lung infection

AROUND THE CORNER: MEN READY FOR BATTLE IN INDIAN WELLS

Alright everybody it’s time again for some tennis that really matters at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. Both the ATP and WTA Tour’s are in the house and that should make for a great week of coverage for our sport. This has always been a terrific event and it set the record for attendance outside of a Grand Slam event in 2008 with over 300,000 spectators during a twelve day period.

Let’s have a look at the men’s draw and see how things shape up.

Roger Federer is back on the scene for the first time since his Australian Open title at the end of January. The world number one has just overcome an apparent lung infection and coupled with his recent inactivity I don’t think we should expect all that much from him. Yes, he will likely make it deep into the draw, but I would be surprised if Roger made it past the semi-finals here this year. Roger gets a first round bye as do all thirty-two seeded players in the tournament. His first capable opponent could be Marcos Baghdatis in the third round.

Also in the top-half of the draw are the two Andy’s – 4th seeded Murray and 7th seeded Roddick. Murray tanked in Dubai in his only appearance since losing in the finals of the Aussie Open to Federer, while Roddick has played a fairly heavy schedule on the hard-courts of North America.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also lurks in the top-half while David Nalbandian seems ready to return to tournament play. Coming back in February after nine months away from the game due to hip surgery, Nalbandian withdrew before his third round match in Buenos Aires with a leg injury. The talented Nalbandian played the role of hero this past week in Davis Cup play as he closed out a victory over Sweden with a four set win over Andreas Vinciguerra. If he can stay healthy for an extended period, look for Nalbandian to quickly return to his typical top-twenty form.

The bottom-half of the draw contains 2nd seeded Novak Djokovic who recently defended his title in Dubai and seems poised for a bigger result here on the Masters Series stage. Right behind him is 3rd seed, Rafael Nadal, who returns to the tour after a recurring knee injury forced him to withdraw in Australia where he trailed Andy Murray in the quarter-finals. Expectations are low for Nadal as he has been away from the game for over a month and let’s just hope he can finish the tournament on his own terms. Defending his title in India Wells from 2009 is simply not going to happen.

Playing on fire so far this year and also in the bottom section is hard-serving John Isner of the United States and veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain. Isner won his first career title in Auckland in January and then was a finalist in Memphis, while Ferrero won back-to-back clay events in Costa Do Sauipe and Buenos Aires.

Also worth watching is Nikolay Davydenko who is likely still kicking himself for self-destructing against Federer in Melbourne and youngster Marin Cilic who made the semi-finals down-under and is ready to assert himself as a top-level threat in every event he enters.

I feel that with players like Federer, Nadal and Davydenko dealing with recent injuries or illnesses we are in for a Djokovic/Roddick final in Indian Wells. Those are my picks in the ATP World Tour Fantasy Challenge that begins Thursday at 2pm ET. Who will you choose?

AROUND THE CORNER: ANDY MURRAY MAKES RETURN TO TENNIS COURTS

Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships

With Venus Williams successfully defending her title this past week, the pressure will now be on Novak Djokovic to accomplish the same feat as the men take to the hard-courts in Dubai. Djokovic is seeded second, but is the top ranked player in the draw, as Roger Federer has withdrawn with a lung infection. This year’s edition has a slightly tougher field than a year ago, so Djokovic will have to be on top of his game in order to repeat as champion.

In the top-half of the draw is Andy Murray who is playing in his first tournament since losing the Australian Open final to Federer almost a month ago. Murray will likely advance to face rising star Marin Cilic in the semi-finals.

The bottom-half is where we can find both Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko who will also be entered in the doubles draw. Djokovic is paired with fellow-Serb Dusan Vemic while Davydenko is teamed with compatriot Igor Kunitsyn. This is a rare treat for fans in Dubai, as these two players do not usually partake in the doubles competition Also in this section of the draw is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who will threaten for the title.

One first round match to note is between eighth seeded Gilles Simon and Marcos “please keep your shirt on” Baghdatis. The winner will likely face Davydenko in the third round.

Absent from Dubai for a second year in a row is American Andy Roddick who withdrew a year ago due to the treatment of Israel’s Shahar Peer. This year scheduling has placed Roddick at back-to-back tournaments in the United States and he likely needs some rest to his shoulder before the Masters Series event in Indian Wells in two weeks time.

Also missing is Israeli doubles specialist Andy Ram, who a year ago was allowed into the United Arab Emirates to compete a week after the Peer incident.

Delray Beach International Tennis Championship:

With only a third of the prize money being offered compared to Dubai, the tournament in Delray Beach has a lower-ranked clientele yet there are still many familiar names floating in the draw this year. Good luck picking a winner from this group, as there are many players who are capable and several who have won this very event in years past.

Leading the group of former Delray Beach champions is number one seed, Tommy Haas. The German veteran has not had any note-worthy results thus far in 2010 so expectations are low. Haas won this event in 2006 but is 3-3 on the year and has failed to advance beyond the third round of any tournament he has entered.

Mardy Fish is the defending champion from 2009 and opens against Christophe Rochus. Despite being unseeded, Fish has a nice section of the draw and could get on a good roll.

Other former champions here include Xavier Malisse (’05, ’07) who opens against fourth seeded Jeremy Chardy, and Kei Nishikori (’08) who is making his return to the ATP Tour after season-ending elbow surgery a year ago. Nishikori opens against third seed Benjamin Becker.

Other names to keep an eye on include seventh seed James Blake who starts the tournament against fellow-American Taylor Dent. Finally an early round match where Blake should be considered the favorite, although Dent’s old-school serve and volley style is capable of giving anyone fits. Big-serving Ivo Karlovic is the tournament’s number two seed and should be counted on to win a few rounds as well.

Abierto Mexicano Telcel:

This week’s clay court stop on the tour is in sunny Acapulco, Mexico, where Nicolas Almagro is the two-time defending champion. Almagro will be looking for his third title in Acapulco in a row, while Tomas Muster has the all-time record of four consecutive wins from 1993 to 1996.

While the draw has not yet been released from the tournament, Fernando Verdasco is listed as the top ranked entry, with Fernando Gonzalez and David Ferrer also in the draw.