(20)Taylor Fritz d. (4)Rafael Nadal 6-4, 7-6(5)
4, 7, 19, 20
SEEDS: ONE & DONE (1st Match Loss)
8 out of 32
INDIAN WELLS NEWS & NOTES
*Taylor Fritz’s 2022 triumph continued a recent run of big dog hits in the Indian Wells final. The American was a whopping 4.86 (+386) underdog against Nadal last year. After seeing Cameron Norrie win as a 1.59 (-169) in 2021, the Fritz win was more in line with the last two Indian Wells runs before the pandemic cancelled the BNP Paribas Open in 2020. In 2018, Juan Martin Del Potro beat Roger Federer as a 3.34 (+234) dog with Dominic Thiem a 3.92 (+292) underdog when he beat Federer in 2019. Prior to this four run stretch with the three big dog hits, favorites had owned Indian Wells’ finals, taking the title match from 2011-2017 thanks to the Big Three.
*Overall, there were 23 underdog winners at the 2022 version of the BNP Paribas Open out of 95 matches played. That was down slightly from 26 when Indian Wells was played in October. The biggest barker for last year came in round three when Gael Monfils knocked off #1 seed Daniil Medvedev as a 6.44 (+544) long shot. Eight of the dog hits came in round one with seven more in round two when the seeds got their first matches off the opening round bye. Five of those seven dog scores in round two involved a seeded player losing their opener.
*Eight seeds fell in their openers in 2022. That was down some from the last time that Indian Wells played in its regular slot in March in 2019. Both 2018 and 2019 saw eleven seeds go down in their first matches in round two off the bye. Top ten seeds have not been immune to the old crash and burn in that round with two going down in 2022, one in 2021, one in 2019 , four in 2018 and three more in 2017. If you’re looking for a dog score, you definitely want to take a look at those top ten matchups to see if you can ID some weaknesses.
*Thirty-four matches in 2022 required a third set to be settled. That’s a good clip at 36 percent. 2021’s October version saw 29 three set matches and there were just 26 three set finishers in 2019. Round one has been fairly consistent the last three runs at Indian Wells with either nine of ten three set matches each year in 2019, 2021 and 2022. The business end of the tournament is always a good bet to see some competitive balance as well with at least a trio of three set matches in the quarterfinals and beyond in four of the last five runs. The quarterfinals are the place to focus with eleven of the last 19 quarters going three sets.
*Seeds have generally been involved at the business end of the tournament with last year seeing seven of the eight quarterfinalists being seeded players. The top seed has not won here since Djokovic in 2016. 2019 was the last time we saw multiple non-seeds in the quarters with two players making in that far. Borna Coric was the last unseeded semifinalist and that was back in 2018. Before that? You have to travel way back to 2011 when Juan Martin Del Potro got into the semifinals via a walkover. If you want to take a long shot on an unseeded player winning Indian Wells, think again. Mardy Fish was the last unseeded finalist in 2008 and the last unseeded player to win the title was Alex Corretja in 2000.
*In case you forgot, Indian Wells is usually amongst the top slowest hard court tournaments on tour. It has allegedly “sped up” slightly in the last few years, but the gritty nature of the courts still usually has the California-based tournament rated as medium-slow. The court speed generally rates close to Acapulco and just a notch slower than Miami. The desert air at Indian Wells makes things tricky as it’s dry and aids balls moving fast through the air, but then the gritty court surface slows it back down and can produce some tricky bounce.
*Novak Djokovic will once again be out of both Miami and Indian Wells after his petition for a special exemption to play the Sunshine Double was denied by the US government. That means the lead seed is Carlos Alcaraz, a semifinalist from a year ago. Alcaraz is expected to be fit after suffering a hamstring injury in the Rio Open final. That caused the Spaniard to sit out Acapulco last week. He’ll contend with the in-form “Octopus” Daniil Medvedev who continued his hot run by winning the title in Dubai. The big news in that run was his win over Djokovic in the semifinals that ended the Serb’s 15 match win streak to start 2023. Medvedev is seeded fifth this week and rides a 14 match win streak into the desert. Meddy has not found success here however with nothing better than a trio of third round finishes in five runs.
