Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in the 2011 Indian Wells final for the first of seven straight Djokovic victories over Nadal. (EPA)
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The ATP and WTA Tours heat up this week at the BNP Paribas Open as pretty much all the top men's and women's players are in the field (Andrea Petkovic is the only top 10 player on either side who's not). The draws are out, so we have a better picture for who's poised for success and who has a tough road ahead. Here's a closer look.
For the second big tournament in a row, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal find themselves in the same half of the draw. It's a weird thing to get used to, especially if you're Federer, who surely wishes things went back to the good ol' days when he could only meet Nadal in the finals. And for those who loved the semifinals and final of the Australian Open, the Indian Wells draw means that unless the field can stop them, we're looking at a semifinal redux of Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray and Nadal vs. Federer. But are we headed for the same result?
Here's a breakdown:
Djokovic's half: Djokovic anchors the top half of the draw alongside Murray, Tomas Berdych and Mardy Fish. In fact, along with Fish, almost every other notable American has landed in this half, with Andy Roddick and Sam Querrey in Berdych's section, Ryan Harrison in Murray's and John Isner in Fish's. If Fish can finally string together some victories, he could face Isner in the fourth round, with both men potentially vying for a shot against Murray in the quarterfinals. I actually like Isner's chances here. He gets a qualifier in the second round; he beat Juan Monaco the only time they've played; and in a match against Fish, I give him the edge as Fish has had a sluggish start to 2012.
As for Djokovic's quarter, it's impossible to bet against the Serb to ease his way into the semifinals. There's potential for big-serving Delray champ Kevin Anderson to score a shocking upset in the third round, but it's just hard to see Djokovic falling before the semis.
Notable potential early-round matches: Nicolas Almagro vs. Querrey (second round); Roddick vs. Ivo Karlovic (second round); Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut (third round); Harrison vs. Murray (third round); Djokovic vs. Anderson (third round); Roddick vs. Berdych (third round); Kei Nishikori vs. Almagro (third round).
Nadal's half: Should we be concerned that Nadal hasn't played a match since Melbourne? Probably not. He didn't play a Tour event after the Australian Open in 2010 and 2011 (thought he played Davis Cup in 2011) and he did just fine at Indian Wells, making at least the semifinals both times. When he played Rotterdam in 2009 after Melbourne, he went on to win Indian Wells, so one could make the argument that extra matches would have been beneficial. Still, I expect Nadal to be well rested and hungry for competition. He'll have time to play himself into form, with projected early-round matches with Alejandro Falla (who upset Fish at the Australian Open), Marcel Granollers and Feliciano Lopez in the fourth round. Then things will get tricky. Nadal could play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals, which is always a tough assignment on a hardcourt.
The trickier draw is for Federer, who comes into Indian Wells on a 10-match winning streak. He's likely to face Milos Raonic in the third round, Gael Monfils or Jurgen Melzer in the fourth round and Juan Martin del Potro or David Ferrer in the quarterfinals. Those are all winnable matches for Federer on any given day, but if any of those guys get into a zone, Federer could be in trouble. He hasn't made the final in Indian Wells since 2006, when he beat James Blake for his third consecutive title at the year's first ATP Masters event.
Notable potential early-round matches: Michael Llodra vs. Ernests Gulbis (first round); Bernard Tomic vs. Janko Tipsarevic (second round); Lopez vs. Marcos Baghdatis (second round); Monfils vs. Nikolay Davydenko (second round); Raonic vs. Federer (third round); Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Lopez (third round); Del Potro vs. Fernando Verdasco (third round); Monfils vs. Melzer (third round).
Semifinal prediction: Djokovic vs. Isner; Del Potro vs. Nadal.
Winner: Nadal def. Djokovic.
Vika the Shrieka has become Vika the Streaka (though to be fair, she still shrieks), and she's aiming to extend her season-opening 17-match winning streak. Her chances look pretty good given the fact that she's the only player on the WTA Tour who isn't surrounded by question marks, and so far she's relished the role of being the hunted.
Here's how the women's draw breaks down.
Azarenka's half: If the draw holds up (and that's always a huge "if" when we're talking about the WTA), Azarenka is going to have her work cut out for her. Her path to the final could include Svetlana Kuznetsova (third round), Julia Goerges (fourth), Agnieszka Radwanska (quarters) and Petra Kvitova or Li Na in the semis. Goerges has the firepower to hit almost anyone off the court, Kuznetsova leads the head-to-head 4-1 (though they haven't played since 2009), Li is 4-3 against her and Kvitova leads 4-2. As for Azarenka's most recent pigeon, Radwanska, I highly advise you all to add popcorn to your shopping list. After Radwanska's recent remarks, who doesn't want to see that match go down?
Kvitova and Li anchor the other section of the draw's top half and, depending on their form (both are coming off injury layoffs), they should meet in the quarterfinals. Keep an eye on Angelique Kerber and Daniela Hantuchova, though. Kerber recently won Paris and Hantuchova has been solid all year. Both could play significant spoiler roles on that side of the bracket.
Notable potential early-round matches: Sonia Cirstea vs. Radwanska (second round); Azarenka vs. Kuznetsova (third round); Kvitova vs. Christina McHale (third round); Hantuchova vs. Vera Zvonareva (third round).
Maria Sharapova's half: If there's one seeded player who pulled the short stick in the draw, it's Samantha Stosur. The Aussie is in the same quarter as Sharapova, whom she's beaten only once in 10 tries, and is surrounded by players who have given her problems in the past (Nadia Petrova, Maria Kirilenko and Sabine Lisicki). None of those three are playing particularly well at the moment, but Stosur's form has been spotty as well. The quarter is Sharapova's to take. She has some tricky potential matches with streaky players like Gisela Dulko (second round), Petra Cetkovska (third round) and Dominika Cibulkova, but none of those three have been playing terribly well this year.
Opposite Sharapova is the free-for-all section of the draw. It's hard to call Marion Bartoli a "sleeper" pick considering she's the defending finalist here, but no one's talking about her at the moment. Her body can always fail her at any given time, but she has to like the draw. The seeds in her section? Kaia Kanepi, Lucie Safarova and Francesca Schiavone. Opposite her is the ordinarily reliable Caroline Wozniacki, who hasn't made a final all year and could face some formidable opposition early in the form of Ekaterina Makarova and Ana Ivanovic. You get the sense that the players smell blood in the water when it comes to Wozniacki these days, and while she's no longer No. 1, she's still a player everyone is gunning for.
Notable potential early-round matches: Wozniacki vs. Makarova (second round); Kirilenko vs. Lisicki (third round); Bartoli vs. Kanepi (third round); Schiavone vs. Safarova (third round); Stosur vs. Petrova (third round).
Semifinal prediction: Radwanska vs. Kvitova; Sharapova vs. Bartoli.
Winner: Sharapova def. Radwanska. So what do you think? Will Nadal finally solve Djokovic? Does Azarenka's streak end here in Indian Wells? Sound off in the comments.