On a busy Monday in Miami, all of the women’s fourth-round matches unfold. You can find a preview of all eight here in addition to a few of the remaining men’s third-round encounters.
Garbine Muguruza vs. Li Na: Into the fourth round for the second straight Premier Mandatory tournament, the Spanish rising star continues to consolidate her position as a player to watch this year. Indian Wells finalist Caroline Wozniacki became the latest player to learn about Muguruza’s ascendancy the hard way, thoroughly dismantled on Sunday. A day later, the youngster trains her weapons on Li Na, who has produced consistently outstanding tennis in the few tournaments that she has played this year. The Australian Open runner-up has lost only to Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka in 2013, although a knee injury sidelined her for several weeks after Melbourne. When she returned this week, her ball-striking looked as clean if not as audacious as it had in January. Never at her best in Miami, Li could turn a page now.
Serena Williams vs. Dominika Cibulkova: Awaiting the winner of the previous match in the quarterfinals is the world No. 1, assuming that she can survive the test posed by the shortest woman in the top 30. Cibulkova vanished from relevance after reaching the Sydney final, where Radwanska double-bageled her, but she pushed Serena’s predecessor in the spot to the brink in the same round here a year ago. That match against Azarenka, for which she served twice, revealed how much her explosive forehand can threaten taller opponents with more effortless power. Against a server like Serena, who struck 20 aces against her at Wimbledon in 2010, Cibulkova’s short wingspan may prevent her from creating pressure in return games and exploiting the erratic baseline play that Williams showed in the last round.
Grigor Dimitrov vs. Andy Murray: The memory of what unfolded when he faced Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells may reverberate through Dimitrov’s mind if he takes a lead against Murray. Serving for the first set that time, he conceded four double faults in a painful display of nerves. Dimitrov also took Murray to a first-set tiebreak wen they met in the Brisbane final this year, only to lose the tiebreak decisively and fade thereafter. Much more impressive than he looked at Indian Wells, Murray showed minimal mercy to another rising phenom in Bernard Tomic. His two-handed backhand should break down Dimitrov’s one-hander unless the Bulgarian enjoys an excellent serving day that allows him to dictate points with his forehand.
John Isner vs. Marin Cilic: Among the stranger statistics of the ATP is Cilic’s undefeated record against Americans, which includes victories over playesr like Roddick and Querrey. That perfection might continue against a giant exhausted from his epic victory over Ivan Dodig in the sweltering Miami heat. Mired in a slump for the last several months, Isner will have gained confidence from winning the type of close match that he so often plays, but he generally does not recover well after winning them and does not have an impressive history in Miami. The slow surface will blunt the serves of both men, a greater concern for Isner than the more balanced Cilic.
Maria Sharapova vs. Klara Zakopalova: The only woman in the lower half of the women’s draw who has defeated Sharapova on a hard court, Zakopalova halted the other Russian Maria in the wake of the latter’s strong fortnight at Indian Wells. That sole victory came a decade agao at the Australian Open, however, and the Czech subsided uneventfully when they met in Doha this February. Sharapova struggled on serve when Zakopalova took her to a third set at Roland Garros last year, and she struggled on serve again on the windy afternoon of her previous match. But she should break Zakopalova’s serve frequently with her rapier-like returns, keeping this counterpuncher on her heels from the outset.
Richard Gasquet vs. Mikhail Youzhny: These two men have developed a reputation for suffering ignominious meltdowns, including an occasion here when Youzhny drew blood from his head by smashing his racket against it. Another of those occasions featured the Frenchman surrendering a two-set lead to his fellow headcase at the Australian Open. Well past his prime, the Russian still can uncork one-handed backhands scarcely less lovely than Gasquet’s signature shot. Moreover, Youzhny has won four of their seven career meetings, surprising considering his opponent’s superior weapons.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Sloane Stephens: The defending champion has suffered a lull in form since winning consecutive titles to start 2013, dominated by Li and Petra Kvitova before Kirilenko upset her at Indian Wells. Radwanska dropped a set in the third round to Magdalena Rybarikova, a talented player but still a journeywoman, so she must raise her level against an Australian Open semifinalist. That said, Stephens ate a bagel from Olga Govortsova in her first set of the tournament, and she had lost four of her previous five matches before that victory. At Cincinnati last summer, she extended Radwanska to a third set despite lacking the firepower that normally troubles the Pole. Something similar could happen here in a match filled with long rallies.
Milos Raonic vs. Sam Querrey: Meeting for the fourth time since the start of 2012, these two giants play essentially the same styles in a matchup determined by execution on the day. In that regard, one must give the edge to Raonic, who defeated Querrey comfortably at San Jose last month in avenging two losses to the American last year. The slow outdoor courts of Miami favor the Canadian’s massive weapons and preference for short points much less than does the indoor arena in San Jose. In rallying past former nemesis Lukasz Kubot, Querrey continued to look vulnerable in a year when few victories have come easily. (Or, the more pessimistic might say, at all.) This match should come down to first-serve percentage and focus, critical in a match that hinges upon a tiny handful of points and in which any mistake can prove fatal.
Ajla Tomljanovic vs. Kirsten Flipkens: Recovered from a serious issue with blood clots last year, Flipkens reached the second week of the Australian Open and upset Kvitova yesterday in an oddly oscillating three-setter. Some of her better results have come on grass, which showcases her biting slice and her fine hands at net. Aligned opposite her is a Croat who clawed past Petkovic in a third-set tiebreak after upsetting Julia Goerges in the previous round. Like Flipkens, Tomljanovic has struggled with sporadic injuries, and she has played only a handful of WTA tournaments in the last several months. Transitioning overnight from the underdog to the favorite, the Belgian should fancy her chances to reach the most significant quarterfinal of her career.
Roberta Vinci vs. Alize Cornet: In a section that imploded, either of these women plausibly could reach a semifinal and collect the valuable ranking points that come with it. The main question regarding this match concerns whether Cornet can recover in time from a three-set victory that forced her to leave the court in a wheelchair. On the other hand, Vinci needed plenty of energy to grind through a three-setter of her own against Suarez Navarro, testing the veteran’s stamina. Her backhand slices could prove vital in testing the patience of an ever-edgy Cornet.
Sara Errani vs. Ana Ivanovic: After the Serb had won their two previous meetings, the Italian turned the tables at Roland Garros last year in a match that Ivanovic controlled initially before letting it slip away. The steadiness of Errani has allowed her to outlast streaky shot-makers like the former Roland Garros champion over the last year, but the latter displayed her best form in several months during her two victories here. For her part, Errani has lost just five games in two matches, the fewest of any woman left in the draw. If Ivanovic bursts to a fast start and sustains it, as she did against Kuznetsova, she could overwhelm this opponent before she settles. If Errani can find her footing and extend the rallies, meanwhile, she could complicate the plot for a woman who prefers her matches straightforward.
Sorana Cirstea vs. Jelena Jankovic: Until Jankovic won their most recent encounter in Dallas last summer, Cirstea had swept all of her meetings against an opponent consistently ranked higher than her, although each stretched into a final set and none came on an outdoor hard court. The Romanian brunette managed to upset Kerber a round after barely eking out a victory over Silvia Soler-Espinosa, a pair of results that illustrates how wide her range of form extends. Almost as impressive as the Kerber upset was Jankovic’s victory over Nadia Petrova, her seventh win in her last eight matches with the only loss coming in an airtight clash with Kuznetsova. Both women thus should enter this match with confidence, and they eye a similar opportunity to Vinci and Cornet, the winner of whom would meet the winner of this match in the quarterfinals.
As the third round begins in the men’s draw, the women finish deciding who will reach the final sixteen at the Sony Open.
