By TennisWorld Contributing Editor Andrew Burton
Tennis' equivalent of a Fairy Godmother is fresh out of white horses, carriages and ball gowns (not that I'd look good in anything Cinders or Cathleen might care for). But she has come through with the plane ticket, accommodation and press pass for Indian Wells beginning today, and between us, I'll take tennis shoes over glass slippers any day of the week.
So who else is coming? Regular readers know that I tend to focus more on the ATP than the WTA, so I'll run my eyes down the list of invites sent to future princes rather than princesses (Bobby C probably has them covered).
I saw Donald Young play Rafael Nadal on the Stadium Court at Indian Wells in an early-round match in 2008. Young was then ranked in the low 80s, close to what would be a career high of No. 73 achieved a month later. He competed hard, but he seemed horribly overmatched in terms of weight of shot. Young barely won 50% of his service points on that day, and currently the ATP has him winning 77% of his own service games, but less than 10% of his opponent's service games. Young faces Andy Murray this year in Murray's first outing: I'd be astonished if Murray doesn't go through in straights.
Kei Nishikori has Murray's former coach, Brad Gilbert, in his corner this year. Although the top Japanese player is five months younger than the American, at the end of 2008 it already looked like his star would rise higher and faster than Young's. Then an elbow injury sidelined him for the better part of a year, and his ranking fell into the 600s. He's back in the Top 100 now, with respectable showings at the Australian Open (second-round loss to Verdasco) and Delray Beach (semifinal loss to Tipsarevic). A win over Andreev on Friday would have given Nishikori a shot at Federer on Sunday—and a possible craptastic outcome? It wasn't to be: although Nishikori broke Andreev when the Russian was serving for the match in the third set, the Russian promptly broke back to seal the tie.
Richard Berankis also made second round in Melbourne this January, although David Nalbandian wasn't in a fit state to offer much resistance, and David Ferrer handled him comfortably in their match. Berankis came from a set down to get past Alex Bogolmov in his first match at Indian Wells, and won the right to play Fernando Verdasco for his trouble. I've never seen Berankis play, but if his match on Saturday is completed before 4 pm, chances are I won't at this tournament, either.
I did see Alexandr Dolgopolov (on a live stream) take a tumble against Roger Federer in Basel late last year, resulting in an ankle injury and a retirement. Thankfully, the injury didn't affect his start in 2011: Dolgopolov pulled off back-to-back five-set wins over Tsonga and Soderling in Melbourne before a quarterfinal defeat to Murray. This showing, plus a strong South American clay court effort (final at Costa Do Sauipe, semifinal in Acapulco), has earned Dolgopolov a first-round bye and the No. 20 seed at Indian Wells. Dolgopolov has Victor Hanescu first up, and but his next four opponents could be del Potro, Soderling, Murray, then Nadal. If Dolgopolov can go deep in this tournament, he could be a legitimate threat anywhere.
Dolgopolov is the oldest of my future prince contingent at 22. Milos Raonic, who turned 20 at the end of 2010, is the youngest, and the player with the biggest buzz in the ATP since del Potro lit up the U.S. hard-court season in summer 2008. It took the best shot of Andy Roddick's long career, and the better part of a pound of flesh, to stop Raonic from earning back-to-back titles in San Jose and Memphis in February. He started the year failing to qualify for Chennai; then he rode qualification in Melbourne past Llodra and Youzhny to a fourth-round tie with Ferrer. Raonic's game is structured round a big serve and quick attacks, but he moves around the court better than some other tall big servers. Raonic just missed out on a seed at Indian Wells; he made short work of Marsel Ilhan in his first round match on Friday, to earn a tie with Mardy Fish, who he took out of Memphis last month at the semifinal stage. The young Canadian could meet Federer in the fourth round, and not a few Federer fans are already happily frazzling in prospect.
The last two young players to make their way onto the big stages were Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic, although injury and a sophomore slump have held these two players back from spending a lot of time in the limelight since the start of 2010. A big part of my anticipation for this year's tournament is that it might just be, to use Steve Tignor's phrase, "the first tournament of the future of [men’s] tennis."
Of course, I won't be going to the ball on my own: Jackie Roe, jb, Susan, Annie and other Tribe types have also promised to come. I'm sorry to have missed Friday's shindig at the Beer Hunter, but if all goes according to plan, the clock will strike midnight on more than one occasion at that august establishment over the next week as we dissect the day's events. See you there, or here.