The Australian Open is in January, but the tennis season, at least on the ATP, doesn’t really get into full swing until the Indian Wells-Miami double in March. With the first of the back-to-back super tournaments underway, let’s take a look at the big storylines from the opening weekend in Indian Wells:
Another Nick Kyrgios Meltdown
Even more than usual for him, February was a crazy month for Nick Kyrgios. He won his first ATP title with a red-hot week in Marseille, then followed it up with a strong run in Dubai before retiring in the semifinals to Stan Wawrinka with injury in their first meeting since the young Aussie’s infamously inappropriate comments last summer. Then Kyrgios traveled home to Australia and may or may not have been exaggerating injury, depending on who you ask, missing the Davis Cup tie against the United States.
Apparently March is going to be more of the same, as Kyrgios continued his antics, this time against Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Having already whacked a ball out of the stadium, Kyrgios was issued a point penalty after being heard issuing an obscenity at the back of the court. Adamant that he didn’t, Kyrgios defended his lack of cursing … by issuing a curse-filled rant to the chair umpire, then also threatened to retire and said he’d rather be sleeping:
Kyrgios would get broken at the end of the second set to lose 7-6 (4), 7-5. He has so much pure talent that he’ll zone his way to some titles here and there, but if this Big Four Era should have taught people anything, it’s that having incredible work ethic, top shelf fitness and point-to-point focus sets the greats apart, not raw ability, and Kyrgios has none of those. Could he develop them? Maybe, but the constant lack of accountability suggests it’s unlikely.
Top Men Advance
Despite Roger Federer (meniscus rehab) and David Ferrer (chose not to play) not even being in the tournament, the top-18 seeded men all won their openers, with Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal overcoming bumpy starts. A host of lower seeds lost (most notably Grigor Dimitrov with another setback, losing a tight three setter to rapidly rising teenager Sascha Zverev), but big times clashes loom, with some as soon as the next round, like Dominic Thiem vs Jack Sock and Nadal facing Fernando Verdasco for the first time since the fellow Spaniard stunned Nadal in Australia.
Women’s Bracket Crumbles
Fifteen seeded women, including second seed Angie Kerber (clearly bothered by a leg ailment) and fourth seed Garbine Muguruza lost their opening match, plus sixth seed Carla Suarez Navarro had to withdraw after rolling her ankle in practice. The pattern is frankly getting a bit old on both tours, as the top men are rarely upset early (even a slumping Nadal reached the quarterfinals in seven of the nine Masters 1000s in 2015) and the women’s elite are often decimated in the first few days.
The upsets would be fun if there was a sense of momentum for the younger players, but many, such as Madison Keys, seem to stall once they go from hunter to hunted. Getting the projected Serena Williams-Simona Halep quarterfinal would be a nice make-up present.
Don’t Forget the Doubles
Doubles play is often an afterthought for even hardcore tennis fans, but Indian Wells provides a can’t-miss experience. For a myriad of factors too long to list in this space, Larry Ellison’s tournament elicits entry from the top singles players. Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish won the 2009 title, Nadal has won twice (with Marc Lopez) and the Swiss duo of Federer and Stan Wawrinka came a few points within a trophy of their own.
In anticipation of this summer’s Olympics, Nadal and Verdasco, despite the (eventually realized) potential of meeting in singles, entered together and drew the Bryan brothers in the first round. The Spaniards let the match slip their fingers with some ill-timed mistakes, and as a result, the Bryans can recapture some lost momentum. Though they’ve slipped down to third in the rankings, both pairs that passed them were bounced in round one, so the road is much easier for the twins to get back to their winning ways.