*In between the two tournament favorites are second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, #3 Casper Ruud and last year’s champion Taylor Fritz as the four. Tsitsipas is another who has mostly struggled at Indian Wells with his best run coming in the Fall version of the tournament in 2021. He made the quarterfinals that year, but has never been past round three in his other three trips. Ruud makes his third go in the desert with a round of 16 finish in his 2021 debut as his best. Fritz has now thrived in both the Fall slot for Indian Wells in 2021 with a semifinal and last year’s break through win in the Spring. He had also been as far as the last 16 in 2018. The American has found some rhythm since losing early in round two at the Australian Open with a pair of semifinals and a title in Delray Beach in his last three tournaments.
*Rounding out the top ten seeds are Andrey Rublev, Holger Rune, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Hubert Hurkacz and a smoking hot Cameron Norrie. Norrie is 18-3 in 2023 with three finals appearances and the big title win in Rio over Alcaraz in his last match. Since his ascension up the rankings, the Brit has found Indian Wells to his liking with the title run in 2021 and a solid follow-up last year by making the quarterfinals. Rublev had his best showing at the BNP Paribas Open last year with a semifinal finish, while only Hurkacz of the other top ten seeds has seen big success at this stop. The Pole has made a pair of quarterfinals and was just stopped short of a third last year by Rublev in the round of 16.
*Qualifiers have made some impressive runs even with the massive field of 98 players. Last year, we saw one qualifier (Munar) make the round of three. 2019 saw a qualifier (Krajinovic) and a lucky loser (Kecmanovic) make it all the way to the round of 16, with Kecmanovic going a step further to the quarterfinals. And traveling back to 2018, Marcos Baghdatis also made it as far as the round of 16 as a qualifier. Don’t sleep on those guys having a shot to score some wins in the coming days.
This quarter could set up well for the top seed Alcaraz as he returns from injury. When you look at the other seven seeds in this section, you’ve only got two who arrive with some reasonable form. And both of those, Hubert Hurkacz and Tommy Paul, are in the opposite half. As for Alcaraz’s half, could the the biggest danger be Andy Murray? I might have to say yes. The other seeds in this top part don’t inspire a lot of belief in being able to contend against a healthy Alcaraz. Carreno Busta is just 1-3 this season. Evans retired from his last match and arrives on a three match losing skid. Griekspoor has had the best run at 12-4 this year, but he has rarely come through against the top tier. His losses are to Tsitsipas, Sinner, Rublev and Djokovic. The only thing he could maybe do is hope that Alcaraz isn’t yet in rhythm when they could meet in round three and that he might be able to push him deep into a third set. Murray could be lurking down the road to face the top seed with a winnable set up with Carreno Busta and Evans being the seeds he could see along the way to a potential 4th round meeting. One thing you can bank on with Murray is matches going the distance. Six of his nine ATP matches in 2023 have required the full complement of sets to be settled. The other unseeded name to monitor is Jack Draper. We haven’t seen him since Australia, so it may be asking a bit for him to hit the floor running with a string of wins. Still, he’s got the talent but he could well be in trouble in round one with rust a real concern. Riedl is a solid guy who took a set off Hurkacz in Marseille recently.
In the bottom half, the lead seed is Auger-Aliassime. The Canadian has gone one and done his last two trips to Indian Wells and has never been past round three. You toss in his up and down early 2023 and it’s tough to know what to think right now. Felix could be in trouble right away if Huesler gets through. The Swiss battled him tough in a three set loss in Basel last year in their only meeting, but also comes in on a four match losing streak. If you look at this early set up for Auger-Aliassime, it actually looks conducive to a few wins with Cerundolo as the closest seed. The more competitive section will be opposite of that quadrant with Hurkacz and Paul as the seeds. Both have played well recently with Hurkacz winning a title indoors in Marseille and having a solid enough quarterfinal run in Dubai. As I mentioned early, he’s also one of the few players in the seeded field to have a decent track record at Indian Wells.
