Last year, all the talk was of the grupo de la muerte, a combined 45 Grand Slam singles titles somehow landing in the bottom quarter of the draw. We’re talking world-beaters Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro all in the same section, not to mention fast-rising Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev. A relieved Andy Murray, who found himself on the opposite side of the draw, called it “one of the toughest sections of a draw of all time.”
In the end, only eventual titlist Federer would survive.
With Murray, Nadal and 2017 runner-up Stan Wawrinka all sidelined by injuries, there will be no Group of Death in 2018 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some difficult rows to hoe. Just ask the defending champ Federer, who if the seeds hold up could face Austrian Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals. (Of course, quadrant habitués Tomas Berdych, #NextGen star Hyeon Chung, Sao Paulo champion Fabio Fognini, and Canada’s Denis Shapovalov might have something to say about that.) Or ask 2013 finalist Juan Martin Del Potro, who’s been thrown in with such power players as five-time victor Djokovic and Marin Cilic.
BNPParibasOpen.com takes a deep-dive look at the BNP Paribas Open men’s draw.
1st Quarter: Defending champ Federer arrives in the desert seeking his record sixth BNP Paribas Open title. Like last year, he comes in on the heels of winning the Australian Open. Federer, who owns the most match-wins in Indian Wells of any active player, will look to further boost his 57-11 mark in the desert. Beyond a possible second-round encounter with American Ryan Harrison, he could face Fognini or one of a trio of Frenchman — Adrian Mannarino, Julien Benneteau and Jeremy Chardy — in the fourth round. Beyond that lies a potential matchup with Berdych, Chung or Buenos Aires winner Thiem. The Federer-Thiem FedEx ATP Head2Head includes just three matches — all played in 2016 — with Thiem holding a 2-1 advantage.
Our pick: Roger Federer
2nd Quarter: Grigor Dimitrov appears to be coming into his own after a decade on the ATP World Tour. The balletic Bulgarian, 26, notched the biggest win of his career in 2017, becoming the first debutant to win the Nitto ATP Finals title since Spaniard Alex Corretja in 1998. Now ranked No. 4, he heads a section of the draw that also comprises potential quarterfinal opponent and US Open finalist Kevin Anderson, 2017 Indian Wells quarterfinalist Kyrgios, #NextGen standout Andre Rublev, Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Roberto Bautista Agut, and Croat Borna Coric, who will open against Donald Young of the U.S. Fans of all things American tennis will delight in the first-round contest between onetime junior foes Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka, as well as the presence of former USC team leader Steve Johnson and Jared Donaldson. “You can’t think about it,” Fritz said of his upcoming matchup with his pal/compatriot Opelka. “You play your friends, you play people you know. It just happens. What we do here is a job. We do it for a living, so you can’t let it get in the way. I’ve played Reilly a couple of times. We had dinner the night before we played and we had dinner afterward, so there are no hard feelings. We compete on the court and literally right after it’s, ‘Where are we eating tonight?’”
Our pick: Nick Kyrgios
3rd Quarter: Fresh off a plane from San Jose, where he appeared in a Monday night fundraiser alongside Federer, the same man who defeated him here in the semifinals last year, Jack Sock heads a wide-open quarter No. 3. Sock cracked the year-end Top 10 (No. 8) in 2017, becoming the first American man to do so since Mardy Fish in 2011. After qualifying for his first-ever Nitto ATP Finals, the Nebraskan is brimming with confidence these days. Standing between Sock and a potential quarterfinal faceoff with world No. 5 Zverev could be fellow Americans Frances Tiafoe (riding high of his first career title in Delray Beach) and/or Sam Querrey. Also populating the quarter are Montpellier titlist Lucas Pouille, 2016 finalist Milos Raonic of Canada, Rio champion Diego Schwartzman and British hope Kyle Edmund.
Our pick: Alexander Zverev
4th Quarter: Having reached the BNP Paribas Open final in 2013 (l. to Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 6-4), fan favorite Del Potro is quite comfortable on the hard courts of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. But the towering Argentine surely can’t be relishing a potential fourth-rounder against five-time tournament champ Djokovic, the 10th seed. He’s a paltry 4-14 against the 12-time Slam winner, who captured three straight titles in the desert between 2014 and 2016, and like Federer is chasing a record-setting sixth trophy overall. Nole is perhaps the event’s biggest question mark, as he has been nursing a compromised elbow, an injury that forced him to revamp his serve earlier this year. Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who’s been dealing with some physical woes of his own, could break up this potential pairing, but should Del Potro and Djokovic end up facing each other in the Round of 16, the prize could be an on-court meeting with the likes of John Isner, Doha champion Gael Monfils, Gilles Muller or Australian Open runner-up Cilic. Surprisingly, Cilic, who’s played some of the best tennis of his career on cement, has never had much success here in the desert. In 10 career appearances in Indian Wells, the Croat has only twice advanced beyond the third round, his best showing a quarterfinal finish two years ago. Last year, the 29-year-old suffered a shocking second-round defeat at the hands of Taylor Fritz.
Our pick: Juan Martin Del Potro
Taylor Fritz vs. Reilly Opelka
Borna Coric vs. Donald Young
Frances Tiafoe vs. Ernesto Escobedo
Gael Monfils vs. Matthew Ebden