March 15, 2009

Playtime in the Desert

The first ATP World Tour 1000 tournament of the year got off to a quick start earlier this week, as all but one of the top ten men took the courts in Indian Wells, California -- and former world #1 Roger Federer made his first appearance since the finals in Melbourne.

Roger made it through his second round match against a strong Marc Gicquel, as did defending champion Novak Djokovic and fourth-seeded Andy Murray. Rafael Nadal is playing his first match of the tournament -- all thirty-two seeds received byes in the first round -- tonight. But many of the top players struggled in their early matches.

I was nervous, as I often am, for James Blake as he faced Jarkko Nieminen in the second round. Though the Finn has never bested James in their previous five meetings, he did beat Djokovic earlier this year and was ranked as high as #13 less than three years ago. But Blake rebounded after dropping the second set tiebreak and brought home a win.

His friend Mardy Fish wasn't so lucky -- his second-round opponent, Jeremy Chardy, is a much better player than his #48 ranking suggests. The Frenchman first made a name for himself at last year's French Open, when he defeated David Nalbandian in a three-hour, five-set match on his way to the round of sixteen. And just this year he has already beaten Marcos Baghdatis, Igor Andreev, David Ferrer and Tommy Haas. Now he can add Mardy Fish to that list, ousting the twentieth seed in two tiebreak sets and avenging a loss he suffered in the semifinals at Delray Beach last month.

The tables were turned in the other U.S.-France matchup where wildcard John Isner took on ninth-ranked Gael Monfils. Isner was one of the standouts in late 2007, but never really kept the momentum going into last year. The 6'9" University of Georgia grad has had to play a lot of qualifying matches and has only made it into the main draw of three tournaments this year. But he's done well so far in Indian Wells, sailing past a strong Christophe Rochus and today beating Monfils after being down the first set.

One disappointing loss did come in the first round -- well, I'm sure more than one -- when Kei Nishikori fell to Ivan Ljubicic. Kei had a phenomenal 2008, becoming the first Japanese player to win an ATP title in sixteen years and jumping 218 spots in the rankings. This year, however, he's only made it past the first round at two tournaments and is now just holding on to his place in the top 100. Sure, he's only nineteen years old, and he still has his whole career ahead of him, so I'm hoping he can regroup and come back strong in the spring.

Of course there is still plenty of action left to go in Indian Wells, and we'll see if the early winners will be able to keep their momentum -- it might be nice to see things get shaken up a bit!

No comments: