Key Moment

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 /by

NdIn all of the words I wrote from Indian Wells, I never got around to mentioning that I thought the final between Roger Federer and John Isner was, as we like to say in our anxiety-ridden sport, “good for tennis.” The game’s biggest name returned as a real threat to the Top 2, at the same time that a late-blooming American showed that the top echelon can be cracked, even if it takes you all the way to 7-5 in a third-set tiebreaker to do it.

We’ll see what Federer’s title and Isner’s runner-up finish mean down the road, but their immediate effect has been to make Key Biscayne more significant. The official rankings at the top likely won’t be changed by the result in Miami, but anything short of a win by Novak Djokovic will make 2012, and its looming Grand Slam season, suddenly feel up for grabs.

*****

First Quarter
Djokovic didn’t play a bad tournament, or even a bad semifinal, in Indian Wells. He just succumbed, finally, to the odds by coming out on the wrong end of a close match. We hadn’t seen that happen to him much over the last year. Now we’ll find out what his reaction to that inevitability is.

It’s hard to judge how difficult Djokovic’s draw is. He might start with Marcos Baghdatis, which is certainly a tricky opener. But the other seeds near him are Troicki, Gasquet, and Feliciano Lopez. The other side includes two prominent names, del Potro and Ferrer. So there’s quality here, but at least there’s no John Isner. Djokovic has matched up well with del Potro in the past, and he elevated his game over Ferrer’s in Australia. I’ll be interested to see how Novak does if any of his matches get close—will the Isner loss do anything to his confidence in those moments? But he likes Miami, where he’s a two-time champ.

Backhand I Want to See More Of: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez’s

Potential Three-Tiebreaker Second Round: Del Potro vs. Karlovic

Player Who Most Needs to Put a Feeble Effort Behind Him: Del Potro

First-round Match to Watch: Tomic vs. Stakhovsky

Semifinalist: Djokovic

*****

Second Quarter
Can Federer pull off the difficult Indian Wells-Key Biscayne double a full six years after he last did it? His draw shouldn’t hurt his chances. He gets the winner of Ryan Harrison and Potito Starace first—if it’s Harrison, there will be a pro-American atmosphere to deal with. Ditto for his potential third-round match, against Andy Roddick. The latter recorded one of his two career wins over Federer on this court.

If the seeds hold, there will be one more American for Federer to face in the quarters, Mardy Fish. But Fish has been, by his own admission, out of water of late, and is ripe for an upset. He’s also in a soft section of the draw, with Verdasco, Almagro, and Kevin Anderson. We might see the latter make the quarters.

Also here: Monfils, Querrey, Bogomolov, Jr., and Gulbis, who plays Victoria Azarenka’s boyfriend, Sergei Bubka, in his opener

Player Who Most Needs a Restart in 2012: Donald Young, who opens against David Goffin

Semifinalist: Federer

*****

Third Quarter
Is Andy Murray swooning, or was that just one bad night for him against Garcia-Lopez in Indian Wells? We’ll find out in a hurry this week. Murray could get two of the better performers of 2012, Dennis Istomin and Milos Raonic, in his first two matches. I would bet that he’ll bounce back, but even a solid performance can be a losing one against a server like Raonic. This time coach Lendl will be in the stands, which should bring a sharper focus, as well as a little more pressure, to Murray’s mind.

After that, things could get easier: Simon, Melzer, Dolgopolov, Tipsarevic, Berdych, and Chela are the other seeds in Murray’s section.

Talents to watch: Nalbandian, Dimitrov

Last Chance: Fernando Gonzalez is playing his final tournament. He begins against Nicolas Mahut

Semifinalist: Murray

*****

Fourth Quarter
Should Rafael Nadal be worried by his lackluster loss to Federer on Saturday? Aside from any tactical mistakes he might have made, it took him a longer time than normal to show a sense of urgency that afternoon. We’ll see whether it deflates, or motivates, him for Key Biscayne. Otherwise, his form was good last week, and he was forced to close out a nervy third set against Nalbandian, which should help push the much nervier Aussie Open final farther into the past.

Rafa will have to be ready. He could face Pablo Andjuar in his first round; his countryman pushed him at Roland Garros last year and took a set from Djokovic last week. Also on his side is Kei Nishikori, a Florida resident who should be doing his best to put a forgettable early defeat in Indian Wells behind him.

A little farther away is Isner, a potential quarterfinal opponent. The newest member of the Top 10 will start with the winner of Blake and Davydenko. If things go according to plan, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga awaits in the fourth round. But how often do things go according to plan? I’ll be interested to see how Tsonga bounces back from squandering match point against Nalbandian last week. Where’s Jo, who started the year so well, heading? Back to Europe as soon as he can?

Semifinalist: Tsonga

*****

Semifinals: Djokovic d. Federer; Murray d. Tsonga

Final: Djokovic d. Murray

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