It seems like a long time ago now, but you might remember the ill-fated weapon that Federer destroyed during his frustrating semifinal loss to Djokovic here last year. The ATP draw looks smashing in a different way, for notable Indian Wells absentees such as Gonzalez, Youzhny, and Wawrinka return to competition here. After the bizarre plot twists in the year’s first Masters 1000 event, will the year’s second Masters 1000 event restore order in the court? Quarter-by-quarter preview straight ahead!
First quarter: Federer overshadowed the tournament in an unexpected way last year, so he’ll be hoping for a more routine fortnight as he continues to recover from a respiratory infection. He should find plenty of oxygen during his first few rounds against the likes of Montanes and Berdych, whom he has dominated since the Athens Olympics upset six years ago. On the other side are two players who struggled mightily at Indian Wells, Verdasco and Cilic, as well as the resurgent Baghdatis; could we see a rematch in the quarters?
Quarterfinal: Federer def. Verdasco. I think that the Spaniard will respond better than the introverted Cilic to the exuberant Miami atmosphere, and he can consistently outhit Baghdatis from the baseline. He always struggles to finish what he starts, though, and habitually falls barely short in important matches. Federer should be able to endure Verdasco’s blazing bursts while waiting for untimely miscues.
Potential second-round match to watch: Verdasco-Korolev. The rallies won’t be elegant, but the swings will be huge and the groundstrokes bone-crushing.
Second quarter: Murray has moped and slumped since the first few games of the Australian Open final, a match that appears to have disproportionately demoralized him (after all, Federer is 15-3 in non-clay Slam finals, 13-1 against players other than Nadal). It won’t improve his mood to learn that desert nemesis Soderling again lurks on the other side. There are plenty of sporadically dangerous names between them, including Wawrinka, Gonzalez, and Tipsarevic. Gonzo is the most likely of those to catch fire in Miami, but he may still have his mind in Chile. Although the Swiss #2 occasionally troubles Murray (cf. 2009 Wimbledon fourth round), he’s been far from his best this year.
Quarterfinal: Murray def. Soderling. The Swede completely outclassed the Scot at Indian Wells; Murray was fortunate to avoid a truly embarrassing scoreline by saving multiple break points in the second set. One senses that the defending champion might have revenge in mind, which has lent him additional intensity in the past. Also, the carnivorous Swede tends to alternate outstanding performances with unremarkable results. He followed up his first career win over Federer (Abu Dhabi) with losses to Ginepri (Chennai) and Granollers (Melbourne), while his Rotterdam title preceded a limp defeat in Marseille.
Potential second-round match to watch: Wawrinka-Almagro. Their five-set Davis Cup match a few weeks ago witnessed some stunning one-handed backhands and some reckless shot-making.
Third quarter: One can picture Nadal’s furrowed eyebrows as he examined his quarter, stacked with players who have challenged him in the past. He might need to conquer the two tallest players in the ATP, Karlovic and Isner, or perhaps tireless court-coverers Ferrer and Tsonga. Former nemesis Nalbandian has just returned from injury, so he should pose less of a threat. Still, the world #4 (yes, I mean Rafa) will have fully earned his place in the final four.
Quarterfinal: Nadal def. Tsonga. The Frenchman has been a little off-key since the Australian Open, struggling with weight-loss after a stomach ailment. His pulsating energy and superior net skills should carry him past Isner–probably–but Nadal will be able to wear him down after some suspenseful moments.
Potential second-round match to watch: Troicki-Nalbandian. There won’t be many more chances to see one of the best active players never to win a Slam; when he finds a rhythm, he times his groundstrokes exquisitely and creates Davydenko-like angles.
Fourth quarter: Like Murray, Djokovic has recently struggled to produce his highest quality at crucial moments, but he’ll have to reverse this slide in order to emerge from his section. There won’t be a single easy opponent, from Gasquetto Blake to Querrey or Monfils. The other side might well feature a rematch of the Indian Wells final between Roddick and Ljubicic in the fourth round. Can the 31-year-old Croat capitalize on his desert sensation and thrust deep into the Miami draw? He proved me wrong just a few days ago…still, I’ll believe it when I see it.
Quarterfinal: Roddick def. Djokovic. Since the Serb’s controversial retirement in their 2009 Melbourne quarterfinal, Roddick has seized the edge in this mini-rivalry, winning comfortably in both Indian Wells and Montreal. Remodeling his serve, Djokovic won’t be able to count on holding as regularly and comfortably as would be necessary in order to overcome the almost impenetrable serve across the net. At the moment, he’s less confident, less consistent, less fit, and seemingly less motivated than the American.
Potential second-round match to watch: Djokovic-Gasquet. Born just weeks apart, their careers have drifted in opposite directions. The Frenchman won’t win, but his still-stylish, versatile game might well inspire Djokovic to look heavenwards, glare at his racket, kiss the net, roll his eyes at his box, mutter Serbian imprecations to himself…in short, all of the antics that make him so entertaining to watch even when his tennis doesn’t impress. (EDIT: It didn’t happen: Gasquet lost to Olivier Rochus in his first match at the scene of Pamela’s crime. As a substitute, check out Roddick-Andreev.)
Just as with the women, we’ll be back to preview the eventual semifinals in much closer detail, and the final will receive the same meticulous scrutiny as the Indian Wells championship tilt. In the near future, though, we’ll be back with a Thursday post on five plotlines to follow for the women and a Friday post on five plotlines to follow for the men.
Until then, enjoy watching the matches…on the electronic scoreboard!