Maria Sharapova vs. Elena Vesnina: The world #2 has won 14 straight matches against fellow Russians, but she lost her last meeting with Vesnina in the fall of 2010. An Indian Wells doubles champion, her opponent has compiled a quietly solid season in singles that has included her first career title and a second-week appearance at the Australian Open. Each Russian handled a rising young star in her opener with ease, Sharapova crushing Eugenie Bouchard and Vesnina dismissing Donna Vekic. The only Indian Wells finalist still in the Miami draw, the women’s champion there may face her greatest challenge from the heat and humidity of a tournament that she never has won.
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Ana Ivanovic: Sony Open organizers showed their knowledge of tennis when they chose this match for the evening marquee ahead of those featuring higher-ranked champions. While neither Kuznetsova nor Ivanovic has won a major in nearly four years, one should not miss this battle of fellow major champions with ferocious forehands. Kuznetsova possesses the superior athleticism and Ivanovic the superior serve, an advantage less compelling on a slow surface where she never has reached the quarterfinals. A champion here in 2006, the Russian aims to build on her miniature upset of countrywoman Makarova, but Ivanovic looked as brilliant as she has all year in an opener beset by rain and power failures. Nerves beset both women when they try to close out sets and matches, so no lead will be safe.
Albert Ramos vs. James Blake: An unthinkable prospect when the tournament began, a quarterfinal appearance for James Blake now looms well within the range of plausibility. Much improved from recent form at Indian Wells, he continued to turn back the clock with a resounding victory over seeded Frenchman Julien Benneteau. Meanwhile, the upset of Juan Martin Del Potro in this section has left him no significant obstacle to overcome. The Spanish lefty across the net plays a steady game that will test Blake’s consistency, but the American should relish the opportunity to showcase his flashy skills under the lights at this prestigious event.
Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Tommy Haas: Each man survived talented opponents in the previous round, Dolgopolov dominating 2008 champion Nikolay Davydenko and Haas weathering a three-setter against Igor Sijsling. The unpredictable quirks in the Ukrainian’s game could fluster the veteran of the famously flammable temper, but the latter has produced more impressive results over the past several weeks. When they met in last year’s Washington final, Dolgopolov rallied from losing the first set to outlast Haas.
Kevin Anderson vs. Janko Tipsarevic: Profiting from his vast advantage in height, Anderson defeated the second-ranked Serb three years ago on North American hard courts. He started this year more promisingly than any year before, outside a February injury, and has won multiple matches at every tournament. In contrast, Tipsarevic had lost ten consecutive sets (some resoundingly) from the Australian Open through Indian Wells before snapping that skid against a qualifier here. Hampered by nagging injuries, he has suffered a sharp loss of confidence that could trouble him when he attempts to break the South African’s intimidating serve. When the rallies unfold, however, Tipsarevic’s superior movement and balance could reap rewards.
Roberta Vinci vs. Carla Suarez Navarro: On the gritty, slow hard courts of Miami, these two clay specialists look to continue their encouraging results from last month. While Vinci reached the semifinals in Dubai, Suarez Navarro reached the Premier final in Acapulco. Gone early from the California desert to an unheralded opponent, the Italian narrowly avoided a similar disappointment in navigating past Christina McHale. She has lost all of her previous meetings, and all of her previous sets, to Suarez Navarro in a surprising head-to-head record considering their relative experience. Just six rankings spots separate these two women, so one can expect a tightly contested encounter of elegant one-handed backhands.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Nadia Petrova: Among the most entertaining women’s finals in recent Miami history was the three-setter that Jankovic contested against Serena Williams in 2008. The sluggish court speed showcased her counterpunching game at its best, a level from which it has long since receded. While she has won her last four meetings from Petrova, none of those has come since her precipitous plunge from the #1 ranking that started in 2009. The Russian’s game has aged more effectively, allowing her to stay within range of the top ten even at the age of 30, and she enjoyed an unexpected renaissance with two titles last fall. Like Jankovic, her two-handed backhand down the line remains her signature shot, but she will look to set the tone with penetrating first serves and aggressive court positioning as well.
Alize Cornet vs. Lauren Davis: The only singles match not on a televised court, this overlooked encounter pits a French former prodigy against an extraordinarily lucky loser. When Azarenka withdrew from the Sony Open, Lauren Davis filled her shoes with poise in an epic victory over countrywoman Madison Keys that climaxed with a third-set tiebreak. Having benefited from Azarenka’s bye as well, Davis has progressed through more rounds in the main draw than she did in the qualifying draw. The last American woman left in this half, she faces a winnable match against Cornet, who also survived a tense clash with Laura Robson in which she remarkably never lost her serve through the last two sets.
March 23, 2013 — It has been barely a year since John Isner defeated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of Indian Wells to reach his first career final at a Masters 1000 tournament. While he could not claim the title there, Isner appeared to have notched a decisive breakthrough in his career that would propel the top-ranked American man forward.
Events since then have questioned this interpretation of that memorable fortnight in the desert, especially over the last few months. Struggling for form from the US Open onward, Isner absorbed a serious blow when a knee injury forced him to withdraw from the Australian Open. That injury, not unexpected for a player of his height, disrupted the rhythm of his preparations for the 2013 season and undermined his confidence. At the Memphis indoor tournament in February, he lost his opener in straight sets to Denis Istomin, a player who normally should not have troubled him. But his slump reached its nadir at Indian Wells, the scene of his greatest triumph to date. Returning to the California desert, Isner lost his first match to Lleyton Hewitt as virtually every component of his game abandoned him at critical moments. With that loss came the loss of his status as the top-ranked American man, now held by Sam Querrey.
A man who shines most on home soil, Isner desperately needed to avoid a similar exit at the outset of the Miami tournament. With the long European swing ahead, he could not afford to let his confidence sink any lower before the inevitable setbacks on the red clay that dulls his greatest weapons. The Sony Open thus loomed large in the trajectory of his season as his last chance to regroup before the US Open Series in July. Against the occasionally dangerous Croat Ivan Dodig, who has defeated Nadal on North American hard courts before, Isner needed all of his perseverance and first-strike power to survive.
While he dropped serve four times across the three sets, an uncharacteristic number for him, the towering man from the University of Georgia showed resilience in rallying from losing the first set and from the brink of defeat in the third. Breaking Isner at 5-5 in the final set, Dodig served for the match at a stage when the reeling competitor across the net might well have resigned himself to a third straight loss. Despite the sweltering heat and his inconsistent form, Isner persevered to strike some of his best returns and play some of his most opportunistic tennis in the twelfth game and in the tiebreak that followed. Taking a lead at the outset, he never trailed in the tiebreak as he approached the net aggressively behind his serves and stayed just consistent enough from the baseline to earn the crucial mini-break that he needed for a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(5) victory.
Finishing the match with a thunderous first serve out wide, Isner showed just how much the victory meant to him by leaping in the air on his way to the net for the handshake. Even in view of the match’s airtight scoreline, that reaction might have surprised some onlookers because of his favored status and the early-round setting. But the context in which this victory came provided ample explanation for Isner’s delight in eking out the type of nail-biting epic that he has played so often in his career. These are the matches that can restore a player’s confidence in his ability to deliver at key moments, so the tenuous nature of his triumph in fact might have boosted him more than a routine win would have.
Always a perfectionist who demands a lot from himself, Isner expressed disappointment about losing his serve so often on a day when he otherwise had strong serving statistics. But he found it “a positive that I lost my serve four times and was still able to win the match.” Isner also acknowledged that he “needed [the win] for sure” because of a difficult season in which he had “lost matches I feel like I could have won,” always a demoralizing feeling for a tennis player.
It will not get any easier from here for the tall American, who faces another imposing server in Marin Cilic next and likely would meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round should he reach that stage. But, considering how his 2013 season has gone, Isner should continue to take one step at a time and see how far each of them can lead him. As he put it, “I’m just happy to get through. I certainly could have easily lost that match.” “But once I got that little spark, gave me a little extra energy, and you know, it went from there.”
