WASHINGTON, March 6, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Fresh off winning his 100th career title, Roger Federer arrives in the scenic California palm desert town of Indian Wells in search of title No. 101 as the BNP Paribas Open begins this week. However, for last year’s finalist to lift another trophy, he’ll have to be on the winning side of several potential blockbusters matches that dot the richly-talented draw of this year’s first Masters 1000 event.
For Federer, that means beating World No. 2 Rafael Nadal and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in back-to-back matches. It won’t mean having to face 2018 champion Juan Martín del Potro, who will miss his title defense due to a knee injury.
Before either blockbuster – a Federer-Nadal semifinal or a Federer-Djokovic final – can become a reality, let’s step back a few rounds. The men’s draw really comes alive in the third round. That’s when the fun begins and fans start to take note as the fourth-seeded Federer, a five-time champion at Indian Wells, could face fellow Swiss and former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka (for a 25th time in their rivalry) while the top-seeded Djokovic, in his first competition since winning his seventh Australian Open title, might oppose Abierto Mexicano Tercel presentado por HSBC winner Nick Kyrgios. Add to the mix, the second-seeded Nadal, a three-time Indian Wells champion, could draw No. 25 seed Diego Schwartzman as his third-round opponent while third-seeded Alexander Zverev could meet No. 26 seed Grigor Dimitrov.
As with any Masters 1000 tournament, there’s plenty of big names in each quarter of the draw – and there’s an abundance in Federer’s. To wit, there’s No. 6 seed Kei Nishikori, No. 10 seed Marin Cilic, No. 22 seed Kyle Edmund and No. 28 seed Lucas Pouille. You want more? Add a couple of Next Gen ATP stars in No. 24 seed Denis Shapovalov and 35th-ranked Frances Tiafoe.
Federer’s road to winning the BNP Paribas Open for a record sixth time could look like this:
• First round – bye
• Second round – Andreas Seppi
• Third round – No. 29 seed Marton Fucsovics
• Fourth round – No. 16 seed Fabio Fognini
• Quarterfinals – No. 6 seed Kei Nishikori
• Semifinals – No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal
• Finals – No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic
Spotted in Stadium 2… 👀
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) 5. März 2019
Meanwhile, Djokovic, who like Federer, is in pursuit of a sixth title at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, stands at the top of the 96-player draw and his fortnight, like others, is filled with just a few interesting obstacles. It could shape up like this for Djokovic:
• First round – bye
• Second round – qualifier
• Third round – No. 31 seed Nick Kyrgios
• Fourth round – No. 15 seed Mario Cecchinato
• Quarterfinals – No. 7 seed Dominic Thiem
• Semifinals – No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev
• Finals – No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal
Whether by design or luck of the draw, Zverev’s quarter includes five 2019 ATP Tour winners: fifth seed Kevin Anderson, who won at Pune, Alex de Minaur (Sydney), Roberto Bautista Agut (Doha), Stefanos Tsitsipas (Marseille) and Laslo Djere (Rio). Add another Next Gen ATP star in Felix Auger-Aliassime, who lost to Djere in the Rio final and has risen in the rankings to No. 58 after starting the year ranked outside the Top 100. He and Tsitsipas could meet in the second round.
You want blockbusters? There will be blockbusters. The players are happy to be back in the desert and ready to oblige us.