There’s a tournament within a tournament this fortnight in Indian Wells. The bottom quarter of the BNP Paribas Open draw is stronger by itself than the entirety of any 500-point event on the whole tennis calendar.
It includes Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro, Nick Kyrgios, and Alexander Zverev. Either Djokovic or Del Potro will lose prior to the fourth round. The same goes for Kyrgios and Zverev. Either Nadal or Federer will be out before the quarterfinals begin.
Djokovic vs. Del Potro in the third round would be a rematch of a recent Acapulco second-round affair, won by the Serb 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Nadal vs. Federer in the last 16, of course, would be a rematch of the Australian Open final–which went Federer’s way after five sets. Given that the season’s first Grand Slam might as well have been played on an ice rink, conditions in the desert should be more advantageous to the Spaniard.
Speaking of advantages, at the other end of the luck spectrum in regards to the Indian Wells draw are Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and Grigor Dimitrov, just to name a few. The top-seeded Murray is in a quarter with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Goffin (Tsonga’s doubles partner in the desert), and Roberto Bautista Agut. Nishikori and Dimitrov are in the softer section of the loaded bottom half, where they will contend for a semifinal spot along with Marin Cilic and Jack Sock.
Seeds at risk of losing their first match:
(30) Feliciano Lopez: Frances Tiafoe (who faces Dusan Lajovic in round one) played well in Indian Wells last year, beating Taylor Fritz before falling to Goffin in a third-set tiebreaker. The American teenager may go even further in 2017 at Lopez’s expense.
(22) Albert Ramos-Vinolas: How Ramos-Vinolas snuck all the way up the No. 22 seed is one of the great mysteries of this tournament. But he may not stick around long. Both Ryan Harrison (Memphis champion and Dallas Challenger champion) and Damir Dzumhur (Memphis and Dubai quarterfinalist) are in fine form.
(27) Pablo Cuevas: Cuevas is making a quick transition from his preferred clay-court surface to hard after triumphing on Monday in Sao Paulo. Likely second-round opponent Martin Klizan is talented but volatile. If the good Klizan shows up in the desert, he should beat Cuevas on hards. If the bad Klizan shows up in the desert, Cuevas’ second-round opponent will be Thiago Monteiro.
(28) Philipp Kohlschreiber: Kohlschreiber has the misfortune of going up against whoever emerges from the best of the entire first-round contests: Viktor Troicki vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov. A proven force in Indian Wells, Dolgopolov would be especially difficult. And has Kohlschreiber recovered from blowing seven match points against Murray in Dubai?
(29) Mischa Zverev: Not too surprisingly, Zverev has been a disaster since upsetting Murray to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals. In fact, he has not won a single match since the best victory of his career (0-5). The veteran German would also rather face either Joao Sousa or Diego Schwartzman on a quicker court.
(32) Marcel Granollers: How is Granollers seeded at Masters 1000 tournament? A whole lot of withdrawals ahead of him in the rankings–that’s how. He awaits the winner of one of the tougher first-round matchups featuring Nicolas Mahut and Malek Jaziri.
(6) Marin Cilic: Cilic should advance at least to the third round, but neither Benoit Paire nor Taylor Fritz would be any kind of pushover. The Croat’s season has been disappointing at best so far.
Quarterfinal predictions: Andy Murray over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Dominic Thiem over Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov over Lucas Pouille, and Rafael Nadal over Alexander Zverev
Semifinals: Murray over Thiem and Nadal over Dimitrov
Final: Nadal over Murray