Paul will have the bigger battle it would seem for his opener with Struff or Halys. The American battled well in Acapulco to the final where he ran out of gas in a three set loss to de Minaur. Paul has been solid at Indian Wells the last two years with a 5-2 mark. A Hurkacz-Paul third round clash looks likely. Hurkacz won their only previous match in 2021 at the Paris Masters 7-5, 7-6. Felix against Hubi or Paul would be a damn fine fight for the quarterfinal slot in this section. FAA does own two wins over Hurkacz, while he’s never played Paul. I still like the Hurkacz-Paul survivor more so because Felix just has not impressed with his consistency. Sign me up to see Alcaraz against Paul in the quarters. Their battle in Montreal last year was superb with Paul prevailing in three. For me this quarter looks like it could well come down to one of those three guys: Alcaraz, Hurkacz or Paul to push into the semifinals. The quarters likely to be Alcaraz’s biggest test barring a slew of upsets.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Draper/Riedl over (24)Evans
Murray over (15)Carreno Busta
Barrere/Sock over (27)Cerundolo
Huesler over (8)Auger-Aliassime
This top half could be real fun to watch this week. You’ve got Fritz, de Minaur, Coric and Baez as the seeds. In Fritz’s half, it could start with a bang if Ben Shelton gets past Fabio Fognini in round one. That’s not an easy opener for the fourth seeded defending champion. I think it’s still one he should expect to win given his current space in the tennis universe, but Shelton is certainly capable of pulling off an upset. I think whomever gets through this quadrant is the easy favorite to get through to round four. With Baez opposite of this as the seed, that’s a clear edge for Fritz or Shelton. Baez might be fortunate to win his opener against either Mikael Ymer or Hijikata. Baez broke his lengthy losing skid early this season, but has only won once on outdoor hard courts in his last nine ATP main draw matches. I’m still giving Fritz the nod in this section. Shelton is finding out about the weekly grind of the tour with two losses since his Aussie breakout. Getting a round one win will be good for his confidence, but I’m not sure he’s playing as well as he would want to be to truly have the best shot at Fritz, however coming off the bye, he could catch Fritz cold.
The 16th seeded Aussie de Minaur obviously comes in hot off the Acapulco title run and he’s been consistent with round of 16 finishes at Indian Wells the last two runs. His opener will be interesting with Wolf or Fucsovics waiting. Wolf has not been able to harness his consistency the last few weeks with early losses at Delray Beach and Acapulco. Fucsovics has struggled for wins too, so this looms large for one of them. Wolf won their only match, a three setter in Viena last Fall. I don’t know that either wins over ADM even with the bye with the Aussie having gone 2-0 against Fucsovics and 1-0 against Wolf. Coric looks to have a nice path opposite of the Demon with Molcan or Ramos-Vinolas first. Molcan retired from his Acapulco match against Matteo Berrettini with a wrist problem, while ARV hasn’t won on this surface in 2023 and is just 4-11 on outdoor hard since the start of 2022. We’ve only seen de Minaur against Coric once and it was a doozy of a three set match in Zhuhai in 2019 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in favor of the Aussie. ADM has been the more solid of the two this year, so you’d have to like his chances although I’d expect another battle.
The bottom half of this quarter brings an absolute laser lock eyeline to a potential Rune and Sinner fourth round blockbuster. Rune alleviated concerns over his wrist injury with a solid semifinal showing in Acapulco, while Sinner took a needed breather after making back-to-back finals in Montpellier and Rotterdam. Rune finally scored his first Indian Wells win last year and is obviously a much different player than a year ago. He won’t have a simple opener against Krajinovic or McDonald, but it should be one he can win. Krajinovic is struggling for wins, while McDonald has beaten players he should beat, but seems to fall short as soon as he meets higher ranked guys. This one should be competitive. Opposite of this is Kecmanovic who could face Stan Wawrinka to open, although Vukic is no pushover. Kecmanovic could be a slight sleeper in this section as he’s made two quarterfinals here in the past. I’m not sure if he could knock off Rune, but he’s definitely the guy who should have the best chance of stopping that Rune-Sinner match.
