Words by Jack Sumner
The ATP Tour enters the American hard court swing with the first Masters 1000 tournament of the year…
One of two tournaments (along with the Miami Masters) that features more participants than any other non-grand slam event on tour, the arrival of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells is among the most anticipated dates on the ATP calendar.
Following a February in which the top players have varying schedules, the first Masters 1000 tournament of the year in early March is where the season really picks up from where the Australian Open left off. This year’s line-up is testament to that tradition, with 19 of the world’s top 20 ranked players and 45 of the top 50 among the 96-strong draw.
Action in the main draw gets under way on Thursday.
Indian Wells (BNP Paribas Open):
Location: Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Indian Wells, California, USA.
Founded: 1976 (42nd edition)
Prize fund: $7 Million
2017 dates: 6-8th March (qualifying), 9th-19th March (main draw).
Defending 2016 champion: Novak Djokovic
Most titles: Novak Djokovic (5)
Points breakdown*: Winner – 1000, runner-up – 600, semi-finalist – 360, quarter-finalist – 180, round-of-16 – 90, round of 32 – 45, round of 64 – 25, round of 128 – 10.
(*The 32 seeded players receive a bye to the second round and automatically accumulate rankings points for that round)
‘Big Three’ dominance
Since Roger Federer first lifted this trophy in 2004, 12 of the last 13 titles at Indian Wells have been won by the era’s consensus ‘Big Three’; Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic is the most successful player in the history of the tournament, claiming the title five times in his career including the last three consecutive years. Having won four times, Federer is second on the all-time list while Nadal’s three titles place him level with Jim Courier and Michael Chang at third on the honour roll.
Current world number one Andy Murray, often considered alongside his contemporary triumvirate to complete a ‘Big Four’, has yet to win a title at Indian Wells, but reached the final in 2009, losing to Nadal.
Surprisingly, the player in the top ten with the most to gain in terms of a potential ranking points shift is world number one Murray, who after losing in last year’s 3rd round only has 45 points to defend. Further emboldening Murray’s position, the player with the most to lose is of course defending champion Djokovic. Should Murray win the tournament and Djokovic suffer a surprise early rounds exit, there could be more than 4,000 points to separate the world’s top two players by the start of the Miami Masters in a fortnight’s time.
On Monday, world number four Milos Raonic announced his withdrawal from the BNP Paribas Open due to a hamstring injury, a decision that will cost him 600 points as last year’s runner-up. That will see him overtaken by world number five Kei Nishikori, regardless of how the Japanese fares at Indian Wells. Raonic will retain his top five ranking however as long as number six Rafael Nadal doesn’t make the final. If Nadal does make the final though, he can also leapfrog Nishikori if the latter fails to advance beyond the last 16.
With no ranking points to defend having missed last year’s tournament through injury, world number ten Roger Federer can rise as high as seventh if he at least matches Dominic Thiem and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s progress and betters the advancement of Marin Cilic.
|Ranking||Player||Total points||Points defending at Indian Wells||Next best*|
(*On account of having played additional tournaments to those that are currently accounted for in the rankings, these replace Indian Wells points if they are a higher value after points are dropped. For example, if Dominic Thiem earns only 45 points for reaching the third round of Indian Wells, his ‘next best’ score of 90 supersedes those points and is factored into his overall points tally.)
Outlook for the top seeds
Given the rankings scenario, this year’s Indian Wells offers a tremendous opportunity for Murray to consolidate his current hold at the top of the men’s game. With number two Djokovic continuing to battle against his outstanding start to 2016 between now and June’s French Open, victory here could all but cement Murray’s position at the top of the rankings until Wimbledon.
But maintaining his ranking isn’t the priority for Murray here. By adding Indian Wells to his title collection, it adds further fuel to the argument that the Scot should be considered a legitimate member of that ‘Big Four’.
Murray actually enters Indian Wells on a Masters winning streak, having captured the last two titles of 2016 in Shanghai and Paris. He has also reached the final in the last five Masters events he has competed in, finishing running up in Madrid and Cincinnati and winning Rome.
Last week, Murray rebounded from his disappointing Australian Open campaign by winning the Dubai 500 for the first time, so he arrives in California with good momentum.
Djokovic is a man still capable of winning titles, but right now he seems as likely to lose in the opening rounds. The Serbian turns 30 in May, reaching a milestone that is typically followed by decline, and there is a growing feeling that the window of opportunity for Novak to add to his legacy is closing fast.
Last week he reached the semi-finals of the Acapulco 500 in Mexico, only to be beaten in straight sets by the mercurial Nick Kyrgios. Following the defeat, a frustrated Djokovic publicly stressed how ‘tennis was no longer his number one priority’ since the birth of son Stefan.
Optimism around Novak retaining his title at Indian Wells is waning fast.
After an impressive run to the Australian Open semi-finals, 2017 has really tailed off for Stan Wawrinka. The world number three pulled out of Rotterdam in early February with a knee injury and upon his return to action in Dubai last week – where he won last year – the defending champion was ousted in the opening round after a straight sets loss to world number 77 Damir Dzumhur.
Wawrinka reached the fourth round at Indian Wells in 2016, but it’s difficult to gauge how he’ll perform this year. Was the defeat to Dzumhur a blip, or could the knee still be bothering him?
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer
Nadal and Federer’s journey to an incredible Australian Open final was gloriously unexpected and left tennis fans hopeful that the two heavyweights of the game would continue to turn back the clock as the year progressed. Indian Wells is the first opportunity of real significance to see how the next chapter of each man’s career will play out, though they were both in action last week, with contrasting results.
Federer was shockingly beaten by a defiant Evgeny Donskoy in the second round in Dubai, a tournament the Swiss has won on a record eight occasions. Roger squandered five match points as world number 116 Donskoy battled to victory in three tight sets. Nadal faired much better reaching the final in Acapulco without losing a set, only to lose in straight sets to American Sam Querrey.
The fortunes of tennis’s two favourite elder statesmen will be one of the most intriguing subplots in the first Masters event of the year.