Men's Look Forward: Indian Wells
Men's Look Forward: Indian Wells
There will, it appears, be no skipping out on the men's side.
The women's field at Indian Wells isn't bad, really, but you'd never know that it's the seventh-biggest event on the Tour. For the men, it's not a problem. The top 17 men are here. #18 Nicolas Massu is out -- but he's hurt. That leaves Rafael Nadal, #30 last week, as the top player to voluntarily skip the event. Hard to complain about a tournament with 28 of the top 30 in the field!
Though it's not exactly what you'd call a balanced draw. #1 seed Roger Federer, after all, is supposed to face Gaston Gaudio in the quarterfinal, while #2 Lleyton Hewitt would go against Guillermo Coria, #3 Andy Roddick deals with Carlos Moya, and #4 seed Marat Safin is drawn to face last year's finalist Tim Henman. But there is no cure for that except seeding by surfaces.
Because the field is so strong, we of course have a lot of fairly noteworthy unseeded players -- guys like Mardy Fish, Hicham Arazi (who will finally be making his first appearance of the year), Xavier Malisse (though he could yet be promoted to a seed), Rainer Schuettler (assuming he's still noteworthy after his horrid 2004), Florian Mayer, Juan Carlos Ferrero (who, stunningly, will soon be having to qualify for events such as this), Fabrice Santoro, and Sjeng Schalken.
The wildcard list is rather fascinating. The organizers couldn't find room for Wayne Arthurs in the list -- but they did award direct entry to Mark Philippoussis (who, frankly, would be better off playing qualifying, where he might actually have a competitive match one of these days). Gael Monfils earned his almost obligatory direct entry. James Blake was given a well-deserved free admission. Other wildcards went to Alex Kuznetsov and Donald Young.
Noteworthy Early Round Matches
Because the 32 seeds all get first round byes, we'll want to look at second round matches as well as first rounders, but let's start with the action in the opening round, marching down the draw from the top.
Gambill vs. Fish. Two big strong Americans. Both have been Top 20; neither is near that ranking now. On the whole, Fish is in better form -- but he can't seem to stay healthy....
Berdych vs. Arazi. A horrid assignment for Arazi on his return to action -- but if anyone can drive Berdych crazy, he can.
Bjorkman vs. Labadze. They're both slumping. This is a big match for Labadze, who was last year's semifinalist. But Bjorkman is good at dealing with big strong serves; this looks like trouble for the Georgian.
Malisse vs. Mirnyi. Strength versus strength: The Malisse return versus the Beast's serve. The surface ought to favor Malisse -- but this is Malisse we're talking about, so who knows?
Enqvist vs. Beck. Extreme power versus extreme speed. Beck is in much better form, but this surface may be too slow for him to really do damage to Enqvist.
Ferrero vs. Andreev. There is only one Masters where Ferrero has a losing record: This one. He has, in fact, only one win in four tries. Don't expect much.
Schalken vs. Llodra. Sjeng Schalken in Davis Cup seemed to show that he was finally back at full strength. If so, Llodra had better be ready....
We won't talk quite as much about the second round matches, since of course some of them won't come off. But some of the interesting possibilities ahead of us include: Ancic vs. Berdych, Volandri vs. Ljubicic (on a pretty neutral surface), Labadze (if he lasts that long) vs. Thomas Johansson, Malisse or Mirnyi vs. Gaudio, Mayer vs. Canas, Robredo vs. Monfils, Moya vs. Ferrero (an interesting contest, involving two guys who didn't take part in Spain's Davis Cup loss), Santoro vs. Joachim Johansson (talk about contrast!), Davydenko vs. Blake (let's hope they left plenty of time in the schedule for that match!), Rusedski vs. Gonzalez (that one, on the other hand, could be very quick), Schalken vs. Hrbaty (the surface helps Schalken, as does the required nature of this event. Whether it helps enough is another matter).
Once upon a time, the author owned a Newton message pad. (Don't say it; it seemed like a good idea at the time.) The internal solitaire game had an interesting habit: If you won a high enough fraction of the games (roughly one game in five over a span of 150 games), it would arbitrarily and capriciously cut your score in half.