As for Sinner, his path looks pretty nice comparatively speaking. Sure, he could see Gasquet early and then one of Musetti, Thiem or Mannarino, but do any of those sound like a scary matchup for the Italian? Not in my opinion. Both Thiem and Mannarino are really having a hard time getting wins, so the round one win is going to be great for either one. Thiem has owned the series against Mannarino, but this is certainly not the same guy who has eight wins over the Frenchman from 2015-2020. If Sinner falls to get through this stretch, it’s a huge upset.
There are some definite contenders deeper than just the top seeds in this section. Kecmanovic is certainly one who has the potential, but I don’t know that he can get past Sinner to push to another quarterfinal. Fritz is certainly no shoe-in to push through here with the likes of de Minaur and Coric in his path. The American has won three straight now from de Minaur, but none of them have been easy. Coric would be the real X-factor with the Croat having beaten Fritz four out of four ATP meetings albeit the last one was late in 2020. Getting a fully healthy battle between Rune and Sinner after the injury shortened Sofia win for Rune last year would be superb. The mix for the semifinal runner here looks like Fritz, Rune, Sinner and perhaps an outsider like Coric or the early shock catalyzing someone like Shelton although that seems a much longer shot.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Shelton over (4)Fritz
Ymer/Hijikata over (30)Baez
Thiem/Mannarino over (19)Musetti
Wawrinka/Vukic over (26)Kecmanovic
This part of the draw led by Ruud arouses the curiosity with the Norwegian still not having shown anything close to what we saw from him in 2022. Ruud has yet to win consecutive matches in 2023 and you can’t like his chances to get through a quarter that has Daniil Medvedev in it. Let’s focus on the early go for Ruud though where the third seed has Schwartzman or Coria first. That’s a plus given Diego is 1-6. Coria has been hot on clay with a 9-2 mark in 2023 on dirt, but he’s not a great hard court player with an 11-29 career record on the surface across all levels. He usually battles on the surface, so there is definitely a chance he could beat an out-of-form Schwartzman. I get the feeling a win could do marvels for Schwartzman and he has beaten Ruud five times out of eight meetings, including one here in 2021. Ruud has however won three of the last four. As such, Nishioka could be a dark horse in this section. The 29th seed hasn’t been able to match his Australian swing consistency, but he’s a tough out. His draw looks good to get him into position to face one of those guys in round three. Nishioka beat Ruud last year in Korea, so he knows how to get it done.
Opposite of that quadrant you have Khachanov and Davidovich Fokina as the seeds. One of the more intriguing openers could be between Wu Yibing and Jaume Munar. Wu was outstanding indoors early this season with his first ATP title in Dallas. He has not played since, so the question begs as to whether he can rediscover that momentum. Wins over Shapovalov and more importantly Fritz in that tournament say he is a threat if he finds his best again. Davidovich Fokina definitely is on upset alert for me in round two. Khachanov was one and done here last year and fell flat in his first match since Australia when he lost to van de Zandschulp in his Dubai opener. Djere or Otte don’t usually make you think upset over Khachanov, but given his lack of match play, he could be prone to an upset more in this spot. For me, this is a section where an unseeded player could be the story. Wu Yibing is that choice with Davidovich Fokina perhaps being more apt to take advantage if a seed squeezes into round three. I definitely feel like this bottom half could yield either a low seed pushing into position to contend for a quarterfinal or an unseeded player like Wu, Munar or maybe a shocker like Schwartzman.
