Indian Wells 2017
It’s time for the first ATP Masters event of 2017, increasingly referred to as the ‘fifth slam’ on the tennis circuit. I will look at this year’s event from both a Betting and Fantasy Tennis perspective, considering both the men’s and women’s draws.
Indian Wells has conditions all its own. The desert air gives an extra boost to the big servers and hitters on the tour. The hard courts are relatively slow and high bouncing, giving defensive players some help. The likes of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal have all enjoyed these conditions in the past, helping themselves to 12 titles between them.
The men’s event is the most unpredictable it has been for years. The Federer/Nadal final at the Australian Open seemed to suggest that the era of the Big Four is still here. But the form of Djokovic, who has dominated this event in recent years, is a real talking point. Federer, Djokovic and Nadal all suffered losses last week, to Donskoy, Kyrgios and Querrey respectively. The rest of the tour seem less intimidated by the Big Four than ever and I won’t be surprised to see some upsets in this year’s event.
Andy Murray leads the first quarter as first seed and finds himself as favourite for a tournament that he has never won. It is hard to put a finger on why exactly this is one of Andy’s least successful Masters events. Early in his career he had considerable success here, making the final in 2009. But he has suffered some tough exits since then and clearly doesn’t enjoy the atmosphere of the event as much as the follow-up Masters in Miami. That said, he should be favourite to come through this quarter. Of course, there will be challengers. Goffin made the semi-final stage here last year. Tsonga has had a great start to the season, winning two tournaments already. Bautista Agut can present a challenge at this level. But if Murray can get a couple of wins under his belt and find his rhythm by the time he faces this opposition, they will find it hard to break him down.
The second quarter doesn’t contain a standout candidate for a semi-final slot. Wawrinka is the top seed but is out of form and has never made the semi-final stage before. Berdych’s record is a little better but he hasn’t shown form either. Monfils and Thiem played reasonably well here last year and have as big a chance as anyone else. In terms of a record at the event, John Isner has the best: a former finalist, in 2012. His form this year has been very poor, though. Thiem’s fitness might see him through the section.
Nishikori heads this section. He has a fairly average record at the tournament but could take advantage of a weaker than usual quarter. His main rival is perhaps Dimitrov, who has had a fine showing in 2017 and will be coming into the event with confidence. Sam Querrey, last week’s winner in Acapulco, has the form and game to blast his way to the semi-finals. Will he be able to find his ‘A’ game so soon after the best week of his career? Another American who will be keen to do well on home turf is Jack Sock, while rounding out the main competitors is Marin Cilic, former US Open champion. I would give the edge to Dimitrov here.
Finally, the craziest quarter of a draw I can ever recall seeing. Deep breath…Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Del Potro, Kyrgios, Zverev will all fight it out in a Quarter of Death. This is one to have fantasy tennis players squirming in pain at the impossible task of deciding who will come through. I find it hard to call, but I expect to see either Djokovic or Nadal standing by the end of it and if forced to choose, which I am, will go with the Spaniard, based on 2017 form.
The draw has made a huge impact on the odds on offer. We know that, at most, only one of the ‘Big 3 of Indian Wells’ will make it to the semi-final stage. What will they have left in the tank when they get there? Murray should capitalise, but he has never won here before, and anyway, his odds are low, the bookies installing him as favourite.
It therefore makes sense to me to go for an outside bet in this tournament. If the Big 4 all fail (and remember, a maximum of two will make it to the semi-finals), who could win? I will go for Tsonga: he has current form and has proven he can win at this level already. The longest odds available for him are with Betsafe, at 51:1. Next best are BetVictor at 34:1.
The withdrawal of Serena Williams from the line-up in Indian Wells (and Miami) has really opened up the competition here, in an event which no individual has dominated. The likes of Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka have all won the event twice, but no-one has got to three titles. No-one will get to three this year either, since former champions are thin on the ground: Halep, Wozniacki and Jankovic are the only ones making an appearance.
Taking Serena’s slot in the draw, and her position as favourite for the title, is Karolina Pliskova. She is on a hot run of form in 2017, taking two titles already, on the back of a breakout year in 2016. She made the semi-finals here last year. Virtually everything is pointing to a good run here. However, she will not find this quarter of the draw easy. Muguruza has landed here, though in terms of form and match-up, I don’t see the Spaniard as a huge threat. More significant I think is the presence of Elina Svitolina, who is coming in from a huge win in Dubai. There are other threats too, such as Australian Open semi-finalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who dumped out Pliskova in Melbourne. Overall, Pliskova is the most likely to get through here, but it’s no certainty. Fantasy tennis players may want to add some insurance in this quarter.
This quarter presents a good opportunity for someone to seize a semi-final berth in Indian Wells. There are plenty of players capable of doing so. Seeded highest, Cibulkova will fancy her chances after showing incredible consistency over the last 12 months. Kuznetsova is in a similar position and I expect them both to fight hard this week. Kasatkina played well here last year and Pavlyuchenkova could go on a run, similar to her recent quarter-final appearances in Wimbledon and Melbourne. However, my money here would be on Konta using her power and consistency to get through the field. This is slim margins, however, and a poor performance from any of these players would open the door to a rival.
Simona Halep heads up this quarter. Halep won here in 2015 and the courts suit her game, but she has had a horrendous injury affected start to 2017. It isn’t possible to know how well she will play here. Not only this, the other top seed in the section is Madison Keys, who is playing her first competitive tournament of the year. It is quite possible for a form player, therefore, to come through this quarter. The obvious candidates here are Wozniacki, Mladenovic and Stosur. Big hitters such as Bouchard and Osaka could also have a say. In a difficult section to predict, Wozniacki looks like the most sensible pick.
Angelique Kerber heads up the last section, with a great chance to seize the number one ranking back this week. She finds herself in one of the easier quarters of the draw. Everything looks to be in her favour, but still I have doubts. She has no great pedigree in this tournament. While she played well in Dubai, her body seemed to let her down in the semi-final. There are plenty of players here ready to take her place should she fall. Radwanska is usually able to take opportunities that fall her way, though she has not yet been at her best this year. Venus Williams seems to be back, making it to the final at the Australian Open this year. Semi-finalist Coco Vandeweghe is yet another threat. Jankovic always seems to play well here. Some younger players, such as Konjuh and Putintseva, also have a good chance to break through. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the big names fall in this section, so the gamblers amongst you may want to follow an outside tip for Putintseva to continue her climb up the rankings and make the semi-finals.
To go on a surprise run, Yulia Putintseva. She has a potential third round encounter with Kerber. If you are interested in backing her for the title, have a look at BetVictor and SkyBet who are offering 200:1.