Indian Wells preview and prediction: ATP stars arrive in the desert

RealSport preview the ATP draw of the Indian Wells Masters, which begins on Thursday featuring some of the best players the sport has to offer.

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(Photo credit: Bryan Ochalla)

The Indian Wells Masters, which forms the first half of the Sunshine Double, is probably the most prestigious hardcourt tournament between the Australian and US Opens. It’s easy to see why. Owned by American tech billionaire Larry Ellison, the Indian Wells Masters is played at one of the most impressive facilities in the tennis world. Ellison has spared no expense to make the Indian Wells Masters one of the most significant stops of the tennis calendar, and he has succeeded.

Who’s playing?

The tournament is led by Roger Federer, playing in his first tournament since he reclaimed the #1 ranking from Nadal last month. The Swiss is unbeaten so far this year having won first in Melbourne where he won his 20th Slam and then in Rotterdam, brushing aside Grigor Dimitrov for the loss of just four games in the final. He will rightly come into the tournament he won for the fifth-time last year as an overwhelming favourite. It looks like it will take a huge performance to stop Federer.

The man perhaps most equipped to do so is the 10th seeded Novak Djokovic, who is making his return to the Tour in California. Having missed sixth months after Wimbledon the Serbian competed at the Australian Open, but despite a promising start was too far from full fitness and fell in the fourth round. He has had a minor surgical intervention on his elbow since then and if he is at full-fitness he will be a danger. His draw is tough, but he is one of the world’s best and has won five-times in Indian Wells. The shorter best-of-three sets format could also help him.

Seeded second in Indian Wells is Marin Cilic. The Croatian is often viewed as a one Slam wonder after his triumph in New York in 2014, but has been one of the most consistent performers of late. Two of the last three Major finals have featured him he has experience at this level. The world #3 won the Cincinnati Masters in 2016 defeating Andy Murray in the final. When he is on song Cilic is almost unplayable and a run to the title is very possible for him.

Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev are seeded third and fourth respectively. The pair have had mixed results to start their seasons, with Dimitrov making the quarters in Melbourne and the final in Rotterdam but unlikely to be happy with his performance in either match. He will also be disappointed to have lost in his first match to Jaziri in Dubai. Zverev, meanwhile, seemed to finally have found some form in Acapulco after a dire couple of months, although he was well beaten by del Potro in the semis.

Dominic Thiem is the sixth seed and may feel he has a chance to improve on a poor hard court record in Indian Wells. The conditions aren’t the quickest and the Austrian has played well in the desert before, making the quarterfinals last year. Juan Martin del Potro, seeded sixth, comes into the tournament in excellent form. The Argentine was crowned champion in Acapulco last week, playing some dominant tennis to topple Thiem, Zverev and Anderson all in straight sets. He’s a former finalist in Indian Wells and has enough quality to defeat anyone in the draw.

Rounding out the top eight seeds are Kevin Anderson and Jack Sock. Anderson has made the final in his last two tournaments and has enjoyed the best period of his career over the last six months. His big serve makes him a danger to anyone and he should not be taken lightly. Sock won the last Masters 1000, but has struggled for form this season with just one win to his name so far. He would be a long shot indeed to win his second straight Masters crown.

Missing from the draw with injury are Grand Slam champions Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray. Both Nadal and Wawrinka are targeting a clay court return, whilst Murray currently still aims to be back in time for the grass court season. But his rehab is apparently going well and he could be on court again sooner.

First round matches to watch

All of the 32 seeds receive byes into the second round in Indian Wells, but there are still some fascinating first round matches to watch over the opening few days. Matthew Ebden scored a great win against Jack Sock at the Mexican Open and faces another tough early assignment against the mercurial Gael Monfils. Monfils is still working his way back from an injury hit 2017, but can always put in a show-stopping performance when he wants to.

In a clash between countrymen Frances Tiafoe and Ernesto Escobedo face off. Neither have had the most traditional routes into the professional game, but both are highly rated by the USTA. Tiafoe recently won his first title in Delray Beach and is surely full of confidence. But Escobedo has plenty of quality and is playing in his home state. Tiafoe should have enough to get through, but with both men fine shot makers this should be an excellent match to watch.

Karen Khachanov faces Evgeny Donskoy in an all Russian affair. Khachanov possesses one of the most powerful games on Tour and is exceptionally hard to handle when he is at his best. Donskoy had the finest moment of his career last year when he defeated Roger Federer in Dubai and the contest between his defensive skills and Khachanov’s power promises to be an exciting one. The younger man will be the favourite, but Donskoy has the skills to trouble him.

Prediction

It’s hard to look past Roger Federer this week. As they come back to fitness, if they come back to fitness, the likes of Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Wawrinka will test the great Swiss again. But with only Djokovic present in Indian Wells, and it being surely too early for him to win the title, it’s hard to see who else is likely to deny Federer. Federer won’t have it all his own way, there is enough quality in the draw to ensure that, but he will do what he does best, and that is win.

Who do you think will win the title in Indian Wells? Let us know in the comments below!

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