There are fewer matches that capture the imagination on Friday, but those that do offer plenty to discuss. Here’s a look at the end of the men’s second round and the start of the women’s third round.
Tomic vs. Murray: The Aussie prodigy has all of the elements that should make him a future star: a balanced but distinctive and aesthetically pleasing game, a personality oozing with charisma, and more than a whiff of controversy. All of the elements, that is, but competitive toughness, although Tomic has begun to remedy that flaw this year with somewhat more consistent results. He has yet to leave his mark on a Masters 1000 tournament, however, unlike a few of his fellowing rising stars, nor has he scored a signature win over one of the Big Four somewhere other than an exhibition. Such an opportunity might await against Murray, who was fortunate to avoid an exit earlier than the quarterfinals at Indian Wells amid notably scratchy form. Since both men know virtually every shot and tactic in the book, a display of all-court tennis should ensue that suits this notably slow surface.
Venus vs. Stephens: The past and future of American women’s tennis collide in a match of two women separated by over a decade. Having just turned 20 this week, Stephens may have catapulted into celebrity a little too early with her victory over Serena at the Australian Open. She now attempts to echo what Kerber did last year by sweeping the two Williams sisters on hard courts, a task probably within range considering the arduous evening to which Kimiko Date-Krumm subjected Venus in her first match. The contrast in their serves should boost the veteran’s chances, albeit less than it would on a faster hard court. And Sloane also has looked mortal as she has struggled to find her best form in the wake of that Australian accomplishment. She will rely on her consistency to extend the points longer than the erratic Venus can harness her weapons.
Kubot vs. Querrey: Now the top-ranked American man, Querrey has some work to do in justifying the expectations associated with that label. His results this year have toed the line between mildly disappointing and unremarkable, and he lost his only previous meeting with Kubot in a five-setter at the 2011 Australian Open. The doubles specialist from Poland kept Querrey’s serve at bay with penetrating returns and took time away from him by capitalizing on short balls to approach the net. But these are the types of matches that the top-ranked American man is supposed to win, and the excuses for Querrey’s apparent lulls in motivation will grow less convincing with the increased spotlight on him.
Bellucci vs. Janowicz: A fairly straightforward lefty, the leading man from Brazil had lost five straight match before rallying from losing the first set to oust lucky loser Daniel Brands here. Curiously, considering his clay origins, he defeated Janowicz on the indoor hard courts of Moscow last fall, near the time that the latter launched himself on his charge through the Paris Masters 1000 draw. The superior server and arguably superior competitor, the youngster from Poland should fear little if he can unravel the wrinkles of a lefty’s game and put a reasonable number of returns in play. An intriguing rendezvous with Murray could await in the next round.
Petkovic vs. Tomljanovic: Reaching the Miami semifinals in her last appearance, two years ago, Petkovic justified her wildcard at this tournament by not only winning her first match but also upsetting top-15 opponent Bartoli (admittedly, by retirement). Since she played only a tiny handful of matches in the first half of 2012, she certainly would relish the opportunity to collect more points to boost her ranking. Petkovic will enter this match as the favorite, but Tomljanovic enters with plenty of momentum as well. The 19-year-old Croat defeated both Pervak and Goerges in straight sets to justify her own wildcard, producing a level of form well above her ranking of #242.
Wozniacki vs. Muguruza: Virtually unknown before the last few months, Garbine Muguruza raised a few eyebrows when she slugged groundstrokes fearlessly against Serena in Melbourne. Then she raised many more eyebrows by reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells as a qualifier, the best result that any qualifier had garnered in the desert for nearly a decade. Armed with much more potent weapons than most of her compatriots, Muguruza aims to duplicate that achievement at a second sraight Premier Mandatory tournament. Consecutive three-setters in the first two rounds may have sapped her energies for a physical matches ahead, although Wozniacki also opened the tournament with a taxing battle. Extended to a final set in her Indian Wells opener too, she hopes to bounce back again from that uninspired start but has no more margin for error on the eve of collisions with Li Na and then Serena.
Flipkens vs. Kvitova: Never at her best at the spring North American tournaments, the former Wimbledon champion has struggled with the heat and her breathing in previous appearances. An Indian Wells quarterfinal appearance struck a more hopeful note, although her serving debacle at that stage did not. Opponents who can disrupt her baseline rhythm with something unexpected tend to trouble the Czech more than those with straightforward styles, and Flipkens can offer some unconventional looks with her backhand slice and occasional forays to the net. Those tactics should work better on a faster, lower-bouncing surface, though, while the Miami court should present Kvitova with balls at a comfortable height and time to target the lines.
The action at Key Biscayne starts heating up swiftly on Friday with some intriguing matches in both draws. We take a look at what to expect from around the grounds.
Keys vs. Azarenka: The toast of Sydney when she reached the quarterfinals as a qualifier, nearly stunning Li Na there, the American teenager has more weapons than any of her peers and an apparent fearlessness of the elite. Both of those traits make this match against the two-time champion intriguing, although the smooth balance of Azarenka’s game ordinarily should expose the raw, untethered talents of Keys. Uncertain whether she would withdraw from this tournament after she issued a walkover at Indian Wells, the recent world #1 continues to nurse an ankle injury that hampered her in the desert. If Keys can keep the match close early, she might not have to worry about finishing it.
Ferrer vs. Tursunov: Sometimes a struggling player can benefit from the experience of dropping back into qualifying draws and building confidence with victories over clearly inferior opponents. Many fans must have thought that Tursunov had retired once he vanished from main draws with a plummeting ranking, but he marched back into relevance with an excellent February that included a quarterfinal and a semifinal. The Russian qualified for one of those tournaments, qualified for Indian Wells (but lost in the first round), and qualified again here. Winning a tight two-setter in the first round, he could test a Spaniard whose confidence appeared to have dipped after another demolition by Rafa. Days removed from that embarrassment, Ferrer lost his Indian Wells opener and soon his top-four ranking. He will get it back here, but can he get back his swagger before the clay?
Djokovic vs. Rosol: Neither of these men really needs any introduction, the world #1 on one side and the man who stunned the world at Wimbledon on the other. Usually either excellent or awful, Rosol suggested that he may be dangerous this week simply by winning his first match. Djokovic needs to bounce back from a mediocre fortnight at Indian Wells, where he should have counted himself fortunate to have stumbled within a few games of the final. Not dropping a set at Miami last year after a similarly flawed effort in the desert, he should enter this tournament hungrier than he did the last.
Errani vs. Hantuchova: Both experts in the art of doubles, these veterans have a lovely sense of subtlety highlighted by their deft drop shots. Errani has reeled off three finals already this year, but her Indian Wells quarterfinal may have impressed as much as any of her results. Testing eventual champion Sharapova more than anyone before or after her in the desert, Errani reminded skeptics that her talents extend beyond the terre battue. Hantuchova has proved a thorn in her side, winning five of their eight meetings, and that pattern has persisted even with the disparity in their current rankings. Both of their matches this year have reached third sets, each woman securing one, and this slow hard court should offer a neutral surface for a clay specialist and a grass specialist.
Makarova vs. Kuznetsova: Rarely does an all-Russian women’s battle fail to entertain, filled as they usually are with equal doses of fabulous shot-making and existential angst. While Makarova enters this match as the seeded player, 2006 Miami champion Kuznetsova has achieved as much as her lefty compatriot in recent months. Both women reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, but both have struggled to gain traction since then with the former losing three straight matches and the latter unable to sustain her best form for long passages. They have met only twice before and not on a hard court in five years, so today will write a new chapter in their history.
Blake vs. Benneteau: The American’s career appeared to pass its expiration date long ago, so the wildcards that he received at tournaments such as these resembled acts of charity. Dusting off his game without warning at Indian Wells, Blake not only won his first match against a quality opponent in Robin Haase but gave Tsonga a spirited test in the next round. He dismantled his first opponent again this week and again faces a Frenchman next, one who has compiled a curious season. Unable to close out an upset of Tipsarevic at the Australian Open, Benneteau lost in the first round of Indian Wells. On the other hand, he upset Federer in the 500 tournament at Rotterdam, the second event this year where he reached the semifinals or better.
