Nadal, Murray, Federer and Wawrinka set to clash in Indian Wells
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The men's BNP Paribas Open has the potential for a slew of blockbuster matches after Roger Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray all landed in defending champion Rafael Nadal's half of the draw on Tuesday.
That's potentially bad news for Nadal but it's good news for fans. Should the seeds hold, Murray and Nadal could face off for the first time in nearly two and a half years. The winner could earn a semifinal berth against the winner of an all-Swiss quarterfinal between Federer and Wawrinka, who haven't played in a year.
Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the top two seeds. Here's a breakdown of the draw, which you can view here.
Nadal's minefield: Not unlike the Australian Open, Nadal's half is littered with dangerous, talented players who are capable of pulling off a big upset. His section alone includes a potential third-round match against an in-form Alexandr Dolgopolov and a potential fourth-round clash with Gael Monfils, followed by a possible quarterfinal with Murray. Get through those matches and he could get an Australian Open final rematch against Wawrinka or Federer.
Would I actually pick any of those players to beat Nadal? No. But with the tricky conditions in the desert and the best-of-three format, this is by no means an easy draw.
Djokovic should cruise: The two-time champion comes in title-less on the year for the first time since 2006, when he was ranked outside the top 50. Djokovic, who has lost to Wawrinka and Federer this year, should be pleased to see his draw, which is far weaker than Nadal's top half, particularly with the concerns surrounding Juan Martin del Potro's left wrist. The biggest threats to Djokovic's path to the final are Del Potro, who beat him here last year, and Tomas Berdych, who is 16-3 this year. Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov and Ernests Gulbis can also bust open a draw, though Dimitrov and Gulbis could play each other, for the third time in the last four weeks, in the third round, with the winner likely to play Berdych.
The Swiss section: Federer and Wawrinka haven't played each other since this tournament last year, when an injured Federer overcame back pain to eke out a 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-5 win in the round of 16. Wawrinka is now the higher-ranked Swiss and a Slam champion. Wawrinka has defeated Federer only once in 14 meetings. The two could meet in the quarterfinals to potentially earn a date with Nadal in the semifinals. While a Nadal-Federer semifinal will surely be hyped beyond belief, given their iconic rivalry and Federer's good run of form lately, it's the Nadal-Wawrinka rematch that I want to see.
The hot hands: While most of the world was either taking a break from tennis in February or transfixed by Sochi, a handful of players took advantage of the tour's smaller tournaments to establish their form. No. 24 seed Cilic made three straight hard-court finals, winning two of them, before taking a well-deserved break last week. No. 17 Kevin Anderson reached back-to-back hard-court finals. And Dimitrov, now up to a career-high No. 16 after winning the Mexican Open last week, is definitely one to watch.
Sleeping slumpers: We all know the type of tennis Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and John Isner can produce when they're at their best, but they're all still trying to get in gear this season. Tsonga, seeded ninth, hasn't beaten a top-10 player since the 2013 French Open -- well, unless you count him beating himself, which has happened often -- while Gasquet hasn't toppled one since Beijing last fall. Isner, whose season has been derailed by a foot injury, hasn't defeated a top-20 player since his run to the Cincinnati final last August. Injuries are the story for Milos Raonic (ankle) and Tommy Haas (shoulder) as well.Prediction: Djokovic d. Nadal. I went out on a limb with my WTA predictions, but it's still hard to pick against these two. Djokovic is as motivated as ever to get a jump on his season after failing to defend his Australian Open title or win last week in Dubai.