Up top, it’s all about Medvedev. The question of the tournament will be whether Medvedev can turn around his luck in the desert? He has only been as far as the round of 16 once, so it appears the conditions here are not his favorite. His opener should afford him a good start though against Isner or Nakashima. He’s dominated Isner twice and Nakashima is still trying to find a groove in 2023, so I wouldn’t be expecting him to be the guy to take out the Russian. With van de Zandschulp as the closest seed, there’s not excuses not to make round three at minimum. Couple that with Bautista Agut and Zverev being the other seeds in his half and the recipe for Medvedev’s best Indian Wells campaign is right there on the table. Zverev did show some life in Dubai with the semifinal push, but nothing he’s done says that he’d beat Medvedev as this point in time. Meddy has won five of the last six clashes with the German. RBA has lost three of four overall, so finding win #1 is a priority. Ruusuvuori or Lestienne could pose a bit of a risk, but he’s still the more consistent of that trio. Zverev might welcome a match with RBA whom he has beaten four straight times, although none have come since 2018. Bautista Agut does own four wins over Medvedev, but he’s lost two of the last three. Given Medvedev’s current level, I wouldn’t expect the Spaniard to produce the tennis necessary to turn the tide in that head-to-head.
This is a great chance to Medvedev to prove he’s at the top of the mountain with advantageous matchups at a tournament that has been a bit troublesome for him. Even when Ruud was healthy and in-form, Meddy owned him with three straight sets wins. There are no matchups in this quarter that look too scary for Medvedev, I think it’s more about his ability to win on this surface in the desert.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Wu/Munar over (23)Davidovich Fokina
Schwartzman over (3)Ruud
Djere/Otte over (13)Khachanov
This one looks loaded with Tsitsipas, Rublev and Norrie as the top threats for a semifinal spot. Tsitsipas may have been a bit flat in his Rotterdam loss to Sinner, but his 13-2 start to the season is still solid. Stef’s best run in Indian Wells was during the Fall version in 2021 when he made the quarters, otherwise he has only been as far as the third round once in three other trips. It will be interesting to see who he gets first with Jordan Thompson going against the 2023 debut of Gael Monfils. Thompson is in hot off a Challenger title in Rome, while we have not seen Monfils since last August. Monfils has had some good runs here, but it’s impossible to know what he brings with such a layoff. Monfils has played Tsitsipas tough in three career clashes, losing two of three but seeing those losses go three sets. I just don’t know that he’s going to put it together quick enough here to get one win, let alone two. A fun match if seeds hold would be Tsitsipas against Cressy in round three. Cressy is 0-2 against the Greek, but he’s competed well. That fits his recent form where six of his last seven matches have gone three sets, but he’s won just three of them.
The other section of this half sees Tiafoe and Dimitrov as the seeds. Big Foe has been fairly steady in 2023, but void of any sort of marquee win. He’s made round three two straight runs in Indian Wells, but dropped his first tough match both times to Hurkacz and Rublev. I think his opener won’t be straight forward with Giron or Kovacevic both capable of pushing the 14th seed. Dimitrov has quietly been solid in 2023 at 8-4 and this is a stop he’s played well at the last two years with a semifinal in 2021 and quarterfinal in 2022. Kubler or Sonego is a winnable starter for the Bulgarian, but still likely to be competitive. He owns a couple of wins over Tiafoe, but it was the American who beat him when they last met almost four years ago at the Australian Open. That would be a great battle to behold and one that could go either way. Sonego looks like a sleeper in this section. He has the win over Auger-Aliassime recently and usually fights well in defeat. Tiafoe ranks a good “outsider” as far as a seed with three wins over Tsitsipas in their last four meetings. The American certainly could push for a fourth round berth, but I’d expect most of the matches to be hard fought.
In the other half, Rublev and Norrie are the obvious favorites to go deep. The other two seeds, Shapovalov and Berrettini, provide some interest but do not bring form with them. Shapovalov in particular has not been able to get his season on track with a 5-5 record and losses in three of his last four matches overall. Berrettini had a leg issue that forced him out in Acapulco where he never looked right against Rune in round three. It’s only been a few days, so it’s difficult to see the Italian being completely healthy again that quickly. In addition, he too hasn’t had the best 2023 at only 5-4 with three of those wins coming early at the United Cup. In Rublev’s section, the Dubai runner-up will have Lehecka or Rinderknech to contend with first. Lehecka has continued a solid breakout 2023 with a semifinal on Doha that included an upset of Rublev. Shapovalov may like his chances early where Humbert might be the more likely foe. He’s beaten the Frenchman three of four encounters. Trusting Shapo to get more than one win at a tournament now seems like a poor idea though, so even though he’s matched well against Rublev in the past, you have to favor Rublev IF he gets into that spot. Lehecka certainly may have a lot to say about what goes down in this section.
Norrie seems like the safer bet in this section with an easier draw. I’m not sure a healthy Berrettini would stop him short on this surface right now, so less than 100 percent from the Italian isn’t likely going to get the job done. All Norrie has done in 2023 is win, going 19-3 overall with three finals. He was the surprise winner in Indian Wells in October 2021, but followed up with a quarterfinal run last year to prove he can win in the Spring as well. With a win over Tsitsipas the last time they met in Acapulco in 2022, Norrie will think he’s the guy to beat in this quarter even given Rublev’s form and ability. Tsitsipas’ struggles at Indian Wells have me looking past him a bit and Tiafoe is a guy who knows how to beat him, so that is someone the Greek would need to avoid before any potential battle against someone like Rublev or Norrie.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Lehecka over (6)Rublev
Zapata-Miralles/Humbert over (25)Shapovalov
Giron/Kovacevic over (14)Tiafoe
Medvedev is the clear cut favorite and rightfully so given Djokovic’s absence and his blistering hot run the last few weeks. The only thing that holds me back from fully endorsing him is his history in the desert. He just has not performed well here and that is a bit of a cause for concern due to the very different playing conditions he’ll find at Indian Wells. Alcaraz at 7.0 (+600) seems a better investment to me if you’re in on him being healthy, but that of course is the risk for this tournament. His early draw affords him time to find his rhythm, but it comes down to what you think of his chances later on. Having so many options at 11.0 (+1000) or higher is really enticing for me more so at this tournament. Sinner is right there at that price as the fourth favorite is a bit too low for me though given that he may well have to go through Rune or Fritz just to get to the semifinals. You could take either Fritz or Rune at twice the return. Given the revolving door of champions at the BNP Paribas Open since Djokovic was the last repeat champion in 2015-2016, I’ll skip Fritz as well.
The price that really sticks out to me is Norrie at 34.0 (+3300). Getting a former champion and one of the most in-form players on tour at that sort of big price is intriguing. It’s certainly a fair price as he may have to go through Medvedev just to get to a final. That is a matchup that has been very much against him with two lopsided losses to the Russian. Rublev is also a tough foe for Norrie as well, so he’d have his work cut out for him. If you’re looking deeper and dartboard type shots, Americans Tiafoe and Paul at huge prices may be worth a thought or two. Paul is a guy who can match Alcaraz’s athleticism and even though Tiafoe’s quarter is difficult, most of the high profile matchups he could see are ones where he has competed well and won in the past.
This being the “Mini Major” as they like to call it, it’s also one of those tournaments to take a look at the “to win their quarter” prices that are often underutilized in these settings. Medvedev at 1.71 (-140) to win his quarter could be a worthy investment if you’re worried about his past history at this tournament. His quarter may perhaps be more winnable that getting all the way through. And getting a crack at Rublev at 5.0 (+400), Norrie 7.5 (+650) or Tiafoe at 9.0 (+800) to win the fourth quarter is worth a long look for me rather than Tsitsipas at a short 2.75 (+175). Quite simply, don’t sleep on these other options this week as they might be more worthy or your investment than trying the bigger outright prices.
Join me for the daily #PIGPIX and I’ll be doing a little tweet preview of the doubles field soon.
Medvedev to win his quarter 1.71 (-140)
Hurkacz to win his quarter 7.5 (+650)
Norrie to win his quarter 7.5 (+650)