Dolgopolov vs. Davydenko: It’s hard to know what exactly to expect from either of these men at any given moment. For example, Davydenko bageled his first-round opponent twice while losing a 6-2 set in the middle. He shares Dolgopolov’s fondness for playing the game at a turbo-charged pace at which instincts take over from conscious thought. The seeded man will try to disrupt the flat-hitting Russian’s relentless rhythm from the baseline, compared by some to a video game, by using his funky forehand slices and superior serve.
Simon vs. Hewitt: Although he won two matches at Indian Wells and reached the semifinals at his previous two tournaments, Simon looked dreadful in the desert with double faults and service breaks sprayed across a series of three-setters. Hewitt knocked off a similarly underachieving seed there in John Isner, and the confidence gained from his third-round appearance could propel him to another mini-upset. One can look forward to a match filled with grinding rallies and crisp two-handed backhands as both men resort to a war of attrition.
Sijsling vs. Haas: These men meet for the third time this year, Haas winning comfortably in Auckland and via retirement in Delray Beach after they had split the first two sets. That latter match came in the wake of Sijsling’s near-upset of top seed Marin Cilic in Memphis and actual upset of Tsonga in Rotterdam, which showcased the Dutchman’s impressive serve. A finals appearance in San Jose, which his infant daughter attended, set the German’s game back on track following a first-round debacle in Melbourne. Never known for his consistency, he has compiled a 9-3 record on American hard courts this spring and seems to thrive in the status of fan favorite that he often holds here.
Vinci vs. McHale: Up a set and a break on Kirilenko in Indian Wells, McHale could not quite finish the job for what would have been her biggest victory by far since recovering from mono. All the same, that experience should have proved to her that she can put the effects of that potentially devastating illness behind her and return to where her career left off last summer. McHale lost her only previous meeting with Vinci, two years ago, and faces the task of slowing down a woman who defeated Kuznetsova, Kerber, and Stosur to reach the Dubai semifinals in February. Although she knows that Vinci cannot hit through her counterpunching game, the changes of pace created by the crafty Italian offer a challenge perhaps just as compelling.
Hampton vs. Suarez Navarro: On the verge of cracking the top 20 for the first time, Suarez Navarro turned plenty of heads at Indian Wells with an elegant one-handed backhand that recalled Justine Henin. The rest of her weapons do not recall the Belgian champion, though, and her serve should lie vulnerable to an opportunistic returner like Hampton. The last American woman standing in the previous Premier Mandatory event, this unassuming figure built upon encouraging form from an Australian season that included a semifinal and a set won from Azarenka. But she faces a test similar to what McHale faces in a European clay specialist with plenty of variety.
Keep checking back for more previews as the tournament progresses!
Even without Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the Sony Open ATP draw features plenty of dazzling stars to sparkle on Miami spring nights. Here is the companion to the women’s quarter-by-quarter preview.
First quarter: When he absorbed a disappointing loss in an Indian Wells semifinal last year, Novak Djokovic bounced back by winning his third Miami title without the loss of a set. The world #1 benefited from a comfortable route to the final that year, and he can anticipate a similarly undemanding route at least until the semifinals this time. His returns and passing shots should ward off the closest seed to him, Feliciano Lopez, while another potential third-round opponent in Evgeny Donskoy won a set from Murray at Indian Wells but lacks the experience to finish the job. Aligned to meet Djokovic in the following round is Tommy Haas, who defeated him at Wimbledon four years ago and became the only man to win a set from him at the Rogers Cup last summer. The 34-year-old German may find a few obstacles barring his path to the Serb, however, such as 2008 champion Nikolay Davydenko. An upset of the seeded but struggling Alexandr Dolgopolov lies well within the Russian’s grasp.
Unable to win a match since the Australian Open, where he exited via retirement, Janko Tipsarevic absorbed ignominious routs at Dubai and Indian Wells. Djokovic’s compatriot thus would count any victories in Miami as a step forward, and a quarterfinal appearance opposite his fellow Serb would surpass expectations. A menacing figure in his section, the South African leviathan Kevin Anderson reached his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal last week, continuing a strong upward trend from the season’s beginning. If Anderson can upset Tipsarevic, he might face Gilles Simon for the second straight tournament. Also of some interest in this area is Lleyton Hewitt, who justified his Indian Wells wildcard with a third-round appearance and received another here. Anderson defeated Djokovic in Miami during the latter’s sophomore slump in 2009-10, creating a revenge subplot should they meet again.
Second quarter: As he did at Indian Wells, Juan Martin Del Potro finds himself in a quarter with the draw’s third seed and in the same half as the world #1. The Indian Wells runner-up expressed his eagerness to build on his accomplishments there in Miami, where he reached the semifinals in 2009 by upsetting Nadal. But the arduous finish to that fortnight, playing three three-setters against the top five in three days, may have blunted his energy. Fortunately for Del Potro, the highest-ranked man in his eighth has not won a set this year outside Davis Cup. A surprise semifinalist in Miami last year, Juan Monaco briefly reached the top ten afterwards before struggling with injuries in recent months. Perhaps more likely to meet Del Potro in the fourth round is the mercurial Julien Benneteau, who reached the Rotterdam final in February following another upset of Federer. This section also contains two young stars still searching to fulfill their promise in Ryan Harrison and Ricardas Berankis. Both have draws that could allow them to win a match or two, gaining crucial ground in the rankings.
The leading Spaniard here following Nadal’s withdrawal, David Ferrer hopes to bounce back from his opening loss to Anderson in the California desert, which cost him his top-four status. Some dangerous shot-makers on recent hot streaks lurk in his section, including Dmitry Tursunov and Jeremy Chardy. A qualifier here like Gulbis in Indian Wells, the Russian scored several victories at February main-draw events, while the Frenchman recorded his best career result by far with an Australian Open quarterfinal. An all-French first-round clash between Benoit Paire and Michael Llodra also intrigues, as does the presence of Memphis champion Kei Nishikori. The recurrently injured Japanese star has collected some success against Ferrer on prominent stages, but his physical condition looked questionable at Indian Wells. Defeating Del Potro here last year, Ferrer may find the Argentine a more challenging opponent with his confidence restored.
Semifinalist: Del Potro
Third quarter: Not for some time, if ever, has Tomas Berdych held a top-four seed at an event of this magnitude. When the Indian Wells draw opened for him in the wake of Ferrer’s early loss, he capitalized on the opportunity to reach the semifinals without losing a set. Berdych rarely has excelled at stringing together impressive results, though, despite some improvements in that area over the last year. He has dominated his hard-court meetings with third-round opponent Fernando Verdasco, who played so poorly at Indian Wells that he apologized on Twitter afterward. Towering servers Milos Raonic and Sam Querrey look set to collide in the third round above, for only a few qualifiers stand between them. The new top-ranked American man, Querrey has enjoyed previous success against Raonic, whom most consider the more promising talent. Either would present an intriguing test for Berdych in the final sixteen, likely to produce a battle of few break points or long rallies.
Unable to take a set from the Czech at Indian Wells, notwithstanding a string of break points, Richard Gasquet could meet him again in the Miami quarterfinals. Already a two-time titlist in 2013, the Frenchman has defeated most of the opponents whom he should without registering a single notable victory. That level of achievement has sufficed to keep him in the top ten, just ahead of projected fourth-round opponent Nicolas Almagro. Emotional peaks and valleys have defined this Spaniard’s season, filled with accomplishments like an Australian Open quarterfinal and disappointments like the two-set lead that escaped him in that match. In addition to those of Gasquet and Almagro, other graceful one-handed backhands populate this eighth of the draw, such as those of Mikhail Youzhny and Philipp Kohlschreiber. All more flamboyant and less reliable than Berdych, any of these four men would create an intriguing contrast in styles with him, but another episode of the Berdych-Almagro feud might offer the best entertainment.
