wawrinka has never beaten his celebrated countryman in 11 hard court meetings, though their matches have become closer and more competitive over time, Federer should be the favorite and I see no weaknesses in his game that suggest to me he’ll lose before the final.
Semis: Djokovic d. Nishikori
Federer d. Raonic
Nishikori of course shocked Novak at the US Open, but Djokovic won both their hard court meetings after that, and given a neutral venue such as Indian Wells, Djokovic has to be something like a 60/40 favorite. Nishikori has a strong enough game to generate chances, and pounce if Novak struggles, but the match is still on Novak’s racquet as to how it will go. Given I’m buying into the Serbian’s form, I have him reaching the final this week.
Federer is 5-1, including a win in the Brisbane outdoor hard court final this year, against Raonic, and he’s striking the ball and moving well, so I have a feeling no matter how well Raonic can play on his serve, Federer will return too well and have too much to go down in defeat before the final.
Final: Djokovic d. Federer
Federer upset Djokovic in Dubai, a fast low bouncing surface compared to IW, but Djokovic has won both their IW meetings, including a thrilling final last year, in three sets. The surface should favor his game against the more aggressive Federer, who likes the courts quick, even though it’s a razor call when these two meet. If you watched that Dubai encounter, it’s not that Federer was flawless, as Djokovic generated chances and could have won that match, but he simply didn’t play well enough in key moments to do so, and that was the difference. These two know each other well and it’s never a surprise when they battle in what are always world class matchups, it’s simply a matter of execution on a certain day, rather than skill or style, as to who the winner will be.