(Article contributed through S365 GBP by Haresh)
When one looks back, 2013 could be the year that Indian Wells distanced itself from Miami as the fifth major event in the tennis calendar. From the facility upgrades to the fan friendliness to record prize money, Larry Ellison and Co. have made sure that their event is the marquee event on the calendar between the Australian and French Opens. And here’s a recap of the major talking points from the Indian Wellsmen’s event.
Any doubts about Rafael Nadal’s knees can now be officially banished. The Spaniard may have withdrawn from Miami but that seems more like a strategy to rest up for the clay court season. Nadal’s undermining his abilities at the start of his comeback make his success look even more remarkable, and had he lost early, he would have had a ready alibi. Nevertheless, Nadal has shown that he is back and the expectations have been heightened. Anything less than an eighth Roland Garros title will be a disappointment now after the best start to his career (17-1). Nadal’s win over del Potro marked a record breaking 22nd ATP Masters Series and also his 600th career win and also moves back him back into the top 4, where he truly belongs.
Juan Martin del Potro makes for an interesting case study. The Argentine is the only one from the Ferrer-Berdych-Potro-Tsonga quartet to have won a grand slam and as his wins over Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic this week showed, he is also the best big-match player outside the top 4. But Potro’s left wrist is beginning to bother him again, forcing him to use the backhand slice more often in Indian Wells – a strategy that helped him beat Murray and Djokovic. And the sight of Potro huffing and puffing late into the third sets in his matches has become commonplace these days – undermining his credentials as a contender in the best-of-five sets slams. Until Potro fixes that, the 2009 US Open may remain the only grand slam on his resume.
World no. 1 Novak Djokovic saw his unbeaten run in 2013 come to an end at the hands of Potro. The Serb did have his chances, leading 3-0 in the final set of their match. But it was Potro who made a remarkable turnaround to win it rather than Djokovic losing it. The Serb still has a pretty solid lead in the rankings but his dream of completing his career grand slam in Paris may remain just that – given Nadal’s ominous comeback.
Indian Wells was also a lost opportunity for Andy Murray. The Scot, playing in his first event since the Australian Open, needed to reach the finals to go past Roger Federer in the ATP rankings but was also knocked out by Potro. Like Djokovic, Murray will have a chance to redeem himself in Miami.
From the top 5, Federer turned out to be the biggest disappointment at Indian Wells. Federer let Stanislas Wawrinka back into their fourth-round match – turning what should have been a routine straight sets win into a seesaw humdinger. Hampered by a bad back, the much anticipated showdown between Federer and Nadal turned out to be a damp squib. While Federer did seem clearly hampered by his bad back, watching him play Nadal, it seemed like Federer has lost the battle in his head much before he lost it on the scoreboard. The Swiss now takes a pre-planned eight week break and returns in Madrid in May. He should be well rested by then but expect nothing major from him until the grass courts come around.
Tomas Berdych had another good fortnight. After back to back runners-up finishes on tour, the Czech reached the semis here but lost to Nadal for the 12th time in a row. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga also reached the quarters losing to Djokovic. The second-tier of the ATP continues to remain just that – the second tier.
Others who had good fortnight included Ernest Gulbis, who reached the quarter finals and extended his winning streak to 13 matches before running into the Rafa juggernaut; South African Kevin Anderson, who only recently returned to the tour after an elbow surgery and reached the quarters; andAmerican Sam Querrey, who made the last 16 supplanting John Isner as the top ranked American in the world.
Isner was one of the big disappointments in Indian Wells, failing to defend his runner-up finish from last year and dropping out of the top 20; world no. 4 David Ferrer lost in the second round to Anderson in a major surprise; Juan Monaco lost early once again and now has lost all four matches on tour this year; and Mardy Fish came back from a six month lay-off and won his first match before losing in the third round. But Fish has pulled out of Miami – increasing speculation that he may not be mentally ready to return full-time to the tour after suffering from anxiety brought on by his heart condition last year.
The tour now heads to Miami with somewhat muted enthusiasm. With Federer and Nadal both not in the draw, it should be left to Djokovic and Murray to make the fortnight interesting.
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