Fourth quarter: Somewhat rusty in his return from a long hiatus at Indian Wells, Andy Murray should bring crisper form to the second Masters 1000 tournament in North America, where he has enjoyed better results than at its predecessor. A runner-up here last year, Murray can look ahead to a potentially thorny draw filled with ambitious rising stars. First in line is Bernard Tomic, the enigmatic Aussie who has shown signs of growing more mature—and hence more consistent—in 2013, although only by the Death Valley level that he had set previously. Next would come Grigor Dimitrov, on the verge of taking a set from Djokovic at Indian Wells had he not double-faulted away his chance in an embarrassing implosion from which he may need time to recover. Adjusting to his status as a seeded player in these marquee draws, Jerzy Janowicz has won a handful of matches this year but has not approached the quality of first-strike tennis that ambushed so many higher-ranked opponents in Paris.
Once he moves past Janowicz or Andreas Seppi in the fourth round, Murray should fancy his chances of progressing further against an odd collection of players who have underachieved over the last several months. Foremost among them is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who produced a similar result to Murray at Indian Wells in that he advanced with greater difficulty than expected against his first few opponents and departed when he met his first elite opponent. That trend has grown routine for Tsonga since the start of 2012, though, since when he possesses just a single victory over a higher-ranked opponent despite a handful of competitive matches against that group. Far more desperate is the situation confronted by John Isner, gone in his Indian Wells opener as a miserable season that started with a knee injury grows no brighter. The luster also has dimmed on the strong 2012 summer recorded by Marin Cilic, who won Zagreb but has left no impact on tournaments of greater note. Murray’s agility and talent for disrupting powerful games seems well-designed to defusing any of these men, all of whom have struggled against him before.
Coverage of Miami will continue as the tournament progresses with previews of key matches and reflections on any intriguing stories as they unfold.
While the men’s draw has suffered from marquee withdrawals by Federer and Nadal, the women’s draw in Miami witnesses the return of world #1 Serena Williams and Australian Open finalist Li Na to North American hard courts. They have landed in the same quarter of the Sony Open draw, with which we start our women’s preview.
First quarter: Since she won Brisbane to start 2013, Serena’s season has not gone as she would have hoped. Injury and illness have contributed to losses at the Australian Open and Doha, so she will hope to regroup from those setbacks at her home tournament, which she has dominated when healthy. More successful here than almost anywhere else, Serena should deploy her serve to devastating effect against the meager return games of her first few opponents. Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta would have wished for a better draw than facing the world #1 in the second round, while potential fourth-round opponent Dominika Cibulkova should find her height and wingspan too limited to cope with this level of first-strike power. Somewhat more intriguing is the prospect of Lucie Safarova, a lefty more capable of matching Serena hold for hold when at her best, but her results have remained too erratic to depend on her reaching the fourth round.
On the opposite side of the quarter, an intriguing draw would pit Indian Wells runner-up Wozniacki against Australian Open runner-up Li in the fourth round, a rematch of some scintillating three-setters that the two have played on outdoor hard courts. Neither faces too intimidating a challenge before that stage, although the former might take note of surging Spanish phenom Garbine Muguruza. That rising star reached the fourth round of Indian Wells as a qualifier and easily could upset the reeling Pavlyuchenkova in the second round to reach Wozniacki in the third. But the Dane should have taken more confidence from her finals appearance in the desert than from her resounding defeat to Sharapova there. She should weather the test posed by Muguruza and probably also the challenge presented by Li, who has not played since her outstanding January campaign. The Chinese star may need some matches to regain her rhythm after so long an absence and so severe an injury. If Wozniacki does meet Serena in the quarterfinals, the top seed likely would relish the opportunity to avenge a miserable loss to the same opponent at the same stage last year.
Second quarter: Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska could not have drawn a much more challenging route to a repeat performance in Miami, nor did her performance over the last two weeks inspire much confidence in her. More impressive on a similar surface at Indian Wells, Mona Barthel will train her huge serve and return weapons against the Pole in the third round. Perhaps more compelling for local fans is the third-round meeting between Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens, who personify the past and future of American women’s tennis. The latter woman has not built upon her Australian Open semifinal in recent weeks, however, struggling with an abdominal injury and exiting Indian Wells in her first match. Venus, who has not played since Sharapova demolished her in Melbourne, has shared her sister’s history of success at their home tournament but fell to Radwanska here a year ago.
If she can survive the imposing serves in her immediate vicinity, Radwanska can expect little reprieve in the quarterfinals. The highest-ranked woman who could meet her there, Petra Kvitova, dismantled her with ease last month in Dubai and reached her first Indian Wells quarterfinal last week. On the other hand, Kvitova never has distinguished herself in Miami and will have some obstacles of her own to surmount before she can reach Radwanska. Among them is Marion Bartoli, knocking on the door of the top ten again and more successful here than Kvitova. The double-fister suffered a surprising loss to Errani in the desert, but her competitive tenacity could allow her to exploit the Czech’s inevitable episodes of erratic play. One of the most intriguing unseeded players in the draw, Andrea Petkovic aims to reawaken the memories of her 2011 semifinal run in Miami. She faces a stern series of opening tests against Bojana Jovanovski, Bartoli, and Julia Goerges before she even reaches Kvitova. From this unpredictable section of the draw, an unexpected semifinalist could emerge.
Semifinalist: Er, Kvitova?
Third quarter: One match short of the Indian Wells-Miami double in 2006, Maria Sharapova eyes a comfortable route to position herself at least within range of that accomplishment. She has not lost a set to anyone but Serena in her last two tournaments, cruising to the desert title without any physically or emotionally arduous matches that would have drained her energy. Many women would suffer a hangover after capturing a title of that magnitude, but the career Grand Slam champion has grown sufficiently accustomed to achievements on that level to avoid such a lapse. Even if she did, early rounds against Vesnina or an assortment of qualifiers and wildcards should not threaten her. A rematch of the Indian Wells semifinal might loom in the fourth round, but Kirilenko may struggle to sustain her Indian Wells form. The only woman to win a set from Sharapova at Roland Garros last year, Klara Zakopalova could inconvenience her on one of her more inconsistent days.
For the second straight Premier Mandatory tournament, Sara Errani would await Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Despite the Italian’s ability to reach that stage at Indian Wells, she may find her path more complicated this time. The massive serve of Sabine Lisicki, always fragile and always dangerous, could produce a stark contrast of styles if she meets Errani in the third round. But the third-round match below offers more intrigue, for it should pit Ivanovic against either Makarova or former Miami champion Kuznetsova. Gifted shot-makers all, those three women will look to stay patient on the slow hard court and bounce back from Indian Wells disappointments. They must stay even more patient against Errani than each other, but each might have a stronger chance than the Italian to trouble Sharapova because of their greater capacity to finish points. It is hard to imagine the world #2 stumbling early if she sustains her Indian Wells form, though.
Fourth quarter: Will she or won’t she? The question hovers over the status of Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Miami champion who withdrew from Indian Wells with an ankle injury. Having glanced at her draw and seen the heavy serve of Madison Keys in her opener, Vika may feel some trepidation about testing that joint in a match where she will need her movement to shine. Afterwards, she could meet a group of slow-court specialists like Cornet, Vinci, or Suarez Navarro. Climbing the rankings regularly in recent weeks, the Spaniard showcases the finest one-handed backhand among the seeded women here. Together with Keys on the list of home hopes, Christina McHale continues to regroup slowly from her mono last year. She led eventual Indian Wells semifinalist Kirilenko by a set and a break, so she should feel encouraged by her progress. Young British hope Laura Robson rounds out this section’s crop of rising stars.
