Things are certainly hotting up in the tennis world this week as the Indian Wells Paribas Open gets underway.
For those of you who don’t know much about Indian Wells, it’s effectively the unofficial fifth Grand Slam and with over $5 million available in prize money, it’s certainly something that’s worth winning. When you add in the fact that a win will give the champion a huge 1000 ranking points, it’s no surprise to see the crème de la crème of tennis stars heading over there in their hordes.
After Serena shocked us all by crashing out of the Australian Open, it was Li Na who clinched the title in Melbourne, and with Serena and her sister Venus sitting this one out, Li is the favourite and has been awarded number one seed status. It’s not going to be an easy road for Li though, with her potential last-16 opponent slated to be the German Sabine Lisicki who – as we all know – can turn it on when she needs to. It won’t get any easier for Li in the quarters either, with Cibulkova her likely opponent if the top seeds get through.
Whilst Li is probably the bookie’s favourite, with Serena not competing, we should see a very open tournament, and any one of around eight or nine girls has got the chance of winning this year, making the outcome of the women’s tournament a thoroughly difficult one to predict.
Similarly, over in the men’s the draw means that we’re guaranteed a few exciting matches before we get to the semis. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray are all in the same side of the draw meaning that there is massive potential for a series of blockbuster games from the quarterfinals onwards.
Whilst it would take someone very brave or foolish to bet against Nadal in the Coachella Valley, it must be said that all three of these players have the potential to beat the Spaniard. Whilst he won in Rio, his loss to Wawrinka in the Australian Open final showed that he is human after all, and although there were certain mitigating circumstances because of Nadal’s injury, the Swiss number one certainly won’t be frightened of facing Nadal in California.
Similarly, despite having dropped down the rankings a little in recent months, Andy Murray and Roger Federer both have the ability to beat Nadal, Murray having beaten him five times in his career, and Federer having defeated him ten. Nevertheless, it will take a mammoth effort for either of these men to topple the man of 2013.
Over on the other side of the draw, it has to be said that Novak Djokovic has a rather simpler set of circumstances, with Tsonga likely to be his first truly competitive opponent in the last eight. In truth, in terms of points Nadal and Djokovic are far above the rest of the top ten, with Nadal even further ahead of the Serb, and yet it is the Spaniard who has been dealt the far trickier hand.
An intriguing subplot to the men’s draw will be potential matchup between Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka. Wawrinka replaced his compatriot as Swiss number one earlier this year, and his Australian Open win catapulted him up into third in the world with almost-veteran Federer lagging somewhat behind in seventh. The last time these two played was at the same tournament last year, with Federer winning on that occasion, and the prolific champion will be hoping he can win back the bragging rights off his occasional doubles partner. The neutrals will be hoping Federer comes through a quarter with Wawrinka to face Nadal, with their rivalry being a key part of modern tennis folklore.
One thing’s for sure, this year’s Indian Wells is going to be anything but dull, and with a whole lot of ranking points at stake, there could be a lot of change in the top ten. It’s the perfect big tennis event before we head into the clay court season, and all the big players will be looking to lay down a marker for what promises to be a fascinating year of tennis. Miss it, and miss out.