Thursday, March 11, 2010
Indian Wells - 10 things to Watch For in the Desert
With its glorious setting and star-studded draws, Indian Wells, set in the idyllic Coachella Valley adjacent to Palm Springs, is officially underway.
The Indian Wells tennis garden, a sprawling complex (55-acre tennis and entertainment facility) nestled in amongst the gorgeous Santa Rosa Mountains, is more than inspiring, and tennis players consider this one of the "special events" on the calendar.
It has been a while since the Australian Open, so I'll take some time to fill you in on what I perceive to be the compelling stories of this year's event.
1. She's Back (part 3): Justine Henin, that dazzling display of artistry, tennis intellect, and intensity is playing in only her third tournament since her return from a self-imposed sabbatical. At Indian Wells, queen Justine has found herself in a much more favorable spot in the draw. Many of you remember the "quarter of death," that featured the likes of Dementieva, Clijsters, and Kuznetsova in Australia. Justine was able to survive that trying affair, so I'd say she's got good odds (ok, great) to be a semifinalist here, as the stiffest competition in her quarter may come from Aggie Radwanska.
2. Rafa and Roger: With so many battered and bruised players on the ATP tour, we should consider ourselves very lucky to have both Federer and Nadal healthy enough to compete in the same draw again. It was a close call for both, as Roger has been dealing with a lung infection and Rafa has been trying to get his ailing legs healthy enough to go.
Del Potro and Gonzalez, unfortunately, were not able to compete, and the health of Nikolay Davydenko (wrist), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (ankle), Robin Soderling (elbow), has not been exactly perfect of late, especially with the season being so young.
3. Young Americans: John Isner and Sam Querrey are heading for another smashup knock down drag out battle in the third round, with the winner possibly advancing to face Nadal in the 4th round. Ryan Harrison is preparing for his first Indian Wells main draw appearance against his doubles partner from Delray Beach, Taylor Dent.
4. Gulbis on fire: Latvian Ernests Gulbis is coming off his sizzling title run at Delray beach (his first), and he'll be thrown right back into the fire, as he faces pugnacious Marco Chuidinelli of Switzerland for the right to engage in a 2nd round encounter with Nikolay Davydenko.
5. Chasing the Woodies: The Bryan Brothers are just three titles from catching the Woodies all time record of 61 doubles titles. This will be a great story to watch throughout the year, as they finally got over the hump against their 2009 nemesis, Zimonjic and Nester, with a huge Australian Open title. Look for another rematch between these two incredible doubles teams on championship weekend.
6. The up-and-comer, Marin Cilic: Is there anyone out there who doesn't think that Marin Cilic is destined for greatness? The calm, cool, and collected Croatian took a giant step forward in notching his first Grand-Slam semifinal appearance in Australia, and he's a pretty good bet to do some more damage this season. The 21-year-old has the game and the mindset to become a major player in the top ten.
7. Carlos Moya and David Nalbandian: Moya has been struggling this season in his quest to get to 600 ATP level wins, while Nalbandian seems to be regaining his form after a huge performance in Argentina's Davis Cup victory over Sweden.
8. Victoria Azarenka: Can she build on her near upset of Serena Williams in Australia, or will it be a blow to her confidence going forward? Inquiring minds would like to know.
9. Sleepers and Creepers: I've got a feeling that somebody is going to come from left field and steal the show this year. Last year, very few of us were expecting that Vera Zvonareva would snag the title - who will it be this year?
Some possible ideas: Juan Carlos Ferrero (he has been red hot on the clay, can he do it on the hard court). Melanie Oudin (why the heck not?) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (her best sucess prior to her title last week was her semifinal appearance at Indian Wells last year). John Isner (he's becoming a real force right before our very eyes). Yanina Wickmayer (who doesn't believe that she is still a player on the rise?). Marcos Baghdatis (there must be a reason that everybody is pencilling in his possible 3rd round encounter with Federer as must-see tennis).
10. The Hit for Haiti: Agassi, Sampras, Federer, Nadal, Graf, Navratilova, Davenport, and Henin is all I really need to say about Friday nights encore to the wildly successful event that took place impromptu in Australia.
Stay tuned for more!
Posted by Chris Oddo at 10:23 AM