Veterans proliferate in the upper half of this section, from Jankovic and Petrova to Zheng and Schiavone. Indian Wells semifinalist Kerber will need to raise her spirits following a dispiriting loss to Wozniacki in which she seemed firmly in control and battled to the bitter end. If she can, none of the opponents in this section should match her blend of alert anticipation and lefty shot-making, although Sorana Cirstea flickered into form at Indian Wells by winning a set from Radwanska. A finalist in Miami during her prime, Jankovic did not bring her momentum from winning the Bogota clay tournament to North America and struggles to string together strong results. Of greater note is the eleventh-seeded Petrova, remarkable still near the elite in singles and doubles despite her age. This section remains difficult to predict as long as Azarenka’s status is uncertain, but Kerber looks poised to take advantage of a lapse by the Australian Open champion.
Check back tomorrow for a similar look at the men’s draw in Miami.
In the early stages of a draw as large as Indian Wells, more questions often are asked than answered as we learn just enough to know what we don’t know—and what we want to know. Here are twelve burning questions to ponder while the core of the tournament approaches.
1. Will Federer and Nadal meet for the first time in a year?
For the first time since their rivalry took flight, the archrivals did not clash on clay or grass last season. By placing them in the same quarter, the draw gods have done their best to ensure that they will meet at Indian Wells for the second straight year. Especially promising is Federer’s path, for only Ivan Dodig and the winner of Hewitt vs. Wawrinka stand between a Swiss star who looked crisp in his opening demolition of Denis Istomin. Nadal’s route looks generally benign as well on paper, but the surging Ernests Gulbis could pose a severe test if he can keep up the form that has carried him through his longest winning streak ever.
2. Will Azarenka and Wozniacki meet for the first time in two years?
The two BFFs last faced each other on this court in 2011, when Wozniacki held the #1 ranking and Azarenka faced serious questions about her physical and emotional durability. How times have changed since then. Now, Wozniacki must field questions about her continued relevance as a contender, while Azarenka has become the face of the WTA’s new generation (albeit not always the face that the WTA would want). What makes this potential quarterfinal between the last two Indian Wells champions intriguing is Wozniacki’s former control of their rivalry, which seemed not so much technical as psychological. Still undefeated this year, Vika looks nearly certain to reach that rendezvous if she can keep injuries at bay. Chronic nemesis Goerges still might intercept Caro, as might a revived Petrova.
3. Can Berdych take care of business?
As if the weakest quarter in the men’s draw needed to get any weaker, Kevin Anderson upset the only serious threat to the Czech in David Ferrer. With his route to the semifinals wide open, Berdych need not worry about anyone more dangerous than Gasquet. The Frenchman does happen to be rather dangerous at the moment, granted, since he has won two (small) titles this year and should prosper on the slow surface. But Berdych also has enjoyed a consistent season to date, so his superior weapons leave him in control of his own destiny.
4. Can Sharapova take care of business?
Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino. Sara Errani. Marion Bartoli. None of these potential pre-semifinal opponents ever has defeated Sharapova, and only once has any of them threatened her. That occasion did come recently at last year’s US Open, when Bartoli won the first set before Maria stormed back. All the same, the 2006 champion should overwhelm the Spanish journeywoman in the fourth round and rely on her dominance over those rivals to reach a third straight semifinal in the desert. Even without her best form against a top-25 opponent, Suarez Navarro, she eased through in straight sets by—as usual—growing more aggressive rather than less when the match could have tilted in either direction.
5. Should Murray’s fans be concerned?
After an easy third-round assignment, the competition will get stiff for the Scot as Nishikori and Del Potro loom. With those obstacles ahead, Murray would have benefited from a strong and efficient start to the tournament, but he didn’t get it in a three-set scare against Evgeny Donskoy. While the Russian has plenty of talent and ambition, he is not the sort of player expected to trouble one of the Big Four. Anybody and everybody has troubled Murray here recently, though, for he dropped seven consecutive sets at Indian Wells between a 2010 quarterfinal and the first set of his opener here. Hangovers from Australian Open disappointment have hampered him emotionally in those appearances, so his body language will bear watching if more sustained adversity arises. That said, he matches up extremely well to Nishikori and Del Potro, neither of whom ever has defeated him on a hard court.
6. Should Radwanska’s fans be concerned?
The sun of Indian Wells usually has not shone brightly on Radwanska, usually more successful at the tournament’s sequel in Miami. But her draw looks more comfortable than it often does, or at least it did until she toiled for two and a half hours to suppress Sorana Cirstea in the third round. The type of player whom Radwanska tends to dismantle with ease, the erratic yet powerful Romanian hit through her surprisingly often considering the court speed and her defensive skills. Radwanska also twice failed to serve out the match in the third set once she had reversed the momentum, a strange lapse for someone who has established herself as a fine competitor over the last eighteen months. Her next two projected opponents, Kirilenko and Kvitova, have spelled trouble for her at significant events before.
7. Which Novak will show up?
This question would have sounded ridiculous a set and a half into what looked like a humiliating rout of Fabio Fognini. When Djokovic threw away the second set and did not immediately reassert himself in the third, some eyebrows raised over this extended lapse. Also suggesting competitive fatigue was a minor altercation over a time violation warning that he received. Djokovic is not nearly as dangerous a player when his head is not in the right place, and early signs of trouble historically have spelled trouble later in the draw. If the man who smoothly struck every shot in the book during the first set returns, however, he will remain the title favorite. Djokovic may have time to collect himself, for his next two opponents do not look intimidating, nor did quarterfinal foe Tsonga in his convoluted victory over Blake.
8. Which Petra will show up?
Always a woman of two sides, Kvitova brought her bad version to the Australian hard courts and her good version to the Persian Gulf. As remarkable as it sounds, the same woman who won two games from Cibulkova one month came within two games of knocking off Serena (and demolished Radwanska) the next. More of a lamb than a lion in March recently, Kvitova showed some of both extremes in a three-set victory over the pedestrian Govortsova and a third-round battle with a qualifier that nearly reached a third set as well. She can contend for the title as convincingly as anyone, especially with her past success against Azarenka, but every opponent whom she faces should enter that match knowing that they have a chance.
9. Can a former US Open champion prove himself (again)?
When he knocked off Nadal and Federer in succession to win the 2009 US Open, Del Potro looked like the next big thing for the ATP. He still could be, but the odds of his becoming one of his generation’s great champions grow slimmer with every season since his wrist surgery in which the Big Four and even players like Ferrer throttle him. One of the few men who has won a major but not a Masters 1000 tournament, Del Potro may need to walk before he can run. In the peaceful environment of Indian Wells, where he has produced strong results before, he should take heart from the early frailty displayed by Djokovic and Murray.
10. Can a former US Open champion prove herself (again)?
Compared to Stosur’s recent results, those of Del Potro look positively brilliant. The 2011 US Open champion has not won a title since that miraculous breakthrough against Serena, and winning a single match lay beyond her abilities early in 2013. Unlike most players who win a major, the Aussie drew no fresh confidence from her achievement. The good news is that she finally has strung together a few victories in her recent tournaments, and a commanding victory over Keys showed form that could prove good enough to carry her through the weakest quarter in the women’s draw. When she last faced Azarenka at the US Open, Stosur extended her to a third-set tiebreak. Who knows what could happen in a semifinal against her if she accumulates some momentum before then?
11. Who will be the last American man standing?
There are two candidates left at this stage: Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey. Both find themselves uncomfortably close to Djokovic, never a good place to be. Fish is just grateful to have started to play matches again after his health scares, and anyone who believes that Querrey can become the next great American champion probably just clicked on an email from Nigeria. That said, the Californian deserves credit for surviving the elephantine serve of Ivo Karlovic, and it will be intriguing to see how he handles bearing the mantle of the top-ranked man from a nation frustrated with its tennis underachievement.
