Tuesday 5 March 2013
For the first time since last summer's Championships at Wimbledon, the Big Four of the men's game will be competing at the same tournament when they play at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden this week and next. Wimbledon.com examines the form of each member of the quartet...
The last time Djokovic lost a sanctioned match, it was Halloween, and he had walked out on court wearing a Darth Vader mask. That was the day he was bumped out of the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Paris by America's Sam Querrey. So the Serbian rolls into Palm Springs on an 18-match winning streak (if you discount his defeat to Australia's Bernard Tomic at the Hopman Cup, which you surely must), with that run including tournament victories at last November's ATP World Tour Finals, January's Australian Open and last week's ATP 500 event in Dubai. Should Djokovic's run continue in the Californian desert, it will be reasonable to start wondering whether he could go on to have a better start to the year than he did in 2011, when he did not experience defeat until he played Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open.
This will be the last that tennis will see of Federer for a couple of months, with the Swiss deciding against playing in Miami and Monte Carlo. Once Federer is finished in California, he won't compete again until the clay-court tournament in Madrid. For Federer, this is the last tournament before the end of the semester, which could affect his approach. Will he play eyeballs-out in California, knowing that he has a long break to come after the tournament? He is the only one of the Big Four who is yet to win a title this year.
By the time Murray leaves California, he could be the world No.2, trailing only Djokovic in the rankings. And if Murray doesn't move above Federer in Indian Wells, it will surely not be long before they do switch positions. Murray has been the world No.2 before - for three weeks in the summer of 2009 - but elevation this spring would feel much more permanent and meaningful. There is a feeling that the ranking computer is about to catch up with what most in tennis have already acknowledged, that Djokovic and Murray are now the leading pair in men's tennis. After all, Djokovic and Murray have contested the last two Grand Slam singles finals. Plus Murray has been in the last three major finals. When, not if, Murray becomes world No.2 this time, it will formally end the Roger and Rafa era, the epoc of Federer and Nadal as the dominant figures in the game. Murray, who has spent the past few weeks training in Miami, will be playing his first tournament since finishing as the runner-up at Melbourne Park.
And now for part two of The Relaunch of Rafa. Nadal has shown on his return that he still knows his way around a clay court, winning two of the three tournaments he played during the swing through the South American dirt, including giving David Ferrer a 6-0, 6-2 horsewhipping in the final in Acapulco last weekend, and pictured above getting his teeth into the Sao Paolo trophy. But now for the interesting bit, and his return to hard courts, a surface he hasn't played on for almost a year (since he aborted last season after his second-round defeat to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon, because of knee pain). There had been some speculation that Nadal would skip the hard-court Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, preferring instead to stick with the clay all the way through to the French Open. But he has decided to test his knee, and his game, by making the trip to California.
It's going to be a revealing 10 days in the desert.
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