The first Masters 1000 event of the year comes in the form of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. After defeating John Isner in the final last year, Roger Federer became the first player to win the tournament four times (2004, 2005, 2006, 2012) pulling ahead of Jimmy Connors and Michael Chang. There had been some controversy surrounding the tournament and their prize money structure after the ATP vote on agreeing to a rise for the tournament had not been accepted at first. They eventually voted for the increase, where the winner will receive $1,000,000. The tournament is a 96 player draw, with all seeds getting first round byes.
Top seed Novak Djokovic was knocked out in the semi finals here last year but will be favourite to pick up the title this time round. He opens against either Fabio Fognini or Aljaz Bedene. Fognini needed a third set tie break to beat his Slovenian opponent just last week, eventually departing in the semi finals to David Ferrer in Acapulco. The Italian managed to win a set in his last encounter against Djokovic but it would be a big surprise if he could do so again. After starting the year in awful form with four straight defeats in tournament play, Grigor Dimitrov finally got going with a semi final run in Rotterdam. After qualifying, Matthew Ebden will hope to spring a shock against the Bulgarian should he make it through. Andrey Kuznetsov has struggled to make the step up from the challenger circuit with a 3-6 record this year but a straight sets win against an admittedly unfit Juan Monaco in Australia should at least give him some confidence.
One of two potential all-American second round matches, Jack Sock can book a match with Sam Querrey if he defeats Ivo Karlovic. Sock has finally started showing some of his true potential, with an exceptional victory over Milos Raonic in Memphis the highlight of his last few weeks. Querrey was one of the favourites in Delray Beach but managed to a blow a 4-0 lead in a deciding set against the eventual winner Ernests Gulbis. Wildcard Tommy Robredo or Marinko Matosevic have a great chance of making the third round, with the winner of their match taking on Juan Monaco. The Argentinian is yet to win this year aside from the Davis Cup, going 0-3. Matosevic made the semi final of Delray Beach to avoid taking too much of a points hit after his final last year while Robredo has proved his fitness after missing half of 2012. The Spaniard made the semi final and second round in Buenos Aires and Acapulco, losing to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro respectively.
Both Albert Ramos and more so Horacio Zeballos have had an impressive run on the Golden Swing but the winner will find it very difficult to get anything from Marin Cilic. Zeballos defeated Ramos on the way to the Vina del Mar title and already has a hard court challenger title under his belt this year. A third round for the Cilic against Canada’s Milos Raonic looks most likely. Raonic faces either Michael Llodra or the in-form Daniel Munoz de la Nava. The Spanish qualifier has been in impressive form recently, making a surprise run to the Delray Beach quarter finals.
One of the big stories of the tournament is the return of Mardy Fish, whose health problems have forced him out of tennis since the US Open. Bobby Reynolds could ensure an American makes the third round if he can defeat Benjamin Becker who has won just twice this year on the main tour. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be fairly happy with his draw, he faces either James Blake or Robin Haase, who after a surprise run in Zagreb added another two first round exits to his long list of disappointing results recently though Haase has a chance here and will draw confidence from the 2-1 record he holds over the American.
Andy Murray has surprisingly struggled here in recent years, losing to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Donald Young in his opening matches in the past two tournaments. Evgeny Donskoy or Tatsuma Ito aren’t exactly names to get you worried but Murray’s tendencies in the past two years to let his Australian Open disappointments linger for a long time at least add some intrigue to either second round affair. Neither player has done much to shout about though this year while Ito is making a comeback from injury after a retirement in Rotterdam qualifiers. Martin Klizan has opened the year in disappointing form going just 3-6 but it would be a surprise if either Yen Hsun Lu or Tim Smyczek shock the Slovakian. Both players were a victim of Kevin Anderson’s in Delray Beach, with the South African eventually making the quarter finals.
Alexandr Dolgopolov has always been a tough player to predict and the way he collapsed after taking an early break lead last time out against Ivan Dodig was definitely very disappointing. He begins against one of two players who are definitely more comfortable on the clay. Carlos Berlocq has defeated Santiago Giraldo in their last two meetings, including one this year in Vina del Mar. Although a very week field for an ATP 500, Kei Nishikori looked impressive in taking the Memphis final without dropping a set and should have too much for the winner of the all-qualifier match between Dmitry Tursunov and Philipp Petzschner. The Russian has looked in impressive form recently, making the quarter finals of Dubai and semi finals of Paris.
Nicolas Almagro is yet to exit a tournament before the quarter final stage this year but that record could be in doubt here. Almagro, who looked impressive against Rafael Nadal before faltering under pressure near the end of both sets, could face a fellow Spaniard in Daniel Gimeno-Traver in his opening match. Gimeno-Traver holds a 1-0 record over first round opponent Lukas Lacko. Pablo Andujar has finally managed to end his losing streak in recent weeks but his awful form is unlikely to go away any time soon now the switch to hard courts has been made. Wildcard Steve Johnson will fancy his chances of booking a second round encounter with Tommy Haas, who was a semi finalist in Delray Beach last week.
While Juan Martin Del Potro looks the favourite to make it out this section given his impressive 11-3 record on the year, it is no gimme given Jeremy Chardy looks a likely third round opponent. The Frenchman earned a shock win over Del Potro earlier in the year in five sets in Australia. The Argentinian will be gunning for revenge and takes on either Nikolay Davydenko or Paul Henri-Mathieu to make the third round. The experienced pair have played a total of 13 times with Davydenko shading the head to head 8-5. Meanwhile, Chardy should have little trouble with either Bjorn Phau or Alejandro Falla. Falla looks the more likely opponent given Phau’s winless record on the tour this year.