12. Who will be the last American woman standing?
Well, let’s take a look at the options. There’s Stephens and,…oh, she lost already? Anyway, there’s Keys, who…she’s gone too? Maybe Christina McHale with…hmm, Kirilenko came back? Time to do a Ctrl+F for USA on the women’s draw.
1 match. Jamie Hampton.
Enjoy the rest of the tournament, and feel free to suggest answers for questions 1-11 in the comments.
For the first time since Wimbledon 2012, all of the Big Four convene at the same tournament. We take a detailed look at a balanced Indian Wells ATP draw.
First quarter: Twice a champion at Indian Wells, Djokovic brings a perfect 2013 record to the desert following titles at the Australian Open and Dubai. Having faced Federer at neither tournament, he could face the Federer facsimile Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. While his one-handed backhand certainly spurs thoughts of the Swiss star, this young Bulgarian continues to alternate encouraging results (Brisbane final) with disappointing setbacks (first-round loss in Melbourne). The towering serve of Isner ultimately undid Djokovic in an Indian Wells semifinal last year, and Querrey’s similar game toppled him at the Paris Indoors last fall. Now the Serb can eye an opportunity for revenge in the fourth round, where he could meet the latter and will hope to stay mentally sturdier than he did against Isner here. A higher-ranked potential opponent does loom in Juan Monaco, but the world #14 has not won a match this year outside the Davis Cup as injuries have sapped his confidence. Among the intriguing first-round matches in this section is serving leviathan Karlovic against future American star and forehand howitzer Jack Sock.
Winless against the top eight from the start of 2012 until last month, Tsonga may have gained confidence from finally snapping that skid against Berdych in the Marseille final. On the other hand, he also lost immediately in Rotterdam to an unheralded opponent and thus still seems less trustworthy than most of those ranked around him. Rarely has he made an impact on Indian Wells, outside a near-upset over Nadal in 2008, but his draw looks accommodating through the first few rounds. Returning American Mardy Fish, a former finalist here, surely cannot sustain the level of tennis necessary to discomfit Tsonga at this stage of his comeback if they meet in the third round. In the opposite side of this eighth lies Milos Raonic, tasked with outslugging the more balanced but less intimidating Marin Cilic in the third round. Lesser players of note in this area include French serve-volleyer Michael Llodra, who upset Tsonga in Dubai, and Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, who has not won a match since stunning Nadal there. Although Tsonga obtained considerable success early in his career, his results against him have tapered so sharply of late that one might think Raonic the sterner test for the Serb.
Second quarter: Assigned probably the smoothest route of any top-four man, Murray cannot expect much resistance at a tournament where he reached the final four years ago. Nevertheless, early losses to Donald Young and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his last two appearances illustrated the Scot’s struggle to recover from his annual late-round disappointment in Australia. Murray will want to bounce back more smoothly this time on a slow hard court that suits his counterpunching so well. Looming in the fourth round is Memphis champion Kei Nishikori, who faces a potentially edgy opening test in Tursunov. Resuscitating his career in February, the Russian reached the Marseille semifinals as a qualifier and qualified for this draw as well. The mercurial Dolgopolov, the second-most notable player whom Murray could face in the fourth round, has floundered throughout 2013 and probably lacks the steadiness to threaten either Murray or Nishikori.
Of all the seeds whom he could have faced in the third round, Del Potro surely would have wished to avoid Australian Open nemesis Jeremy Chardy. The Frenchman receded into obscurity again after reaching the quarterfinals there, but he may hold the mental edge over Del Potro should each win his opener. Not since his first appearance in the desert five years ago, though, has the Tower of Tandil tumbled to anyone other than Federer or Nadal, and he has taken care of business against lower-ranked players with impressive consistency over the last year. One of the most compelling third rounds in the men’s draw could pit Almagro against Haas in a clash of exquisite one-handed backhands and volatile shot-making arsenals. The eleventh-seeded Spaniard has produced an early 2013 campaign inspiring and deflating in equal measure, but his Australian Open quarterfinal (nearly a semifinal) reminded viewers what a threat he can pose away from clay with his underrated serve. Accustomed to wearing down mentally dubious opponents, Murray should handle either Almagro or Haas with ease, and he compiled a flawless hard-court record against Del Potro even during the latter’s 2009 heights.
Third quarter: The section without any member of the Big Four often offers the most notable storylines of the early rounds, although Ferrer succeeded in living up to his top-four seed at both of the majors where he has held it. Never at his best in the desert, however, he may find his transition from clay to hard courts complicated by the two towering servers whom he could face at the outset in Kevin Anderson and Igor Sijsling. The latter upset Tsonga and nearly Cilic last month, while the former started the year impressively by reaching the second week of the Australian Open before injury sidelined him. Curiously, the fourth round might hold a less formidable test for Ferrer because his grinding game matches up more effectively to the two seeds projected there, Simon or Kohlschreiber. The quirky Benoit Paire and the lanky lefty from Luxembourg, Gilles Muller, add some individuality to an otherwise monochrome section, as does the invariably entertaining but terminally fading Verdasco.
Berdych may loom above the opposite eighth, considering his two February finals in strong fields at Marseille and Dubai. But an equally intriuging storyline may come from Jerzy Janowicz, still attempting to find his footing in the crucial post-breakthrough period when players encounter scrutiny for which they are not yet prepared. The next several months could prove critical for Janowicz in consolidating his seeded status, and he will deserve credit if he emerges from a neighborhood filled with diverse talent. Nalbandian could await in his opener, and the trio of Bellucci, Tomic, and Gasquet will vie for the right to face the Pole in the third round. Twice a titlist in 2013 already, the last of that trio has retained his top-ten ranking for a long time without scording a signature victory. Such a win could come in the quarterfinals if he can solve Berdych, unlikely to expend much energy before that stage against the likes of Troicki and Florian Mayer. The heavier serve of the Czech should propel him through on a hard court, though, as it should against a fourth seed who has not played as crisply this year as his results suggest.
Fourth quarter: Defending champion Federer can anticipate his first quarterfinal meeting with archrival Nadal in the history of their rivalry, but a few obstacles await before then. Like Del Potro, the second seed probably drew the least auspicious third-round opponent imaginable in Benneteau, who nearly upset him at Wimbledon last year and succeeded in finishing the job at Rotterdam last month. Federer obtained avenge for a February 2012 setback against Isner at Indian Wells a month later, so he can seek similar revenge this year. A rematch of last year’s final beckons against Isner himself in the fourth round, although little about the American’s recent form can infuse his fans with confidence that he even can reach that stage. Much more consistent this year is Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss #2 who played the most thrilling match of the Australian Open against Djokovic and backed it up with a February final. This section also features the most curious match on Thursday, an encounter between the battered Hewitt and the one-match wonder Lukas Rosol that should offer a clash of playing styles and personalities. Despite falling short of the final in his first three tournaments, Federer looks fully capable of sealing his side of the rendezvous with Nadal.
Not in much greater doubt is Rafa’s side of that appointment, for he could face no opponent more intimidating that Tipsarevic through the first four rounds. Young American Ryan Harrison looks set to become Nadal’s first hard-court opponent of 2013 (exhibitions aside), and his woeful results of the last several months intersect with a non-competitive effort against Djokovic in Melbourne to suggest a lack of confidence fatal here. While Youzhny has enjoyed several successes and near-successes against the Spaniard before, the Russian has left his prime several years behind him and lacks the power to outhit him for a full match. Hampered by injuries recently, the ninth-seeded Tipsarevic never has tested Nadal in their previous meetings and should count himself lucky to reach that projected meeting. The Serb’s current four-match losing streak could reach five in an opener against lefty serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez or Delray Beach champion Gulbis, who carries a ten-match winning streak of his own. Either the winner of that first-round meeting or the unpredictable Baghdatis seems a safer bet than Tipsarevic to meet Nadal one match before Federer. Afterwards, the Swiss should repeat his victory in their semifinal last year.
