Indian Wells: Crystal Ball
by Pete Bodo
Most of you know who I feel about the science of bracketology; it's all well and good and full of informed opinion and incisive analyses, only it all usually gets shot to hail when play begins and this seed loses and that floater starts to do damage en route to a surprise semifinal finish.
Draw analysis has the lifespan of, oh, Ephemerella Subvaria, known to most fly-fishermen by its less formal name, the Hendrickson, which is the first significant mayfly to hatch in any given year, at least in the northeastern U.S. Now aren't you glad you now know that?
So let's do something a little different and, to me at least, more fun. Let's try to predict some outcomes other that that familiar and dreary Djokovic over Murray and Nadal over Federer in the semis, Nadal to upset Djokovic in the final. . . stuff. We'll focus on the ATP today and handle the WTA tomorrow.
Highest seed among Top 8 to lose before the quarterfinals: No. 3 Roger Federer. No doubt about it, the Mighty Fed has a very tough row to hoe, what with No. 27 Milos Raonic his potential third-round opponent (and the winner between Carlos Berlocq and Benoit Paire unlikely to stop the power-serving Canadian). The courts are likely to be significantly slower than the ones Federer has been dominating on in recent weeks, but the balls will fly in the thin desert air and Raonic may be able to simply overpower Federer.
Highest seed among second 8 to lose before the fourth round: No. 15 Feliciano Lopez has the winner of the Jeremy Chardy/Marcos Baghdatis first-rounder, followed by — probably — Alexandr Dolgopolov. One of them will take out Lopez, who's never won two matches at Indian Wells in his career (I'm not counting byes as W's).
Longest Match of the men's tournament: No. 11 John Isner will defeat unseeded Nicolas Mahut in the third round, and I'm predicting the score of 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 (70-68). Isner is guaranteed a qualifier in his first match (all seeds have first-round byes) and Mahut must get by a qualifier and No. 22 Juan Monaco to set up the "dream" third-rounder with Isner.
Most successful wild card: I want to say Sam Querrey, but should Sam get by his qualifier opponent in round 1, he'll face No. 13 Nico Almagro, so I have to go with Jesse Levine to take down Albert Ramos, Richard Gasquet and Florian Mayer (or Robin Haase) before he runs afoul of top-seeded Novak Djokovic.
Most endangered Frenchman: No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has got his hands full, what with countryman Michael Llodra, a serving-and-volleying fool, or volatile Ernests Gulbis as his first-match opponent. But he's also got No. 28 Radek Stepanek, No. 24 Marin Cilic, Bernard Tomic and No. 10 Janko Tipsarevic in his way before he even makes his seed by reaching the quarters. Tsonga has never gone beyond the round of 16 in the desert, and only one of men to beat him in his four outings was top five (Nadal was No. 2 when he beat Tsonga in the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in 2008).
Gut-check match, top half: No. 30 Andy Roddick, who's been in a final (l. to Ljubicic) and three semifinals (l. twice to Nadal, once to Hewitt) is feeling better about his game, having won two matches in a row for the first time this year just last week in Delray Beach (l. in quarters to champion Kevin Anderson, after having match points). But he's been dealt a tough hand this year, with Ivo Karlovic in his first match, and the winner most likely to meet No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych in the third round.
Most likely to get his groove back: No. 8 Mardy Fish was finalist in 2008, but the only player he's beaten since then at IW is Michael Berrer, who was No. 51 when Fish took him down in the first round in 2010. Fish has yet to win two matches in a row this year, but he has nothing to defend this week, as he lost to Milos Raonic in 2011. Fish can really use a good result and the setting looks favorable. The first tall order he would run into is countryman and Davis Cup teammate John Isner in the fourth round.
Surprise semifinalist of the tournament: Unseeded David Nalbandian. Although he's 30, it's unlikely that the Bus is done yet. Let's remember that in the first major of the year, he lost 8-10 in the fifth to No. 17 John Isner (at the time, Nalbandian was ranked No. 87). And were it not for an ugly bad call controversy, he might have won that second round match.
This guy fears no one, and the toughest guys in his quarter — outside of No. 2 Nadal — are Tsonga and Tipsarevic. Nalbandian has been a quarterfinalist in the desert, and he took a set off Nadal the only time they met in the tournament, in 2009.
Gut check match, lower half: After reaching the singles and doubles finals in Acapulco (l. to David Ferrer in singles, won doubles w/David Marrero; d. countrymen Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez) No. 19 Fernando Verdasco declared that he's feeling so good about his game now that he's determined to make another run at the top 10. He plays the winner between Cedrik-Marcel Stebe and Ryan Sweeting in his first round, but No. 9 seed Juan Martin del Potro,who plays the winner between two qualifiers in his first match, is on track to meet Verdasco in the third round.
First round match I'd most like to see: Bernard Tomic vs. Gilles Muller looks pretty good, but I have to go with the battle of the veterans, Jarkko Nieminen and Tommy Haas. Nieminen shocked everyone when he won Sydney in January, and he's been a quarterfinalist in the desert. The combined age of these men is 63 (at 33, Haas is three years older), and Haas sat on a 2-0 lead in the head-to-head for seven years, until Nieminen beat him on indoor hard in Stockholm in 2009.