Tomas Berdych has been in impressive form recently, making back to back finals. He lost both of them but was hugely impressive on his way to the Dubai one, saving three match points to defeat Roger Federer. While potential second round opponent Jurgen Melzer could be a threat given his ability to deal with big servers, it would not be a surprise to see the out of form Austrian fail to make it there with Mischa Zverev an impressive winner in qualifiers – defeating Edouard Roger Vasselin and Sergiy Stakhovsky. After a promising 2012, David Goffin has been in awful form with just one win in tournament player on the year. He plays Viktor Troicki, whom he held a 2-0 set lead over in Davis Cup this year before falling to a five set defeat. 27th seed Florian Mayer awaits the winner.
The second half of this section looks incredibly tough to predict, with two dangerous unseeded players possibly awaiting in the second round. Jerzy Janowicz plays the winner of David Nalbandian and Marcel Granollers. Nalbandian holds a 3-0 record over the Spaniard and has a final to his name this year, beating Nicolas Almagro along the way in Sao Paulo. Meanwhile, Bernard Tomic faces an out of form Thomaz Bellucci for the chance to play Richard Gasquet. Tomic will be hoping he doesn’t suffer the same disappointment as in his last encounter against a Frenchman, where he failed to convert five match points in an eventual defeat to Jo Wilfried Tsonga.
Benoit Paire has had an odd start to the year, with five first round exits to go alongside a semi final and a final. This sums up the unpredictable Frenchman who has lost to Somdev Devvarman and Paolo Lorenzi in recent weeks. Paire opens against Lukasz Kubot, hoping to extend his record over the Pole to 3-0 and more importantly move into the next round to play Philipp Kohlschreiber. Paire and Kohlschreiber had an epic five set match at the US Open last year, with the German eventually winning a fifth set tiebreak. Paire’s fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon should fancy his chances to make the third round with either Gilles Muller or Paolo Lorenzi awaiting in round two. Lorenzi’s recent exploits have finally seen him make the top 50 but he is yet to take a set from Muller in two attempts, most recently losing in straights in Vienna late last year.
This section on the whole looks decidedly weak and should see David Ferrer ease his way into the quarter finals despite his recent demolition by Rafael Nadal in the Acapulco final. Kevin Anderson didn’t look 100% in his defeat to John Isner and took a medical timeout during that match so there will be question marks here, although if he plays it should be enough to defeat Victor Hanescu although the Romanian has a 2-1 record from three matches in 2011 against Anderson. Fernando Verdasco can make it an all-Spanish third round if it makes it past either Jarkko Nieminen or Igor Sijsling. Sijsling retired in Delray Beach last week with an ankle injury so is definitely there for the taking if he competes. Verdasco hasn’t had a great start to the season though, going 2-3 and most recently losing to Tim Smyczek in San Jose.
After a successful few weeks on the clay, with two titles and another final, Rafael Nadal has stepped up the comeback by confirming himself to play here. It looked as if he had hardly been away in the Acapulco final, destroying David Ferrer 6-0 6-2. He has a kind draw to ease him back into the swing of things for his first hard court match in a long time. Ryan Harrison or Go Soeda will play the Spaniard. Harrison won the only meeting with Soeda last year but has struggled recently with three set defeats to Daniel Munoz de la Nava, Benjamin Becker and Lukasz Kubot in the past three tournaments. Mikhail Youzhny has a 4-9 record against Nadal but could spring a shock if Nadal fails to adapt to hard courts right away after a long time out. Youzhny must first beat either Leonardo Mayer or Xavier Malisse to get there though, with Malisse the favourite given Mayer’s preference of the clay.
The other half of the section sees two dangerous qualifiers with Daniel Brands the first. Brands already has a semi final and a quarter final to his name this year and will play Marcos Baghdatis for the opportunity to take on 20th seed Andreas Seppi. Baghdatis pushed eventual finalist Juan Martin Del Potro to a third set tie break in Dubai. Ernests Gulbis looks a new player this year, with his hard work paying off as he won Delray Beach as qualifier. Gulbis plays Feliciano Lopez, whom he has a 2-1 record over but has not played the Spaniard since 2010. If the Latvian can continue his great run of form, an intriguing encounter against Janko Tipsarevic awaits. Given Tipsarevic’s recent run of defeats, he is definitely there for the taking although Gulbis may see the amount of matches he has played recently finally catch up to him.
One of the big stories from the draw is the potential return of ‘Fedal’ at the quarter final stage and it looks fairly straight forward for Roger Federer to make that here and he begins with either Vasek Pospisil or Denis Istomin. Despite beating Ricardas Berankis to qualify, it would be a big surprise to see the Canadian defeat Istomin, who has always been relatively successful in North America. Federer has a chance for revenge in round three if Julien Benneteau can get past Guido Pella or Ivan Dodig. Benneteau took advantage of a shocking Federer performance on his run to the Rotterdam final but there seems little chance Federer can play as bad this time round.
John Isner is looking at a fair fall in the rankings if he cannot reverse his poor form as he defends a final here. He eventually bowed out in the semi finals at Delray Beach to Edouard Roger-Vasselin but was far from his best throughout the tournament. Despite losing in straight sets in their last encounter, Lleyton Hewitt will fancy his chances of at least troubling the tall American. He lost only in a third set tie break to the No.2 American Sam Querrey in San Jose. Hewitt plays Lukas Rosol to open his campaign. Stanislas Wawrinka will be hoping he can get the chance to improve his record with Federer to 2-12 with the potential fourth round tie looming. His clay exploits saw him making a final and lose in the first round in Buenos Aires and Acapulco respectively. He starts against either American qualifier Wayne Odesnik or Roberto Bautista-Agut, either of which he should find it fairly comfortably against.