Maybe we need to do that to Roger Federer. If we did, he would still be #4 in the world. As it is, he's #1, and an extremely strong #1 -- even if he fails completely in his Indian Wells title defence, and Lleyton Hewitt wins the whole thing, he'll still be #1 by more than the equivalent of a whole Slam.
In other words, there won't be any motion at the top of the rankings.
There might be some at #2, though. Hewitt (who has won this event before) leads Andy Roddick by more than 200 safe points, meaning that Roddick needs at least a final to get to #2, but it could happen. Indeed, since they meet in the semifinal, they could meet with the #2 ranking on the line: If Hewitt wins that match, he's #2; if Roddick wins it and the tournament, he is #2.
Roddick is under at least some pressure from below, too. He's about 400 safe points ahead of Marat Safin -- but if Safin wins the whole thing and Roddick doesn't make the quarterfinal, then Safin is #3 and Roddick #4.
There will be no crossing the thousand point gap between #4 Safin and #5 Coria. But we have a real contest for the #5 spot. #5 Coria has quarterfinalist points to defend, #6 Henman has finalist points, #7 Moya has nothing, #8 Gaudio has Round of 32 points. That means that Coria's lead over Moya is only a bit more than 100 points. Gaudio is 50 points behind that, Henman almost 100 points behind that. Still, those four could end up in any order, and David Nalbandian -- who has nothing to defend -- could also get into the act.
#9 Andre Agassi, with semifinalist points to defend, is in danger of once again falling out of the Top Ten. We show him only about 40 points ahead of Joachim Johansson in safe points. If he loses before Johansson, he's going to be #11.
Interestingly, no one from #11 to #20 had more than 75 points to defend; we could see a lot of motion in that range -- or almost nine.
Three guys below #20 have more than 100 points to defend. #23 Juan Ignacio Chela has quarterfinalist points to defend, and could fall below #30 with an early loss. James Blake also has quarterfinalist points, and he's already down to #151; he could fall 70 or so places with a bad result. And then there is 2004 semifinalist Labadze. He comes in at #72, with almost half his points from this one result; a first round loss would leave him at around #140.
As we saw above, the two players with the most on the line are Blake and Labadze. Labadze faced a tough route consisting of Bjorkman, then Thomas Johansson, then David Nalbandian. Sounds like there will be at least one Match of the Day in there somewhere.
Blake's path isn't much better: Alberto Martin, then Nikolay Davydenko, then Fernando Gonzalez. That's enough to tire almost anybody out....
We'd also note that Roger Federer, though he leads the Race, is still somewhat lacking in required events points this year. If he wants to hold his top spot, he'll have to change that. His route isn't bad in the early rounds: Fish or Gambill, then #25 seed Radek Stepanek. Then comes -- believe it -- another meeting with #13 seed Ivan Ljubicic (unless Ljubicic loses to countryman and doubles partner Mario Ancic). Then, theoretically, Gaston Gaudio, though one-time nemesis David Nalbandian might be a better bet. Then -- Marat Safin, who handled him in Australia.
The bottom half semifinal we've already mentioned: Roddick versus Hewitt, with the #2 ranking possibly on the line.
Looking at the contest for the #10 spot, between Agassi and Joachim Johansson, we note that Agassi's path is Starace - #21 Pavel - #5 Coria - #2 Hewitt - #3 Roddick; Johansson's is Santoro - #24 Lopez - #7 Moya - #3 Roddick - #2 Hewitt. Looks like it's reasonably fair; neither is likely to be too thrilled.
Q. When you've played as few matches as you have over the last two, three months, did you ever lack motivation to go out and practice?
ANDY RODDICK: Motivation? No. I enjoy what I do. I enjoy what I do. You know, I've never been one to, you know, blow off practice or, you know, do anything like that.
You know, I'd be lying if I said I'm looking forward to practicing the next two days as opposed to playing here. That part is gonna suck...(2010 Aegon Championships)