Ahead of the start of the Indian Wells Masters on Monday, Tennis Signal takes a look at what we can expect from the opening of the hard court swing in the tennis season…
Commonly known as the ‘Sunshine Double’, the Indian Wells Masters and the Miami Open are two of the most prestigious tournaments in the men’s calendar outside the Grand Slams.
After his exerts at the Australian Open in January where he lifted his third Major title in a row, Novak Djokovic will be the favourite at both events and he will take some stopping.
There will be plenty of fascinating plots involving the main protagonists including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but who will reign supreme?
Home sweet home
There will be a brand new venue which will stage the Miami Open, but tennis sentimentalists may shed a tear.
Previously, the tournament had been hosted for 32 years at Crandon Park but, as it is no longer fit for purpose, this year’s competition has been moved to the 65,000 capacity Hard Rock Stadium (pictured), which is home to NFL franchise the Miami Dolphins.
The new site is huge with 30 courts, including 18 practice courts. The main Grandstand Stadium will be taken up by 14,000 spectators, although it remains to be seen whether the Hard Rock can recreate the intense atmosphere that Crandon Park used to generate.
Over 300,000 fans visited the tournament last year and organisers will be hoping to see a similar surge in ticket sales. It will be interesting to see how the courts play, with a key criticism levelled at Crandon Park in the past that heavy humidity contributed to slower conditions.
Sunshine Double for Novak?
Completing the Sunshine Double has been a notoriously difficult feat to achieve, with only seven players managing to do so. Djokovic looks revitalised and coming off the back of his Australian Open win over Nadal in January, he will fancy his chances of adding to his collection of Masters titles (32).
The Serbian will begin his quest for a fifth Sunshine Double which is unprecedented and at the Miami Open, like Indian Wells, he has been crowned champion three times in the past five years.
One of the greatest players to wield a tennis racket, Djokovic has ascended new heightsand he is an indomitable force, but Federer will be eager to stop Djokovic in his tracks.
After his 17-match winning streak was quashed in last year’s Indian Wells final against Juan Martin del Potro, the Swiss legend will be desperate to spoil the party and clinch a record sixth title.
Isner looking for launchpad
Last year represented a breakthrough moment for John Isner as he clinched his maiden Masters series title in Miami. However, once again, Isner has started off this season in inauspicious fashion.
Although there have been two semi-final appearances in 2019, they were coupled with some early exits and he was the victim of consecutive first-round defeats to Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka in Auckland and the Australian Open respectively.
Isner has the game to go deep into most tournaments and maybe he will take inspirationfrom his showing in Miami last year. While his fortunes have fluctuated in the past, Miami could be the launchpad for another successful campaign.
Never rule out Nadal
Nadal has had his fair share of injury problems over the past six months or so. His season was cut short last term with a knee issue and his preparations for the Mexican Open this year were disrupted.
The Spaniard hasn’t won Indian Wells since 2013 and the Miami Open continues to elude him after finishing runner-up on four occasions.
The Australian Open final defeat to Djokovic exposed some of his shortcomings at the moment, but he can’t be ruled out as a contender.
Alexander Zverev remains one of the biggest enigmas in the game. He feels at ease in the Masters 1000 series events and he has already collected three titles at this level.
The German has been unable to translate onto the Grand Slam stage as he has not been further than the quarter-finals in any of the Majors.
While Zverev has huge groundstrokes and excellent variety on his serve, his volleying is still one area that needs improving.
Ultimately, it depends on the draw, but a good few weeks in California and Miami will give him confidence going into the clay court swing and it could fuel a serious tilt at the French Open.