Federer and the field: Breaking down the ATP Indian Wells draw

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Roger Federer is looking to create some separation in the rankings between he and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells. (AP)

The men’s draw at the BNP Paribas Open gives us a chance to see the odd state that the ATP finds itself in at the moment. The top seed is a 36-year-old; a 12-time Grand Slam champion is the No. 10 seed; three of the sport’s biggest names, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Stan Wawrinka, are nowhere to be found; and the second-best player is Marin Cilic.

Will things get even stranger as the next two weeks progress? Or will some semblance of order, and maybe even a new order, take shape? Let’s take a look ahead.


First Quarter

Roger Federer has won this event five times; his first title came in 2004, his latest in 2017. Now, 17 years after first coming to Indian Wells, he finds himself a prohibitive favorite there once again. That would have been true no matter how this field had shaken out, but Federer’s favorite status has only been reinforced by his draw. The first seed he could face is No. 25 Filip Krajinovic; the second is No. 16 Fabio Fognini.

If things go as planned, though, Federer could face a challenge from No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals. The Austrian is 16-3 in 2018, and the slow hard courts helped him reach the quarters in IW last year.

Also here (all on Thiem’s side): Hyeon Chung, Denis Shapovalov, Tomas Berdych

Semifinalist: Federer

Roger Federer Discussion: 

Second Quarter

Grigor Dimitrov is No. 4 in the world, and last month he reached the final in Rotterdam. But it’s tough to trust him after his defeat at the hands of Kyle Edmund in the quarters at the Australian Open in January—opportunity presented itself, and Dimitrov didn’t take it. While he’s the top seed in this section, he hasn’t taken much in Indian Wells in the past, either. He’s 5-4 there, and has never been past the third round.

Who might knock Dimitrov off, or take his spot in the semis? No. 17 seed Nick Kyrgios beat Novak Djokovic on these courts last year. No. 7 seed Kevin Anderson is 11-3 in 2018, and is coming off a runner-up finish in Acapulco. And No. 27 seed Andrey Rublev beat Dimitrov at the US Open in 2017, and is slated to face him in the third round.

Spanish Sleepers: Roberto Bautista Agut, who won a 500-level title last week in Dubai and leaped seven spots to No. 16; and Pablo Carreño Busta, who reached the semis in Indian Wells in 2017.

First-round all-American match to watch: Taylor Fritz vs. Reilly Opelka

Semifinalist: Anderson 

Third Quarter

There have been two Sascha Zverevs so far in 2018. There’s the player who couldn’t find a way to change a losing game in Melbourne and Acapulco; and there’s the player who reached for extra inspiration when he needed it against the Australians in Davis Cup. Which will we see here? The fourth-seeded German nearly beat Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells two years ago, but looked flummoxed against Kyrgios in 2017. This time, if the seeds hold, he could face Milos Raonic in the third round, Diego Schwartzman in the fourth, and either Jack Sock or Lucas Pouille in the quarterfinals.

Question Marks:

Sock was a semifinalist here last year, but he’s just 1-4 so far in 2018.

Schwartzman won a 500-level title in Rio, and should like the slow hard courts in the desert, but he’s just 1-3 at Indian Wells.

Pouille is off to a strong start this season, but is just 1-2 at Indian Wells.

Sam Querrey is playing on his home SoCal turf, but he’s only 13-12 at Indian Wells for his career, and just 5-5 in 2018.

First-round all-American match to watch: Frances Tiafoe vs. Ernesto Escobedo

Semifinalist: Zverev

Fourth Quarter

As with Serena Williams on the women’s side, the first question we needed answered in this draw was where 10th-seeded Novak Djokovic had landed. Now we know: In a pretty strong section. The five-time Indian Wells champion could play Kei Nishikori in the third round, Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth, and, if seeds hold, either Cilic or John Isner in the quarters.

Players of Interest:

Del Potro: He just won in Acapulco, and he has an opportunity to move into the Top 5 over the next two months. He also reached the final here in 2013. The next logical step in the Argentine’s long comeback would be for him to finally win a Masters 1000 title.

Isner: He’s 32 and is just 2-5 in 2018, but he’s been to a final and a semifinal in Indian Wells.

Semifinalist: Del Potro

Novak Djokovic Discussion: 

Final Call

Semifinals: Federer d. Anderson; Del Potro d. Zverev

Final: Federer d. Del Potro

WTA Indian Wells is on Tennis Channel Plus.

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