Check out the companion piece that we wrote yesterday to preview the women’s draw if you enjoyed this article.
Read about what to expect from the first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2013 as we break down each quarter of the WTA Indian Wells draw in detail!
First quarter: For the second straight year, Azarenka arrives in the desert with a perfect season record that includes titles at the Australian Open and the Premier Five tournament in Doha. Able to defend those achievements, she eyes another prestigious defense at Indian Wells on a surface that suits her balanced hybrid of offense and defense as well as any other. In her opener, she could face the only woman in the draw who has won multiple titles here, Daniela Hantuchova, although the more recent of her pair came six long years ago. Since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, Kirsten Flipkens staggered to disappointing results in February, so Azarenka need not expect too stern a test from the Belgian. Of perhaps greater concern is a rematch of her controversial Melbourne semifinal against Sloane Stephens, who aims to bounce back from an injury-hampered span with the encouragement of her home crowd. Heavy fan support for the opponent can fluster Azarenka, or it can bring out her most ferocious tennis, which makes that match one to watch either way. Of some local interest is the first-round match between Jamie Hampton, who won a set from Vika in Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur runner-up Mattek-Sands.
The most intriguing first-round match in the lower section of this quarter pits Laura Robson against the blistering backhands of Sofia Arvidsson. In fact, plenty of imposing two-handers highlight that neighborhood with those of Julia Goerges and the tenth-seeded Petrova also set to shine. The slow courts of Indian Wells might not suit games so high on risk and low on consistency, possibly lightening the burden on former champion Wozniacki. Just two years ago, the Dane won this title as the world #1, and she reached the final in 2010 with her characteristic counterpunching. Downed relatively early in her title defense last year, she has shown recent signs of regrouping with strong performances at the Persian Gulf tournaments in February. On the other hand, a quick loss as the top seed in Kuala Lumpur reminded viewers that her revival remains a work in progress. She has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s breakthrough in mid-2011, so a quarterfinal between them would offer fascinating evidence as to whether Caro can preserve her mental edge over her friend.
Second quarter: Unremarkable so far this year, Kerber has fallen short of the form that carried her to a 2012 semifinal here and brings a three-match losing streak to the desert. Even with that recent history, she should survive early tests from opponents like Heather Watson and the flaky Wickmayer before one of two fellow lefties poses an intriguing challenge in the fourth round. For the second straight year, Makarova reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and her most significant victory there came against Kerber in a tightly contested match of high quality. Dogged by erratic results, this Russian may find this surface too slow for her patience despite the improved defense and more balanced weapons that she showed in Melbourne. Another woman who reached the second week there, Bojana Jovanovski, hopes to prove that accomplishment more than just a quirk of fate, which it seems so far. Also in this section is the enigmatic Safarova, a woman of prodigious talent but few results to show for it. If she meets Makarova in the third round, an unpredictable clash could ensue, after which the winner would need to break down Kerber’s counterpunching.
Stirring to life in Doha and Dubai, where she reached the quarterfinals at both, Stosur has played much further below her ranking this year than has Kerber. A disastrous Australian season and Fed Cup weekend have started to fade a bit, however, for a woman who has reached the Indian Wells semifinals before. Stosur will welcome the extra time that the court gives her to hit as many forehands as possible, but she may not welcome a draw riddled with early threats. At the outset, the US Open champion could face American phenom Madison Keys, who raised eyebrows when she charged within a tiebreak of the semifinals in a strong Sydney draw. The feisty Peng, a quarterfinalist here in 2011, also does not flinch when facing higher-ranked opponents, so Stosur may breathe a sigh of relief if she reaches the fourth round. Either of her likely opponents there shares her strengths of powerful serves and forehands as well as her limitations in mobility and consistency. Losing her only previous meeting with Mona Barthel, on the Stuttgart indoor clay, Ivanovic will seek to reverse that result at a tournament where she usually has found her most convincing tennis even in her less productive periods. Minor injuries have nagged her lately, while Barthel has reached two finals already in 2013 (winning one), so this match could prove compelling if both silence other powerful servers around them, like Lucie Hradecka.
Third quarter: Another woman who has reached two finals this year (winning both), the third-seeded Radwanska eyes perhaps the easiest route of the elite contenders. Barring her path to the fourth round are only a handful of qualifiers, an anonymous American wildcard, an aging clay specialist who has not won a match all year, and the perenially underachieving Sorana Cirstea. Radwanska excels at causing raw, error-prone sluggers like Cirstea to implode, and she will face nobody with the sustained power and accuracy to overcome her in the next round either. In that section, Christina McHale attempts to continue a comeback from mono that left her without a victory for several months until a recent breakthrough, and Maria Kirilenko marks her return from injury that sidelined her after winning the Pattaya City title. Although she took Radwanska deep into the final set of a Wimbledon quarterfinal last year, and defeated her at a US Open, the Russian should struggle if rusty against the more confident Aga who has emerged since late 2011. Can two grass specialists, Pironkova and Paszek, cause a stir in this quiet section?
Not much more intimidating is the route that lies before the section’s second highest-ranked seed, newly minted Dubai champion Kvitova. Although she never has left a mark on either Indian Wells or Miami, Kvitova suggested that she had ended her habitual struggles in North America by winning the US Open Series last summer with titles in Montreal and New Haven. Able to enter and stay in torrid mode like the flip of a switch, she aims to build on her momentum from consecutive victories over three top-ten opponents there. The nearest seeded opponent to Kvitova, Yaroslava Shvedova, has struggled to string together victories since her near-upset of Serena at Wimbledon, although she nearly toppled Kvitova in their most recent meeting at Roland Garros. Almost upsetting Azarenka near this time a year ago, Cibulkova looks to repeat her upset over the Czech in Sydney when they meet in the fourth round. Just reaching that stage would mark a step forward for her, though, considering her failure to build upon her runner-up appearance there and the presence of ultra-steady Zakopalova. Having dominated Radwanska so thoroughly in Dubai, Kvitova should feel confident about that test.
Fourth quarter: Semifinalist in 2011, finalist in 2012, champion in 2013? Before she can think so far ahead, the second-seeded Sharapova must maneuver past a string of veteran Italians and other clay specialists like Suarez Navarro. Aligned to meet in the first round are the former Fed Cup teammates Pennetta and Schiavone in one of Wednesday’s most compelling matches, but the winner vanishes directly into Sharapova’s jaws just afterwards. The faltering Varvara Lepchenko could meet the surging Roberta Vinci, who just reached the semifinals in Dubai with victories over Kuznetsova, Kerber, and Stosur. Like Kvitova, then, she brings plenty of positive energy to a weak section of the draw, where her subtlety could carry her past the erratic or fading players around her. But Sharapova crushed Vinci at this time last year, and she never has found even a flicker of self-belief against the Russian.
Once notorious for the catfights that flared between them, Jankovic and Bartoli could extend their bitter rivalry in the third round at a tournament where both have reached the final (Jankovic winning in 2010, Bartoli falling to Wozniacki a year later). Between them stands perhaps a more convincing dark horse candidate in Kuznetsova, not far removed from an Australian Open quarterfinal appearance that signaled her revival. Suddenly striking the ball with confidence and even—gasp—a modicum of thoughtfulness, she could draw strength from the memories of her consecutive Indian Wells finals in 2007-08. If Kuznetsova remains young enough to recapture some of her former prowess, her compatriot Pavlyuchenkova also has plenty of time to rebuild a career that has lain in ruins for over a year. By playing close to her potential, she could threaten Errani despite the sixth seed’s recent clay title defense in Acapulco. Not in a long time has anyone in this area challenged Sharapova, though.
Come back tomorrow before the start of play in the men’s draw to read a similar breakdown!