Five storylines to watch at the BNP Paribas Open

As the ATP World Tour season switches to the picturesque panorama of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in southern California, we bring you five storylines to ponder ahead of this year’s BNP Paribas Open.

Will Murray finally conquer the desert conditions?

Andy Murray has opened up a stunning 2,215-point gap over World No.2 Novak Djokovic after his first ever title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last weekend, and he has the potential to increase his lead even further next week with only 45 points to defend from last year’s event.

The No.1 ranking is safe — for now — but Murray’s momentum might be derailed if he can’t find a way to play his best tennis in the tricky conditions at Indian Wells. Last year, after a stunning second-round upset at the hands of Argentina’s Federico Delbonis, Murray admitted that he has never felt quite comfortable at Indian Wells . “I think it’s just the conditions here,” he said. “I have just struggled with it throughout my career. I have never really felt that I played my best tennis here.”

Murray is a former finalist and three-time semi-finalist at Indian Wells, but he has suffered some surprising losses like the one to Delbonis as well as back-to-back first-round losses to Donald Young and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in 2010 and 2011.

“You know, obviously it takes time to get used to new conditions regardless of where it is, but I have just never really found a way to get comfortable here throughout my career,” he said. “It’s a shame.”

Will Murray’s 12th Indian Wells appearance be the charm? He’ll come in as the World No.1 for the first time and with his first title of the season under his belt — the added confidence could do him good.

After avoiding Federer, Nadal and Del Potro in his half, the Scot will be pretty pleased with the outcome of the draw too…


Will Dimitrov’s renaissance continue?

It has been a phenomenal start to the season for Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov. He has gone 16-2 with two titles, and he reached his first major semi-final since Wimbledon 2014 at this year’s Australian Open. But the season is long, and Dimitrov will have to continue his forward progress into the spring, or else risk falling back down the rankings again.

Like Murray, Dimitrov has always had trouble at Indian Wells. The World No.13 owns a .590 winning percentage at Masters 1000 events, but at Indian Wells he has a .440 winning percentage and he has never won more than one match in a single year.

In 30 previous hardcourt Masters events, Dimitrov has only reached three quarter-finals, but two of those came last summer at the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati. Is going deep at Masters 1000s the new norm for Dimitrov? Based on the tennis he has shown in the season’s first two months, it could be.

The key to Dimitrov’s success will be the serve. Through 18 matches he has increased his percentage of service games won, break points converted and first-serve points won. If he can keep holding at his current rate, it’s likely that Dimitrov will keep winning as well.

Grigor Dimitrov, Service Stats for 2017 vs. Service Stats for Career

 

  Service Games Won Break Points Saved 1st-serve Points Won 1st-serve Percentage
Career 83 62 74 62
2017 89 77 77 66

 

Do Roger and Rafa have more magic in them?

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have already thrilled the tennis world beyond expectations in 2017. This January the pair met at a major final for the first time since 2011, and played a five-set classic at the Australian Open that left tennis fans breathless and hungry for more. So, what do Roger and Rafa have in store for their fans at the BNP Paribas Open? They may not come in as favourites but they do have history on their side. Nadal is the last player not named Djokovic to win this title (2013), while Federer is a six-time finalist and four-time champion.

 

No matter what their fates have in store for them, both Federer and Nadal will play Indian Wells with an eye on the future. Nadal, a finalist last week in Acapulco, will look to grow his confidence so that he may hit his beloved clay running in April; Federer, who did not play Indian Wells after knee surgery last January, will look to pick up some much-needed ranking points so that he may be ranked securely inside the Top 8 — and maybe even in the Top-4 — by the time the summer slams roll around. Federer has only 540 points to defend between now and Wimbledon.

Tuesday’s draw ceremony left a potential quick-fire rematch on the cards, with the Spaniard and the Swiss maybe duelling in the fourth round – with the winner potentially playing Novak Djokovic.

Whatever the outcome of the event, tennis fans can get excited that Roger and Rafa are still very much in the hunt for lofty titles as the 2017 spring hard-court season begins.

Which direction is Novak Djokovic headed?

It’s not easy to tell which Novak Djokovic we are going to see this year at Indian Wells. The Serb played with fire, grit and determination at the Abierto Mexicano last week, displaying some of his best shot-making when his back was against the wall during a dramatic second-round tussle with Juan Martin del Potro. Then, on the next day he was unceremoniously bounced out of the tournament by Nick Kyrgios, who fired 25 aces past him in a straight-sets victory.

Just when it appeared Djokovic was ready to go on one of those dominant runs once again, he was thwarted by a younger, unproven adversary, and sent packing.

But there were signs in that Del Potro match that the Serb is finding his lost mojo. Djokovic hit so many of the high notes in that contest that it’s hard not to imagine him getting back to his finest form in the weeks and months to come. Let’s not push the panic button too firmly on Djokovic just yet. He’ll be very dangerous player as he makes his return to the desert as a three-time defending champion. But he has got an absolute shocker of a draw in 2017.

Is it time for Alexander Zverev’s first Masters breakthrough?

If Alexander Zverev is indeed a generational talent, then he is due to start making a bigger impact on the game’s biggest stages. The 19-year-old has made huge strides, winning his first two ATP titles in the last six months, but still he has yet to reach the quarter-finals of a Masters 1000 event. Is it time for Zverev to hit the mark at Indian Wells? Last year he dropped a heartbreaking 6-7(8), 6-0, 7-5 decision to Rafael Nadal in the round of 16, failing to convert a volley on match point at 5-4, 40-30 in the decider.

Zverev addressed the media memorably after that match, lamenting his miss while pointing hopefully to the future. The young German is a player that does not suffer from a lack of confidence and he was not about to let one fluffed shot break his spirit. “I missed probably the easiest shot I had the whole match,” he said. “That’s what happened. This is painful right now, but, you know, it doesn’t change anything about the process.”

Is it Zverev’s time to start asserting himself in big events like Indian Wells? And if it is, what will it mean for him for the rest of the season? Already inside the Top 20, he has his eyes on the Top 10 and beyond. It could be a brilliant year for Zverev, but he’ll need to take that first giant leap before the dominoes start to fall.

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