Saturday marks the first day that seeded players on the men’s side will take the court. Roger Federer, David Ferrer, and Rafael Nadal will all be in action. Federer begins his quest to repeat as the Indian Wells champion and capture his fifth title overall.
The three Americans in action Saturday are John Isner, Ryan Harrison, and the unceasingly controversial Wayne Odesnik.
Let’s take a look at several matchups that comprise Saturday’s absolutely fantastic ticket.
John Isner v. Lleyton Hewitt- John Isner’s 2013 has been lackluster to say the least and seems to be the result of an extremely erratic close to 2012. Isner only won two matches in 2012 after his third round defeat to Philipp Kohlschreiber at the U.S. Open. In 2013, the big serving American has an unimpressive 6-5 record and has lost to three players outside of the top 60, including the 105th ranked Edouard Roger Vasselin. Hewitt’s 2013 hasn’t been anything to brag about either. The veteran Aussie has a 4-4 record and has failed to defeat a player ranked within the top 70. Hewitt leads the head to head 2-1 with their last meeting coming in the finals of Newport in 2012, which Isner won in straight sets. Expect the everlastingly resilient Aussie to wear Isner down in any protracted rally and make it hard for the big man to penetrate the court with his forehand as a result of Hewitt’s depth and spin. Isner’s serve will have to be spot on as Hewitt’s return of serve is a dangerous entity. At a time when Isner is struggling with confidence, consistency, and really just maintaining extended rallies, playing a backboard like Hewitt is far from ideal.
Prediction: Hewitt to take out Isner in straight sets.
Ernests Gulbis v. Janko Tipsarevic- This is a match where you have two players moving in polar opposite directions. Tipsarevic has failed to win a single set in three matches after withdrawing in the fourth round of the Australian Open against Nicolas Almagro. Gulbis, on the other hand, has won 11 consecutive matches and was recently the champion in Delray Beach where he beat the likes of James Blake, Sam Querrey, and Tommy Haas. Tipsarevic leads the head to head in this series 2-1, including a victory in their most recent meeting in Vienna last fall. As well as Gulbis is playing, I believe Tipsarevic’s woes may be a direct function of poor scheduling and is such, I expect the Serb to get back on track in Indian Wells. This will be the 12th match for Gulbis in less than two weeks, so his fitness could play a big factor in this match against a guy who has only played six sets since the Australian Open. Tipsarevic has versatile groundstrokes as is to say he can vary pace and spin rather frequently and effectively. With that said, the Serb needs to make sure he isn’t as Jimmy Arias often describes it “massaging” the ball into the court thus giving the Latvian the onus to take control of the point. Tipsarevic’s best shot, his backhand down the line, will also be critical as it will allow him to spread Gulbis is out to his reinvented, unconventional forehand which is definitely prone to breaking down as it is extremely stiff, tense, and wrist intensive. Gulbis will need to keep his anger on constraint as playing a top 10 player is never easy especially at a Masters Series 1000 event where you feel you have a great shot of winning.
Prediction: Tipsarevic over Gulbis in straight sets
Richard Gasquet v. Bernard Tomic- This match is interesting to consider as it pits the hope of Australian tennis against the French veteran who knows this specific pressure all too well. In addition, the particular styles of Tomic and Gasquet represent a beautiful contrast. Gasquet prefers to camp miles behind the baseline, relying on spin, height, and margin. Tomic plays with far greater variety than Gasquet and generally goes flat or integrates under spin especially off the backhand side. Tomic has had a very solid start to the year beating Djokovic in Hopman Cup, winning the title in Sydney, reaching the third round of the Australian Open, and making it to quarterfinals of Marseille nearly beating the eventual champion Tsonga. Gasquet reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and has captured titles in Doha and Montpellier. Look for Tomic to bait Gasquet out of his comfort zone by introducing a ton of slice backhands that force the Frenchman inside the baseline. Tomic’s slice backhand will be effective in targeting the Gasquet forehand which is overly complex and elongated. In addition, Tomic will need to stay away from the lethal Gasquet backhand at all costs. For Gasquet, taking advantage of Tomic’s moments of ultra-passivity will be vital. In addition, whenever you are playing an opponent who plays high risk tennis (and is only an average mover) getting them on the move is definitely a smart play as their shot inherently becomes even lower margin because they are being pulled off the court. Gasquet leads the head to head in this series 1-0 capturing the only victory on his way to his 2012 championship in Bangkok.
Prediction: Gasquet over Tomic in three sets