Saturday, March 17, 2012

INDIAN WELLS '12: Federer-Nadal XXVIII, Nole-Isner

John Isner celebrates his 6-3 1-6 7-5 win over Gilles Simon to reach
 the semifinals of the hard court ATP Masters Series tournament
 in Indian Wells and face World #1 Novak Djokovic 
The semifinals of the first hard court ATP Masters Series tournament of the year are set, and they include the usual suspects: the World's Top 3 players in the world Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (who have a jaw-dropping 31 Grand Slam singles titles between them) and a curious interloper: World #11, 6'10" American John Isner.

Isner takes the 4th semifinal spot usually occupied by World #4 Andy Murray, who lost his first match here against a very in-form Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Isner will enter the Top 10 in the World if he wins his semifinal match, but he faces World #1, 5-time major champion and 2011 Indian Wells defending champion Novak Djokovic. Isner has never beaten Djokovic in his career, although the two have only played twice, in 2010. Even though Isner is a much better player now, so is Djokovic, and he should prevail to defend his title on Sunday.

Federer-Nadal XVIII is not as highly anticipated this time because the two great players have already met this year (in the semifinals of the 2012 Australian Open) and the career head-to-head is so slanted towards Nadal (18-9), although the hard-court head-to-head record is now dead even at 5-5, thanks to Nadal's wins last year at the 2011 Miami Masters and the 2012 Australian Open. In indoor hard courts Federer leads 4-0 but Nadal leads 5-1 in outdoor hard courts. Federer has looked slightly off his game, possibly ill from the dreaded stomach virus which has claimed many victims (Gael Monfils, Francesca Schiavone, Mike Bryan, and many others) at this year's tournament. However, he played excellent tennis to dispatch Juan Martin del Potro 6-3 6-2 for the fourth time in 2012.

Nadal is playing at a very high level this week, eager to get his chance to contest his 8th consecutive final against Djokovic (0-7!) and has reached the doubles final with compatriot Marc Lopez (where he will face Isner and Sam Querrey). In his quarterfinal match, Nadal was two points from defeat against a resurgent David Nalbandian, who demonstrated once again that he has one of the best backhands in the game but ultimately succumbed 4-6 7-5 6-4 in one of the best matches of the year so far. The match-up on an outdoor hardcourt is simply a very bad one for Federer unless he is playing his very best tennis, so I suspect we will see more of what we have seen before, Nadal beating Federer in the semifinal, and then losing to Djokovic in the final.

MadProfessah's prediction: Djokovic-Nadal final.

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