Big Four Round Up: Pre Indian Wells

While not the most blockbuster week for tennis in terms of tournaments played, all members of the “Big Four” were active last week in smaller, lead up tournaments before they begin their Indian Wells bids later this week. Here’s a  rundown as to how they all did, as well as my thoughts on how each might do in Indian Wells (subject to change after the draws come out).

  1. Andy Murray: After a disappointing early exit from the Australian Open, followed by a case of shingles, the world number 1 bounced back quite nicely this week, winning his first tournament of the year in Dubai. Granted, he didn’t have to play either Roger Federer or Stan Wawrinka, who both went down in surprisingly early upsets, but still. After fighting off seven match points in the quarterfinals against Kohlschreiber, Murray went on to win the title rather routinely. He enjoyed the most successful week of any of the Big Four, added to his lead over Djokovic in the rankings, and heads into Indian Wells with definite momentum.

    Prediction for Indian Wells: This is a tough one. Murray has never played particularly well at this tournament, and last year he went out in the 3rd round. It seems likely that he’ll improve upon his results this year, but even at number 1, I don’t know if he goes in as the favorite here. I do expect him to reach at least the semifinals, though, and if ever there was a year where you’d assume he stood the best chance to win, it’s this one.

  2. Rafa Nadal: If Nadal had won the title in Acapulco, it’d be a toss-up between him and Murray for who had the best week. Leading up to his final against Sam Querrey, Rafa probably looked the best out of the four. He didn’t drop a set before losing to Querrey, and he was hitting his forehand clean and early, and moving around the court beautifully. Nadal didn’t play poorly in the final, either. He just happened to come up against an extremely in-form Querrey, who when he’s on, has the type of game that can beat anyone on any given day.

    Prediction for Indian Wells: I think Rafa might be my favorite to win the title (which is something I would’ve scoffed at if you asked me even two months ago). He’s playing well, and after two consecutive finals without a trophy, you know he’ll be highly motivated to win.

    Novak Djokovic: Another tournament, another week that left tennis analysts scratching their heads as to what to make of Djokovic’s tennis at the moment. While there’s no denying that since last year’s French Open, Novak has experienced a decline in his level of play (and perhaps his desire to win), I actually come away feeling more positive about his game than I did after his loss in Australia.  First off, Djokovic had a hell of a draw in Acapulco. Starting with Klizan, than Del Potro, and ending in his quarterfinal loss to Nick Kyrgios all of those opponents are dangerous. Kyrgios especially has perhaps the best raw talent and skill set of any of the younger generation of players, and when he’s motivated to play his best (which he clearly was against Novak) he’s another guy that can beat pretty much anyone. In his match against Djokovic, Kyrgios served 25 aces, hit 41 winners, and made only 14 unforced errors. I’m not sure who beats that. Djokovic played well in this match, too, except for the final game where nerves seemed to get the best of him, and he piled up three quick errors to make it 0-40 and give Kyrgios three match points. Novak was also visibly upset after his loss and post-match press conference, in which he said a total of 12 words. He looked excited to be back on court, and extremely disappointed to be leaving there without a title. Passion has been seemingly missing in Djokovic’s game for a while now, and it appears as though he’s rediscovering it again.

    Prediction for Indian Wells: Djokovic plays well at Indian Wells, and he’s won there the last three years in a row. I don’t know if he wins this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, either. Regardless, I think he has a good run here, and like Murray, makes it at least to the semi-finals.

  3. Roger Federer: Last week is likely a week Federer plans on forgetting as quickly as possible. His first tournament since his near mythical run in Australia, Federer went down, and went down badly to a qualifier ranked 116, Evgeny Donskoy in three sets. It wasn’t just the loss itself that was bad, but the way in which Federer lost. After taking the first set, he had three match points in the second that he let go. Then he was up 5-2 in the third set, before once again failing to convert, leading to a third set tiebreak where Federer was  up 5-1, before yet again, blowing the lead and allowing Donskoy to win. Federer is one of the best front-runners in the game, so to have him blow a lead not once, not twice, but three times, and fail to close out a match? That’s a bad day at the office.

    Prediction for Indian Wells: Honestly, I have no idea. The good news is that Federer is one of the best in the game at forgetting a bad match and moving on to the next tournament without much residual scar tissue. Like Djokovic, he’s also had great results at this tournament in the past, and was in the final against Novak in 2015. But being ranked 9th in the draw means that Federer will likely come up against stiffer competition earlier in the tournament. This didn’t prove to be a problem at the Australian Open, but that doesn’t mean it won’t pose an added difficulty at Indian Wells. At this point I think it’s just as likely Federer suffers another early exit as it is he wins the whole tournament. I think he will probably make the quarters or even semis, but I just don’t see him winning another big title this soon after Australia. It’s a prediction I’d be happy to be proven wrong on, though.