March heralds two high-profile ATP Masters 1000 events on hard courts in America, with the first beihg the Indian Wells Masters, which starts this evening. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns to preview the event...
"Cilic looks the one to favour in the weak-looking bottom half of the draw, which is full of seeded players with either form or fitness concerns. The over-rated Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin Del Potro, plus Djokovic as an intangible, look the main threats, but Cilic is capable of overcoming players of this level, and at [22.0] looks worth a small investment."
Federer a strong market favourite for Indian Wells glory
Indian Wells is one of the most lucrative non-Slam tournaments on the ATP Tour, and this is reflected in the previous winners list, which is something of a who's who of the tennis world. Only Ivan Ljubicic, in 2010, has been a non-Djokovic/Federer/Nadal winner here in the last decade, although with both Djokovic a fitness doubt and Nadal absent, the onus is largely on Roger Federer to continue this trend.
Rather unsurprisingly, Federer has been installed as the [2.22] favourite for the event on the Exchange, with Djokovic next at [8.2], and all other contenders in double-figure pricing. While Djokovic, at his peak level, would probably be odds-on or close to, it's still difficult to consider him at these prices given that injuries have curtailed his activity for a number of months and we can have little idea of his current level.
Swiss legend statistically out on his own in 2018
Interestingly, Federer doesn't have the strongest record here, and with slow conditions unlikely to suit the Swiss legend - there have been 78.1% of service games held here in the last three years, compared to the 79.3% ATP hard court mean - attempting to identify a double-digit player with back-to-lay potential looks a reasonable pre-event option.
Yesterday, I looked at ATP player level during 2018 via my TennisRatings website, and established that Federer was in a level of his own for the current year so far, with a combined 115.5% service/return points won percentage - truly an elite level figure.
However, there was little between a number of other players, with the likes of David Goffin, Roberto Bautista-Agut, Marin Cilic, Kei Nishikori, Kevin Anderson, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios all featuring highly in the data.
Bautista-Agut a long-short worth considering
Of those players listed, Goffin is injured while Nishikori is easing his way back into tour action following a long-term injury. Kyrgios has not played since he struggled with a right elbow injury during his Davis Cup defeat at the hands of Alexander Zverev at the start of February.
This leaves Bautista-Agut, Cilic, Anderson and Berdych of that shortlist, but none of this quartet have a particularly impressive record against top players. However, it may well be that they don't have to play any to get to the latter stages of the event.
Bautista-Agut comes into the event in good shape following victory in Dubai a fortnight ago, and he faces similar medium-slow conditions here in California. None of Jared Donaldson, Borna Coric or Albert Ramos look likely to prevent him getting to the last 16, where he is seeded to face Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the quarter-finals.
While Dimitrov will be a tough opponent, his outdoor hard data is not particularly impressive, with just a 103.2% combined service/return points won percentage - below top 15 level - and Bautista-Agut is very capable of getting past the Bulgarian on a slow outdoor court. The Spaniard can be backed at [70.0] on the Exchange.
Cilic can take advantage of doubts over others in the bottom half
Cilic looks the one to favour in the weak-looking bottom halfof the draw, which is full of seeded players with either form or fitness concerns. The over-rated Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin Del Potro, plus Djokovic as an intangible, look the main threats, but Cilic is capable of overcoming players of this level, and at [22.0] looks worth a small investment.
With a number of players coming into the event with fitness concerns, keeping an eye on their performance level in the opening rounds is paramount, particularly Djokovic with respect to assessing him in advance of the Miami Masters - an event which may be more of a realistic target for the Serbian superstar.
Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings