The BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is the focus for the next 10 days or so on the ATP Tour, as the majority of the world’s best tennis players head to the California desert for this rescheduled Masters 1000 event.
Around 18 months ago I was standing outside the closed gates of the Indian Wells Tennis Centre collecting a refund on my tickets when the 2020 tournament was cancelled at late notice due to the emergence of Covid-19.
Now, a year-and-a-half later, top level tennis is back at Indian Wells and it’s a tournament we’ve enjoyed a fair bit of outright success in lately – do we ever need it to come to our rescue in 2021.
The one bright spot in last week’s outrights was at least we didn’t lose in a semi final again, as all of our picks exited Sofia and San Diego early on in a week where outright value wasn’t easy to come by.
In typical style, two of the outrights were beaten from good positions: an injured Lloyd Harris was a set and a break up on Diego Schwartzman, but was unable to continue to be as powerful from thereon in.
And Taylor Fritz led Denis Shapovalov 4-1 (and break points for a double break) and 6-3 (four set points in all) in the resulting tie break in set one, but once he’d blown those leads he was done for.
In the end it was the number one and two seeds contesting the Sofia final, while number two seed Casper Ruud won San Diego, so there was little for big-priced punters to get excited about.
Conditions and trends
They still play on a slow Plexipave outdoor hard court at Indian Wells, with that company’s contract being renewed for three years in 2019, which was the last time that Indian Wells was actually played.
It’s designed to compensate for the lack of humidity in the Californian desert and it results in CPIs of around 28-32, depending upon conditions, with the balls likely to zip through the air a bit quicker this year than they did in 2019 when it was a bit chilly.
This year we’re expecting temperatures between 25C and 32C and plenty of sunshine is forecast, so the courts should be lively, but it’s still got plenty to offer for the clay courters, with its high bounce and slow pace off the surface.
We’re actually coming into Indian Wells this year having backed the winner here the last two times: 80-1 Dominic Thiem in 2019 and 16-1 Juan Martin Del Potro in 2018 and a three-peat would be more than welcome.
Big-priced winners are rare here though and only Alex Corretja (2000) and Ivan Ljubicic (2010) this century have won this tournament and finished their careers without winning a major.
Qualifiers going deep at Indian Wells are few and far between, with Miomir Kecmanovic (lucky loser) in 2019 being the first man from the qualie draw to reach the last eight since Vinny Spadea in 2003.
Indian Wells draw – top half
This year’s Indian Wells is another one of several M1000s this season that have not featured any of the game’s superstars, with Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer all missing this fortnight.
So, our top seed and market leader is Daniil Medvedev, who so far in his career has failed to better the last-32 at Indian Wells and he’s still got something to prove in slow, high bouncing conditions.
Confidence-wise the Russian comes here about as confident as it’s possible to be after winning his first major and going on to play really well on a slow indoor court at Laver Cup, so he has to be the favourite this fortnight.
There are still doubts about him on slow surfaces though and the number one seed has only won here twice since 2009, so I’m happy to take a chance on a bigger-priced player in Medvedev’s half of the draw.
And the one that stands out for me in Q1 is Reilly Opelka, who actually hasn’t won a match at Indian Wells yet, but he should be ideally suited by the conditions here.
His kick serve should get up really high at Indian Wells and the lack of pace in the courts will help his less-than-athletic movement – remember, he made the semi finals of Rome on clay not long ago.
He also made the final at Masters 1000 level in Toronto recently and he’s beaten Medvedev before (on indoor hard in Medvedev’s backyard in Russia) and lost to him twice in final set tie breaks.
Opelka looks to be one player in Q1 that might be able to get the better of Medvedev in these conditions.
Others include Hubert Hurkacz, Seb Korda, Aslan Karatsev, Botic van de Zandschulp and Denis Shapovalov on their very best form and of these Hurkacz looks the obvious choice.
Typically, we backed Hurkacz in Cincy and at the US Open, and he flopped both times, before winning his next tournament in Metz without dropping a set (and beating our 80-1 outright in the semis).
So, we’ve had no luck with him yet, but conditions here should suit the Pole, who won the title in Miami, where it’s similarly slow, but much more humid.
He made the quarter finals on his only appearance at Indian Wells in 2019 and he beat Medvedev at Wimbledon this summer before losing only in a final set tie break to the Russian in Toronto.
It’s probably asking a bit too much of Shapovalov, Korda and Karatsev, although all are capable of strong weeks, while it’ll be interesting to see if Van de Zandschulp can carry on his improved form on the big stage this week after his US Open breakthrough.
But Hurkacz and Opelka look the main dangers to Medvedev in Q1, with the former a 33-1 shot and the latter a best-priced 60-1 (Unibet).
Q2 has several possible options, with the form man being Casper Ruud, who should enjoy the clay-like conditions at Indian Wells on what will be his third appearance here.
Ruud was ranked 94th in the world the last time he played here, but his improvement lately has been impressive – on hard courts in particular, where he struggled in the past – and the Norwegian has to be one of the ones to watch this tournament.
Fatigue may be a problem after a lot of tennis in recent months (23 matches since Wimbledon), but his hold/break total of 110.4 in his last 10 main level matches on outdoor hard shows the sort of level he’s producing right now.
Another possible problem for Ruud is that he’s 0-5 head-to-head against the man he’s seeded to meet in the quarter finals, Andrey Rublev.
Rublev is only 2-4 win/loss at Indian Wells, but, similarly to Ruud, he was ranked 102 the last time he played here.
My worry with Rublev is mainly the mental side of his game when it comes to big matches, but his second serve is still also a concern – he’s won only 45% of those points in his last 10 matches (7-3 win/loss) at main level on outdoor hard.
And on a slow surface like this you feel that his second serve could be attackable and he could be ground down by someone like Cam Norrie (who beat Rublev last week in San Diego) or Roberto Bautista Agut.
Diego Schwartzman, Lloyd Harris and Dan Evans are possible alternatives, but Schwartzman is 2-5 win/loss here and Harris would probably need it to be a bit quicker (and he was injured in San Diego).
Evans should have enough in the tank after only 11 matches since Wimbledon, but his form lately doesn’t appear good enough to make me think he’ll challenge at the Indian Wells Masters.
Indian Wells draw – bottom half
I wonder if the off-court goings-on concerning Alexander Zverev will play on his mind this week and if so, who’s likely to take advantage?
Zverev is currently under investigation by the ATP into allegations of domestic abuse and that may have some effect on his performances this tournament – or it may have none whatsoever.
What we do know is that Zverev is yet to really show his best form at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, with a 5-5 record (lost four of his last six here), but I’d have thought that the slow, high bouncing surface would suit him.
He’s too short in price for me at around 5-1 given the circumstances, plus he’s in a tough section of the draw, with Jenson Brooksby a possible first opponent, followed by probably Carlos Alcaraz or perhaps Andy Murray.
Given Zverev’s previous form here it wouldn’t be a major shock if Brooksby or Alcaraz defeated the German early on and either of that pair could well go on and have a strong week.
The rest of the Zverev’s mini-section doesn’t look that strong, with Gael Monfils perhaps the likeliest to make the last-16 and Lamonf has never been past the quarter finals here at Indian Wells in a mediocre 13-10 career record.
The top of Q3 looks really competitive, though, with Matteo Berrettini, John Isner, Jannik Sinner, Taylor Fritz, Brandon Nakashima and wild card Jack Sock all in there and the Italian duo look set to perhaps meet in the last-16.
Sinner was in fine form last week in Sofia and made the final in Miami at this level earlier in the season, so he has to be on the shortlist, while Berrettini should be relatively fresh after only eight matches since Wimbledon.
Sinner is on debut at the Indian Wells Masters, but he made the final in Miami on debut, so that’s not overly concerning and his stats in the last three months at main level show a hold/break total of 109.1, so he’s right in there with a chance on that level.
Berrettini can only show a combined total of 104.2 in the same timeframe and while he’s capable of better, he’s not breaking serve enough for my liking (16% in the last three months).
So, at the prices I’d take Sinner at slightly bigger odds than Berrettini as my selection in Q3, but Isner could be dangerous, too in perfect conditions for him.
Isner beat Sinner in Cincy and that’s the only match against the big servers in my database that Sinner has played, so that’s a real worry for Sinner backers with Isner a likely second opponent.
Isner hasn’t been past the last-16 in his last five visits to Indian Wells, though, and that does put me off him now at a price of around 50-1. I’d want closer to double that to back the big man here, I think.
The final quarter sees number two seed Stefanos Tsitsipas try and improve his 1-2 win/loss mark at Indian Wells, and conditions should suit him here in terms of the surface being a little slower.
Opelka showed, though, in Toronto that if you can kick a serve in high up to the Tsitsipas backhand that gives you a big advantage against the Greek and conditions here are perfect for that very thing.
There aren’t many huge servers in Q4 though, and Tsitsipas should fancy his chances against opposition such as Felix Auger-Aliassime, Karen Khachanov, Pablo Carreno Busta and Nikoloz Basilashvili.
That said, FAA beat Tsitsipas here in straight sets in 2019 as a 3.29 chance and the Canadian is in good form at the moment, having made the US Open semi finals and the quarters in Cincy (lost to Tsitsipas, who’s won their last five in a row now).
And Khachanov should enjoy conditions here, too, with the high bounce and slow surface ideal for his strike zone – he made the last eight here in 2019, losing in two breakers to Nadal.
Carreno Busta is a former semi finalist here and has a fair chance of going well again, but if Khachanov finds his best game (he’s only really found it at the Olympics in recent times) the Russian could power his way to the quarter finals.
Tsitsipas is also 4-0 head-to-head against Khachanov, so this Q4 does favour the Greek player, but his form this hard court summer is a worry, as are the conditions to a certain extent, and I’m not sure I could back him at 8-1.
Wild card Holger Rune has improved massively in a very short space of time and he may go a few rounds with a handy-looking draw against the likes of Cristian Garin, the struggling Alex De Minaur and Pablo Andujar, but Q4 looks very winnable for Tsitsipas.
If we’re taking on Medvedev, then, in the top half I like Opelka and Hurkacz to be the ones to do it with, while Sinner will be my only play in the bottom half of the draw.
1 point win Hurkacz at 33-1 (Bet365)
1 point win Sinner at 33-1 (BoyleSports)
0.5 points each-way Opelka at 60-1 (Unibet)