The men’s main draw of Indian Wells Masters 1000 began on Thursday in the deserts of California, and we are guaranteed a new champion at this year’s rescheduled event. With five-time champion Novak Djokovic pulling out of the event and defending champion Dominic Thiem unable to defend his title with a wrist injury that he suffered in June, the men’s side of the draw is devoid of former champions. That spices up the penultimate Masters 1000 tournament of the year, which in all reality is a trailer of what the future of tennis holds post the retirement of “Big 3.”
In the absence of Djokovic, US Open champion Daniil Medvedev is the No.1 seed at BNP Paribas Open. He is followed by Stefanos Tsitsipas, seeded 2nd, and Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev are 3rd and 4th, respectively.
Post his unexpected defeat to his compatriot Rublev in the semifinals at Cincinnati, Medvedev has been flawless in his eight-match unbeaten streak that comprises of his maiden Major triumph at New York last month.
Since the 2nd half of the 2019 season, Medvedev has been having a love affair with the hard courts. His 6-4, 6-0 relentless performance against Denis Shapovalov at the recently concluded Laver Cup is an indication that he is not in any mood of showing complacency. The No.1 seed, who relishes playing on the hard courts enters the tournament as the top favorite to win the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells this year.
Daniil Medvedev: Path to the Title
Medvedev is placed in the top half of the draw and is joined by Rublev, Casper Rudd, Hubert Hurkacz, and Shapovalov as the other Top 10 seeds in that half of the draw. Interestingly, Diego Schwartzman, Roberto Bautista Agut, US Open quarterfinalist Llyod Harris, southpaw Cameron Norrie, and big servers Reilly Opelka and Sam Querrey are all part of a formidable top half of the draw. Medvedev’s path to the final at Indian Wells might not be as straightforward as one could imagine.
After receiving a bye in the first round, Medvedev will take on Mackenzie McDonald in his tournament opener. In his first round, McDonald breezed past Aussie James Duckworth 6-3 6-3 in just one hour and 15 minutes. The American was runner-up at Washington, D.C. earlier this summer before upsetting David Goffin in straight sets in the opening round at the US Open last month. While McDonald has secured memorable wins over some notable names this year, a victory over Medvedev might be a bridge too far to cross for the 26-year-old American. We can expect the Russian to cruise through his tournament opener.
In the 3rd round, Medvedev will face the winner of the clash between Marcos Giron and 27th seed Filip Krajinovic. In his opener, Giron completed a 6-7(7) 6-2 6-4 comeback victory over qualifier and US Open quarterfinalist Botic Van de Zandschulp. Interestingly, Giron and Krajinovic both were the semifinalists at the recent Sofia Open. Having played a lot of hard-court tournaments this summer, Giron will hold a slight edge over Krajinovic, who has played sparsely on the hard courts this summer. As he prepares to face the Serb next, Giron will also take a lot of confidence from his sensational win over Van de Zandschulp in a contest that offered high-octane drama. The 28-year-old Giron might come on top against Krajinovic, but considering his current form, one can expect Medvedev to breeze past the American without much trouble.
Reilly Opelka and Grigor Dimitrov are two of the notable names in the next section of the draw. One of these two players is most likely to lock horns against Medvedev in the Round of 16.
The big-serving Opelka has been in tremendous form this season, reaching the final at Toronto Masters 1000 and semifinal at Rome earlier this year. If Opelka manages to come through his opening rounds unscathed, he can potentially cause some problems for Medvedev. If indeed these two lock horns, it will be a fascinating battle between a big server and a great returner. While Opelka will rely on his big-serving ability to trouble the Russian, the latter will focus on positioning himself deep behind the baseline to get the ball back in play, which has worked wonders for the Russian so far on hard courts. Medvedev leads Opelka 4-1 so far on Tour, and was the victor in straight sets in both of their previous encounters at Toronto Masters and Roland Garros. Medvedev would start as a firm favorite against Opelka in their predicted Round of 16 clash.
If Medvedev maneuvers through the first three rounds unscathed, he can meet either Shapovalov, Hurkacz, or Aslan Karatsev in the quarterfinal. Shapovalov has been cold since his Wimbledon semifinal run, and it will take some effort if he fancies reaching the quarterfinal at Indian Wells. The southpaw will face countryman Vasek Pospisil in a tricky tournament opener. While Hurkacz is enjoying a breakthrough season this year, with a maiden Masters 1000 title at Miami and a semifinal run at Wimbledon that included wins over Roger Federer and Medvedev himself, the 24-year-old from Poland has been relatively inconsistent on tour.
In both of their previous meetings, Hurkacz has managed to trouble the Russian. While Hurkacz beat Medvedev in five sets at Wimbledon this year, the Russian got his revenge as he recorded a hard-fought, comeback three-set victory in the Toronto quarterfinal. A Medvedev-Hurkacz clash promises to be an intriguing battle. One can expect Medvedev to come through this tricky face-off, though.
The second quarter of the draw is the “group of death.” 4th seed Rublev, 6th seed Ruud, Bautista Agut, Schwartzman, Dan Evans, Cameron Norrie, and Llyod Harris are all part of this quarter, making this one of the most formidable quarters of the draw.
Rublev was the star for Team Europe at the Laver Cup. However, he has blown hot and cold so far this season. He needs to be consistent if he fancies a deep run at Indian Wells. In his last Masters 1000 event, he was a finalist at Cincinnati, recording his first win over Medvedev (in their fifth meeting) in the semifinal. While the path for Rublev to book his semifinal spot is far from easy, he is still the favorite to reach the last four from his quarter.
In their most recent meeting, Rublev was much more proactive and dynamic against Medvedev, approaching the net often to bamboozle his compatriot. That strategy brought him rich dividends. Rublev must resort to a similar game plan to unsettle Medvedev if they meet in the semis.
Potential Final Matchups
Tsitsipas, Zverev, the 5th seed Matteo Berrettini, US Open semifinalist Felix Auger-Aliassime and Italian young sensation Janik Sinner are placed in the bottom half of the draw. Since the beginning of the Tokyo Olympics, the 24-year-old German has been in the form of his life, winning Olympic Gold and Cincinnati Masters before succumbing Djokovic in the US Open semifinals. He returned to winning ways against John Isner at the Laver Cup and is the red-hot favorite from the bottom half of the draw to take on Medvedev in the final.
After Daniil Medvedev, Zverev is the second favorite to win his maiden title at Indian Wells. Of late, apart from Djokovic, Medvedev is the only player who has managed to trouble Zverev consistently on hard courts, which the German relishes playing on. The Russian has won four of their previous five meetings and will hold an upper hand yet again at Indian Wells if they meet.
At Indian Wells this year, for the first time, Medvedev enters a tournament as the Grand Slam champion. It remains to be seen if the Grand Slam champ tag liberates him, propelling him to scale new heights–or winds him down, making him crumble under the weight of his expectations.
A draw that is devoid of former champions opens a plethora of opportunities, not only for top seeds but also for relatively lesser-known and emerging players to make an impact as the sport seems to be ready to embrace the future, the one that will witness less and less of “Big 3.”
Barely a month ago, at US Open, Medvedev won his Maiden Major. At Indian Wells, he has a golden opportunity to consolidate his decorated triumph, and a chance to showcase his consistency and prowess on hard courts.
Can Daniil Medvedev lift his maiden title at Indian Wells this year, adding another significant title to his impressive list of important titles won on hard courts?
It will be intriguing to witness Medvedev’s journey in the penultimate Masters 1000 tournament of the year.
Main Photo from Getty.