Indian Wells Saturday Preview
Keys vs. Stosur: Together with Sloane Stephens, Keys may hold the key to the future of American women’s tennis. Unlike many of her peers, she possesses the accurate baseline power that has become the hallmark of the modern WTA. Those skills surfaced when she nearly upset Li Na to reach the Sydney semifinals and submitted a creditable effort at the Australian Open. More uneven in a three-set win to start her fortnight, Keys faces the most vulnerable top-eight seed in the draw. Although her form has risen slightly since her Australian debacle, Stosur has not yet rebuilt her confidence amid nagging injuries and rarely has enjoyed her visits to the desert.
Isner vs. Hewitt: With finalist points to defend, the man who upset Djokovic here last year cannot afford too early an exit. While Federer almost certainly will end his tournament in the fourth round if he reaches it, Isner cannot take any of the matches before then for granted. Struggling to defeat players like Thiago Alves and Jesse Levine last month, he has suffered a series of demoralizing losses since the US Open. A tenacious retriever who never lacks for heart, Hewitt will make Isner work for every point and ask the question of whether his opponent can handle the pressure of echoing last year’s achievement. As he did last year, the American will need more than his first serve to win on this surface.
Azarenka vs. Hantuchova: The only multiple Indian Wells titlist in the women’s draw, the elegant Hantuchova faces the top seed and defending champion. Azarenka’s far superior athleticism and consistency should allow her to wear down this aging opponent, while her movement should track down the Slovak’s signature angles often enough to lengthen the points. But all of their meetings have gone to a third set, with Hantuchova winning two of three, so the history between them indicates thatthis match could prove more intriguing than their relative rankings suggest.
Nadal vs. Harrison: Never has Harrison defeated an opponent in the top 10, and he did not even look competitive when he faced Djokovic at the Australian Open this January. Like Isner, he has found consistency elusive over the last several months, but a resilient three-set victory to start this tournament hinted at more encouraging things to come. With Roddick gone, Blake irrelevant, Fish fading, and other youngsters still germinating, the weight lies heavily on Harrison at times to carry the banner of men’s tennis in a nation that has grown to expect champions. Despite his swagger on the court, he has shown himself an eager learner and could gain much from yet another clash with an elite opponents under the lights of a cavernous stadium. Acquitting himself well against Federer here last year, he faces Nadal for the first time in the Spaniard’s first hard-court match since a Miami quarterfinal almost a year ago.
Anderson vs. Ferrer: Injury sidelined the lanky South African just after he had taken the apparent next step forward with a second-week appearance at the Australian Open, preceded by a runner-up result in Sydney. Unfortunately for him, Ferrer seems one of the worst possible opponents to confront when returning from an injury absence. If the Spaniard limits his free points, as his crisp return, Anderson will find himself in trouble. On the other hand, towering servers have found this court surprisingly friendly in recent years, while Ferrer never has excelled here.
Janowicz vs. Nalbandian: Well into the inevitable adjustment period after his breakthrough, Janowicz remains a raw, temperamental, streaky, and highly talented bundle of power. In four 2013 tournaments, he has compiled a modest four wins. Much more smooth is Nalbandian’s game, but he shares the Pole’s tendency for emotional unpredictability that mirrors mercurial swings in form. Even well past his prime, the Argentine still can fluster the unwary with his ruthlessly angled backhand and keen sense for the geometry of the court. He reached the final in the first tournament of his comeback from injury, upsetting top-15 opponent Almagro in the process, and he dismissed his first opponent here with ease.
Ivanovic vs. Townsend: At the 2011 US Open, Ivanovic faced a relatively unheralded Sloane Stephens before the latter burst through to become the vanguard of American women’s tennis in the post-Williams era. Able to win that match in relatively routine fashion, the Serbian former #1 again will hold a vast experience edge over another young American with similar promise. Showing surprising maturity, Townsend rallied from losing the first set to the established Hradecka in the first round for her first WTA main-draw victory. Ivanovic marks a considerable notch higher in quality of opponent, however, and she has recorded more consistently impressive results at Indian Wells than at any other hard-court tournament, benefiting from the calm setting, the pleasant weather, and the slow surface.
Tomic vs. Gasquet: Both of these men started 2013 in sparkling form with a title apiece before the Australian Open. While Tomic dropped off somewhat after leaving his home country, Gasquet continued to shine with a second title in February. The Australian’s versatile arsenal eased him past Thomaz Bellucci in the first round, and the absence of points to defend over the next few months offers him an opportunity to elevate his ranking. Meanwhile, Gasquet aims to consolidate his status in the top 10, where he has entrenched himself more durably than most expected. His graceful one-handed backhand should contrast pleasantly with Tomic’s flatter, more streamlined strokes.
Gulbis vs. Tipsarevic: The author of an eleven-match winning streak, his longest ever at the ATP level, Gulbis somehow has not dipped in energy after winning Delray Beach as a qualifier and qualifying for the main draw here. Overwhelming Feliciano Lopez, an opponent in fine form recently, the perennial underachiever could score his most significant victory in years if he can upset world #9 Tipsarevic. Hampered by injuries that forced him to retire from the Australian Open, the Serb exited his February tournaments in his opening matches as he struggled to time most of his weapons.