The first Masters 1000 event of 2016 promises plenty to intrigue as it shifts toward top gear in Indian Wells, California. A full 17 of the top 20 ranked men will be at the desert resort for the first of the nine premier tournaments on the ATP Tour, with world No.1 Novak Djokovic going for a fifth title and a third in a row.
Djokovic has completed just two matches on tour since lifting the Australian Open title at the end of January after being forced to withdraw due to an eye infection in Dubai last month. The Serbian returned to the court for last week’s Davis Cup first-round tie, when he came from behind to beat Mikhail Kukushkin in a five-set tussle he described as “the most psychologically and physically difficult match” in his career.
The victory en route to a 3-2 win for Serbia over Kazakhstan set up a mouthwatering quarterfinal matchup with Great Britain and the man ranked second in the world, Andy Murray. Like Djokovic, Murray took an extended break following the first Grand Slam of the year, although the Scot’s time off was likely significantly more hectic than that of his long-time rival.
Just days after his loss to Djokovic in the Australian Open final, Murray welcomed the birth of his first child, and now faces his first extended trip away from home since becoming a father. And he will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Djokovic and Roger Federer, who have both continued to win titles after becoming fathers.
“I spoke to Roger a little bit in Cincinnati about it, I spoke to Novak a little bit about it ... Everyone’s a bit different,” Murray, who begins his Indian Wells campaign against Marcel Granollers on Saturday, told the ATP Tour website. “Kim’s [Sears, Murray’s wife] not massively into travelling every week whereas some of the partners on tour like travelling and that works for them. It’s just about trying to find what works for you.”
“I’ve been sleeping decent, which is important, and I’ll try to get some practice in the next few days to get better used to the conditions. I haven’t hit a ball outdoors for about five or six weeks so it’s quite different.”
Fellow dad Federer will not be in Indian Wells, as the 17-time Grand Slam champion continues his recovery from knee surgery. Stepping up to the position of third seed, then, will be fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka, who will be aiming to improve on a dismal record at the event, which sees two quarterfinals as his best results.
It also means Rafael Nadal will get the advantage of moving up to the position of fourth seed, something the Spaniard will be desperate to take advantage of. It has been a difficult start to 2016 for the 14-time Grand Slam winner, with his first-round loss at the Australian Open being followed up by back-to-back semifinal defeats in two clay-court events in South America. Nadal has yet to beat a player ranked inside the top 50 in four attempts in 2016, yet will have to do just that in the second round in Indian Wells, if Gilles Muller gets past Victor Estrella Burgos.
The 32 seeds receive a bye through the opening round and will play their opening matches on Saturday and Sunday. Already surely the pick of the second round matches has been set, with former finalist Juan Martin del Potro booking a contest with sixth seed Tomas Berdych. Argentine Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, has been forced to undergo multiple wrist surgeries in recent times and has hardly played for two years. In just his second tournament back, and first appearance at Indian Wells since 2013, he overcame American Tim Smyczek in an impressive straight-sets victory on Thursday.
“I think I played well, but I am so happy to be playing tennis again,” he said afterward. “I missed the sport a lot, suffering at home as I tried to fix my wrist. It's great to be at this big tournament, playing on Centre Court and being around the top guys. It's very positive just to be here. I think I surprised myself with my level. I didn't expect to play that well tonight. I have worked hard to be competitive.”
Indian Wells TV schedule (all times EST)
Saturday, March 13
2 p.m. -2 a.m.: Second round, Tennis Channel
Sunday, March 14
2 p.m.-2 a.m.: Second round, Tennis Channel
Monday, March 14
2 p.m.-2 a.m.: Third round, Tennis Channel
Tuesday, March 15
2 p.m.-2 a.m.: Third round, Tennis Channel
Wednesday, March 16
2 p.m.-2 a.m.: Fourth round, Tennis Channel
Thursday, March 17
2 p.m.-6 p.m.: Quarterfinals, ESPN2
Friday, March 18
3 p.m.-5 p.m.: Quarterfinals, ESPN
7 p.m.-10 p.m.: Quarterfinals, Tennis Channel
10 p.m.-2 a.m.: Quarterfinals, ESPN2
Saturday, March 19
2 p.m.-7 p.m.: Semifinals, ESPN
Sunday, March 20
2 p.m.-6 p.m.: Final, ESPN