The main question will be: Who can prevent a record fifth title win for Novak Djokovic?
As expected, the tennis tour last year had been dominated by a very select group of players and nothing has changed for the the first and biggest ATP Masters title on the circuit.
Funny enough for the last 12 years, three men who have dominated and held the No1 ranking in an unbroken record. That trinity includes Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. They lead the Masters titles rankings by a mile—Nadal with 27, Djokovic 26 and Federer 24. And the finals rankings are seperated by an even longer margin: Federer 42, Nadal 41, Djokovic 38.
There are emerging challengers at this elite level like Andy Murray who has made progress with 11 titles. Add him in into the group and together this ‘fabulous four’ have set up what seems to be a glass ceiling that few other players can crack.
If you look over the last 11 years, and the in the last 99 Masters tournaments, this quartet has won 83 crowns. Only five other active players have registered any title wins, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga taking two, plus Tommy Robredo, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka with one each.
Strangely enough though in this particularly challenging and beautifully set tournament, which takes place in an indigo-and-green oasis laid out against the purple Santa Rosa mountains, only three have won this prestigious title. Djokovic and Federer have won four times apiece, and Nadal has taken it three times.
And out of those elite three players, only world No 1, Djokovic has dominated the Indian Wells tour alongside many others. In the last two finals he beat Federer, and has built a 41-6 tournament record. He’s reached the semis or better in seven of his 10 appearances, including the last past five.
Recently though, Djokovic has been making headlines not just here but at every turn. Only an eye-infection was able to stop a 12-month unbroken run of finals going back to winning the Australian Open in 2015. It ended with a repeat at this year’s Australian Open marking a span of 17 finals and 13 titles.
For the first time since 2000 Federer will miss Indian Wells for the first time since 2000 as he recovers from knee surgery. The mighty Serb has commanded the tour and so a big challenger to miss this event means that he is leaving Djokovic the door open to win a fifth title. Federer is the one who he faced most and was able to beat Djokovic, so that’s one major obstacle out of the way.
Many might ask could Murray win his first in Indian Wells? The No 2 reached the Indian Wells final in 2009, but can he do it again on the hot outdoor hard courts? He has won multiple titles in Miami, Canada and Cincinnati. This will be his first competitive action since losing the Australian Open to Djokovic who was playig last weekend in the Davis Cup.
In the past, Murray has met Djokovic at Indian Wells twice, both in the semis, and both were losses. Overall and head-to-head he has won only one match in their last 12, it was the Montreal Masters in 2015. When you look at history, this is probably not the tournament where Murray beats his nemesis, especially as his draw from the fourth round onwards is filled with major challenges: first he’ll meet Nick Kyrgios or Gael Monfils, who are both in good form, then Brisbane champion Milos Raonic or Berdych, if both are fully fit and then Wawrinka, who is already a two-time champion this season, in the semis.
Nadal is still searching for a way to solve Djokovic. Nadal’s record over Djokovic is little better than Murray’s. But he’s managed only one win since the summer of 2013, which was the French Open in 2014, but since he has lost nine other meetings. At their most recent meeting in Doha, after a 6-1, 6-2 beating, Djokovic overtook Nadal in this most played of rivalries, of 24 wins to Nadal’s 23.
The Spaniard has not returned to form from last and is not consistent, at any rate to his formidable level of 2013 when he won 10 titles. Many watched on as he suffered a couple of surprise losses this year, to Pablo Cuevas and Fernando Verdasco. He could meet the latter man in a third-round match up here, with other challengers, Quito champion Victor Estrella Burgos before and Rotterdam champion Martin Klizan in the second.
But if Nadal can get his way through his quarter via Kei Nishikori and Gilles Simon, he will come face-to-face with Djokovic in the semis: and that seems like an impossible road indeed.
Upcoming Youth and Challengers
2016 has seen some young names come into the spotlight and up the rankings, one being 22-year-old Dominic Thiem. The Austrian has lead the tour with 20 match-wins, and beat Nadal on his way to the Buenos Aires title, he beat Ferrer to reach the Rio semis, and beat Bernard Tomic to win Acapulco. He’s at a career-high No 13, but has a possibly problematic match against 23-year-old Jack Sock in the third round.
In Nadal’s quarter is a teenager who is a rising star named Alexander Zverev, who is now ranked 58 and with a first ATP semi plus wins over Marin Cilic and Simon behind him he’ll be confident. He’ll plays 31-year-old Ivan Dodig in the first round.
Wawrinka’s quarter has three more main-draw young challengers in his section. 21-year-old Briton Kyle Edmund, as well as 18-year-olds Taylor Fritz and France’s Tiafoe drawn against one another in the first round. The tall American Fritz has been in amazing form, and reached the final in Memphis and the quarter finals in Acapulco.
Another exciting early match could arise between 19-year-old Borna Coric, the highest ranked teenagerwho sits at No 47, and the returning Juan Martin del Potro, who played only two tournaments last year due to a wrist injury. The Argentine made the semis of his only event this year in Delray Beach, but after facing up against qualifier Tim Smyczek in the first round, he could meet Berdych in the second round.
One more battle of the young bloods is lined up for the second round between 19-year-old Hyeon Chung and Marseille champion, Kyrgios. So there is a lot of room for upstarts and usurping in this tournament.
Probably the biggest threat to Djokovic’s chance of getting another Indian Wells victory is Wawrinka, who was the famous thorn in the Serb’s side beating him at the French Open last year. Similar to Djokovic, he has two titles this year.
The Swiss No 4 seed is perhaps the most dangerous, though his best results in the desert are two quarter-final runs. He is growing more confident with age, but he’s not the only ‘mature’ player doing well. Other well worn champions in who could challenge are are Viktor Troicki, Estrella Burgos, and Pablo Cuevas, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Feliciano Lopez, Tsonga, Simon, John Isner, and Berdych.
The line may be long, but we think it should be a walk in the park for Djokovic who knows this tournament well.
Our Pick: Djokovic gets his 5th title at Indian Wells