Tomorrow kicks off the “Fifth Major,” the BNP Paribas Open! Staged at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Palm Springs, CA, the top male and female players in the world are set to face off in what has become the premiere Masters 1000 event of the calendar year. The perfect weather and fast courts typically provide some of the most dramatic matches of the year, and this year looks to be no different. Novak Djokovic is the clear favorite, as he is in every event he enters, but the 95 other challengers are hungrier than ever to unseat him. An inspired Murray looks to dethrone Novak, but first he will have to navigate through a field that is as deep as ever. Before the action kicks off, check out our preview and predictions:
Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have combined to win 12 out of the last 13 BNP Paribas Opens, and with Ivan Ljubicic winning the other one, it means there is no other past winner in the field. However, a glaring omission from the draw this year is the GOAT, Roger Federer. He will be sitting out the event as he recovers from his knee injury. That means, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray will steal the majority of the spotlight, and rightfully so. Nobody comes in with more momentum than Djokovic, fresh off his 11th slam title down under, he will be the clear favorite. But, that does not mean there aren’t any other contenders. A major story-line heading into the event is the return of Juan Martin Del Potro. He returned after an 11 month injury layoff last month in Delray Beach, and made it to the semifinals where he fell to a resurgent Sam Querrey. His ranking had fallen below one thousand in the world, but climbed back to 421 after that result. He has proven to be a world-beater when healthy, and though he will be playing as a wildcard, should not be underestimated.
Another exciting story-line is the young American wildcard, Taylor Fritz. He has taken the tennis world by storm recently, winning his first professional match, and then promptly making a run all the way to the Memphis Open final where he fell to Kei Nishikori. Still a raw talent at 18 years old, nobody has him pegged to make a deep run, but given a favorable draw, he could make some noise in the early rounds.
Dark Horse(s) to Watch
If you haven’t heard of this 22 year old Austrian, you are about to. He has risen quickly up the rankings to his current spot at #13 in the world. he leads the ATP Tour with 20 match wins this season, and won back-to-back titles in Buenos Aires and Acapulco recently. He has the power, and the all-around game to challenge just about anybody on a given day. Finally with a seed to match his talent, he is poised to make his first deep run at a Masters 1000 event, and why not at the biggest one of them all?
In reality, John Isner has overachieved in his career. Turning pro late after college, he has surpassed any expectations that he, or others, had set for him coming in to his professional career. With that being said, he has been a perennial top 20 player for long enough that his results in the biggest tournaments have been disappointing. Though he made the Indian Wells final a few years ago, he typically falls in whatever round his seed tells him that he should fall. That should change this year. He played some inspired tennis at the Davis Cup last weekend, and his serve is as dangerous as ever as he just broke the record for fastest serve ever recorded at 157 mph. Look for him to make a run this year!
Early Upset Watch
This pick is more based on his lack of play recently and off-court distractions than it is his form this year. He played incredible tennis down under as he made it to the final only to fall, understandably, to Djokovic. This will be his first event since that match, with his only action since then coming during the first round of the Davis Cup last weekend. Though he played well, he has been focusing his time and energy on his new baby girl, and we have yet to see whether that distraction will present a challenge for him in the course of a full-field tournament. We think he will stumble early, and it may get the best of him. With that being said, if he makes it through his first few matches, he is as capable as anyone of making a deep run. Seems like a toss-up on Andy this week, and our money is against him.
As difficult as it is to fathom, Rafa is just no longer trustworthy. You used to be able to pencil him into the semifinals (at least!) before he even took the court for his first round match, but times have changed. His injuries have plagued him over the past few years, and even he has admitted that his fire to compete is not what it once was, at least not consistently. Though he is still capable of playing like the old Rafa, he uncharacteristically has made a habit of playing poor tennis early on in tournaments of late. With as deep a field as ever, we would be more surprised if Rafa made it to the semis than if he falls before then.
Champion: Novak Djokovic
Sure, he didn’t tie Lendl’s record of 18 consecutive ATP Tour finals because he lost in Dubai. Except, he didn’t really lose in Dubai, he was forced to withdraw due to infections in both of his eyes. That looks to be the only way Djokovic is capable of losing these days, and if his recent form in the Davis Cup translates to the health of his game, the rest of the field has been put on notice. Djokovic is the man to beat, and be beaten in the desert, at a tournament he owns, he will not. He is seeking not only to win a record 5th BNP Paribas Open title, but also is seeking to tie Nadal’s record of 27 Masters 1000 series titles. He is just too good, too clutch, for anyone to take him down. He will likely breeze through to the semis, and though he may bend, he won’t break. This is Djokovic’s tournament, and he will prove that, yet again, next weekend.