So the Indian Wells draw is out. I had predicted what a nightmare draw would have looked like for Roger Federer and most of it came true. I had the following sequence in my head: bye, Tomic, Benneteau, Raonic, Nadal/Berdych, Murray, Djokovic. I must say the actual draw is really not much better at all. Just swap Tomic for Istomin, Raonic for Isner/Wawrinka and split Nadal and Berdych across the QFs and SFs. The only good I see from this is Murray is on Djokovic’s half meaning we have been spared will not get a ‘Nolandy’ final at the tournament. Another highlight is a ‘Fedal’ QF clash. Roger and Rafa haven’t met before the SFs since round of 32 in Key Biscayne back in 2004 so this would be a first in 9 years (other than a round-robin match at the 2011 World Tour Finals). While I am excited about this clash I would have liked to have it at the SFs or the final, though that seems like a tall order given Novak’s form at the moment. Here is the full draw. Here are the rankings and H2Hs of Roger’s potential opponents:
Round 2: Istomin (43) – H2H: 3-0
Round 3: Benneteau (28) – H2H: 4-2 / Dodig (60) – H2H: 0-0
Round 4: Isner (15) – H2H: 4-1 / Wawrinka (18) – H2H: 12-1
QF: Nadal (5) – H2H: 10-18
SF: Berdych (6) – H2H: 11-6 / Ferrer (4) – H2H 14-0
Final: Djokovic (1) – H2H: 16-13 / Murray (3) – H2H 9-11
I am thinking Roger should go through Istomin with relative ease though we’ve seen what first match jitters can do in Dubai. Assuming he goes through he will face an immediate test with Benneteau in Round 3. Julien defeated Roger barely a month ago in Rotterdam making it the first time the Swiss lost to a player outside the top 30 in the QFs. Here he has to play him as early as Round 3.
Overcoming that hurdle he will have a big match in Round 4 no matter who comes through. If it’s fellow Swiss Wawrinka, he’s already had a stellar beginning to the year that has seen some of the most hard-fought and painful losses of 2013 so far. On top of that add a heavily lopsided H2H and you have a player who sees this as the moment to turn his fortunes around and chase those demons away once and for all. Not just in terms of finally closing out a match against one of the top 8 when he’d already been so close, but defeating Roger Federer, due to whom he’s always been the Swiss #2, would give added joy. On the other hand, if Isner comes through, it will be a recreation of last year’s final just 3 rounds earlier. Both men will be eager to defend their points and it’s a matter of who blinks first. Isner has been having trouble as of late so maybe he will falter quickly. Or being last year’s runner-up will galvanize his confidence into playing his best.
Roger’s first three matches should be easy if we were going as per seeding and H2Hs. But given Roger’s up-and-down form as of late, I am no longer fully certain on what to expect. If surgeon Roger shows up, we should be all set as he operates through each of these matches with minimum fuss. However, that Roger hasn’t shown up consistently since the Australian Open which is why his fans are nervous.
I’m already tired just thinking of these rounds and yet we are nowhere close to done. Should Roger make it to the QFs the epic match of the tournament will take place. I can safely say this will be the most watched match of the tournament, maybe even surpassing the final. The last Fedal match was exactly a year ago at Indian Wells, except in the SFs. Roger had won that last encounter. But this time Rafa comes in as the underdog after his long layoff, which just makes him that much more dangerous in my opinion. If Rafa loses at the QFs no one will question him. However, glimpses of Rafa at the MSG exhibition showed him moving well on the hard surface and serving nicely getting above 60% of his first serves in. If Roger can come through this obstacle however, he will be in a very good place mentally. He tends to have a block in his mind when he faces Rafa and if he can overcome this, it will give his confidence a big boost. And there is a part of me that thinks Roger (and Rafa) will be just as excited to play each other as the rest of the world will be. They are a rivalry of the ages, perhaps the best of all time and just because it will happen a round or two earlier takes nothing away from this legendary match-up.
Provided Roger comes through his mental and physical war with Rafa, he will face his latest nemesis, Berdych. We all know what happened at Dubai 2 weeks ago. But perhaps Roger will look at this as an opportunity to stop this ‘trend’ of losing to Tomas. It’s the perfect opportunity to set the world straight and give notice that that Dubai was just a bad day at the office and he is more than capable of overcoming the big game of the Czech. There is the chance that David Ferrer might defeat Berdych and face Federer at the SFs instead. That would be a much better match up for Roger given that he’s never lost to the Spaniard in the 14 times they have faced each other. But it would take an inspired Ferrer to defeat Berdych, though he does have a positive H2H with him. Given Berdych’s latest form and the fact that he’s been playing on hard courts all year (as opposed to Ferrer on clay); I give the edge to Tomas.
If the Swiss is able to come through all of these tumultuous nail-biting matches he will face Djokovic or Murray. Djokovic has not lost a match since Paris Bercy last year and is the best player right now on hard courts. I can’t see Murray or anyone else stopping him for that matter. But stranger things have happened in tennis and we know what is possible when Roger is in god-mode. Maybe the fact that he’s going off for a 2 month break after this tourney will give him that extra fire needed to blitz Novak off the court. In the meantime, I think Roger (and we, the fans) will have to take it one match at a time, step by step. If there is one thing the King knows how to do is winning from impossible situations. He’s done it time and time again. For now I just wish for him to remain as healthy and injury free as possible and enjoy playing out there, carefree. Almost no one is expecting him to be able to defend his title and perhaps flying under the radar will allow him to rise from the ashes and take the crown back again for one more year.