Indian Wells is played in March, but the sight of its sun-baked surroundings always makes it feel as if a new tennis year is upon us. The BNP Paribas Open marks the start of a sprint that, between now and early July, takes the pros across the Atlantic and through two Grand Slams and five Masters events.

Looking at the men’s draw, though, “new” isn’t the first word that comes to mind. A quick scan down the seeding list at this year’s event is enough to make it feel like old times on the ATP tour. The Big 4 occupies the top four slots, something that hasn’t happened often, if at all, at a significant tournament over the last few seasons. This March, the men’s game is less about madness than it is about order. We’ll see if it stays that way when racquets start swinging in earnest on Thursday.

In With the Old

In With the Old

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Before the tournament in Dubai last month, I wrote that, after his Australian Open win, Novak Djokovic had earned a honeymoon period from the worries and critiques of press and fans. Even after his loss to Federer in Dubai, there was no reason to fret about his future.

For the most part, I think that’s still true in Indian Wells. The exceptions would be a listless early-round less, like the ones he suffered last summer in the run-up to U.S. Open, or another defeat at the hands of Federer in the final. At this point, the latter looks more likely than the former. Djokovic's opener, against Marcos Baghdatis or Jiri Vesely, could be tricky, but the other seeds in his quarter are Julien Benneteau, John Isner, Kevin Anderson, Marin Cilic, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Bernard Tomic, and David Ferrer.

Of those players, Isner might be the most dangerous to Djokovic; he beat the Serb here in 2012 and took a set from him last year. But Isner is coming off a bad Davis Cup defeat this past weekend, and I wouldn’t favor him to make it past the higher-seeded Kevin Anderson in the third round.

Wild card of interest: Thanasi Kokkinakis

Returning Grand Slam champion: Cilic

Potential third-round match to watch: Tomic vs. Ferrer

Odd stat: Ferrer is 9-11 for his career at Indian Wells, and hasn’t made it past the third round there since 2009. This, it seems, is when Ferru sneaks in a week off.

In With the Old

In With the Old

Speaking of players with oddly poor records in Indian Wells, Andy Murray will try to turn around a long run of relative futility there. He reached the final in 2009, but hasn’t been past the quarters since. You might think the slow hard courts would be his thing, but the desert elements don’t seem to be to the Scotsman’s liking.

So far Murray has had the most up-and-down start of the Big 4: He reached the Aussie Open final, bottomed out with a bizarrely bad loss to Borna Coric in Dubai, and bounced back to win two rubbers in Davis Cup this past weekend. Murray may need the momentum: He could face Vasek Pospisil, another weekend Cup hero, in his opener.

Where Murray has been erratic in 2015, Kei Nishikori, the highest seed on the other side of this section, has been a steady success—he’s 16-3, and has one title. Yet he’s another player who has disappointed in the desert, where he’s gone out early the last two years. Nishikori, for all of his progress, has reached the final of just one Masters event, on clay last year in Madrid. On paper, though, he has the draw to go deep here; Nishikori will start against either Mardy Fish or Ryan Harrison, and the other seeds in his half are Fernando Verdasco, Pablo Cuevas, Feliciano Lopez, Ernests Gulbis, and Fabio Fognini.

Sleeper: Gulbis. He’s 0-5 this year so far, but he has a good draw, and he likes Indian Wells.

Second-round match to (possibly) watch: Murray vs. Pospisil

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In With the Old

In With the Old

Rafael Nadal’s case may be the most interesting of the Big 4’s at the moment. Indian Wells has traditionally served as a bellwether event for him; it’s a place he loves, and one where he has, in the past, kicked into a higher gear. In 2013, he won here and finished No. 1. In 2014, his early loss to Alexandr Dolgopolov marked the start of a struggle-filled spring and summer.

Which way will Nadal be heading when he leaves Indian Wells this time? He comes in having played his best tennis in months in Buenos Aires, and he can’t be displeased with the draw that has greeted him in the States. The three seeds in Rafa’s half of this section are Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet, and Jeremy Chardy—Nadal’s combined record against those Frenchman is 20-1.

The top two seeds in the other half here are Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov. Raonic is off to a solid 11-5 start, but he may have to face the man who beat him here last year, Dolgopolov, in the third round. Dimitrov has lost early at his last two events, in Rotterdam and Acapulco, and appears to be regressing. A potential second-rounder with a younger gun, Nick Kyrgios, could tell us a lot about where Dimitrov's head is at the moment.

First-round match of interest: Donald Young vs. Pablo Carreño Busta

In With the Old

In With the Old

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Of the Big 4, it may be the oldest, Roger Federer, who comes to Indian Wells in the best and most settled state. The memory of his early loss in Australia won’t be quite as fresh after his convincing win over Djokovic in Dubai; and despite the slow courts, he’s had plenty of success in IW in the past.

But Federer’s draw is not the easiest. He might open against Jerzy Janowicz, who can give anyone a scare, and his third-rounder is scheduled to be a rematch with the man who beat him in Melbourne, Andreas Seppi. On the other side of this quarter sit two Top Tenners, Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych. Both have had fine seasons so far, but neither has had a lot of success in Indian Wells; in recent years, Wawrinka has had the edge on Berdych, but it was only a razor’s edge the last time they played, in Rotterdam last month.

Semifinals: Djokovic d. Nishikori; Nadal d. Federer

Final: Djokovic d. Nadal