BNP Paribas Open Preview How Will ATP February Breakout Players Do in the Desert? Thiem Zverev Fritz Kyrgios

Indian Wells

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February was a big month for some of the ATP’s 22 and under players as Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverer and Taylor Fritz all made some big strides in their careers. The Tennis Review looks at their chances of making even more progress at the ATP Tour’s “Fifth Slam” Indian Wells. 

Alexander Zverev, ranked 58

February breakthrough: Zverev scored what he said was the biggest win of his career versus 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic in Montpellier on his way to the semis. A week later, he came back from a break down in the third to beat the tough Gilles Simon in Rotterdam. At the Open 13 the week after he made the quarters where he took Berdych to three sets.

Indian Wells history: Zverev lost in the first round of qualifying last year to Michael Russell.

Indian Wells potential: Zverev likes slow courts, and the Indian Wells hard courts are some of the slowest hard courts on the tour.

Zverev also likes big matches against the top players and that appetite will serve him well at a prestigious event like the BNP Paribas Open.

Zverev will face Ivan Dodig in the first round and the winner will face Grigor Dimitrov. Zverev’s chances of beating Dodig look good – he defeated him to qualify for the US Open main draw last season. As for Dimitrov, Zverev has a great shot there- the German is on a nice run while Dimitrov is still struggling to find his game.

If Zverev makes it past Dimitrov, he might have a rematch with Simon, and if he repeats his Rotterdam win over the Frenchman then he could face Rafa Nadal in the last 16. That contest would be a classic one of veteran versus up and comer and with Zverev having so much momentum and Nadal at a crossroads in his career, it would be one that no one interested in tennis’ history and future would want to miss.

Dominic Thiem, ranked 13

Thiem Indian Wells

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February breakthrough: Thiem beat Rafa Nadal, saving match point, on his way to the ATP 250 Buenos Aires title. The next week he beat Ferrer on his way to the Rio semis, and the week after he won his first ever hard court and ATP 500 title in Acapulco.

Indian Wells history: Thiem is 2-2. Ranked 101, he qualified for the 2014 event and made the last 32, beating Simon to get there. Last season he crashed out to Sam Groth in round 1.

Indian Wells potential: Like Zverev, Thiem likes slower courts, and at Indian Wells he will have plenty of time to set up his dangerous one handed backhand.

Thiem’s serve is also a much improved stroke in the last 12 months and he will be able to get a lot more free points than he used to which will save him some much-needed energy if he comes up against any of the game’s best athletes, and he could come up against its current greatest, Novak Djokovic, if they both make the last eight.

Thiem has quite a tough draw in general- he has drawn qualifiers in round 1, and 2, and Jack Sock in round 3. Those qualifiers  will be match tough and with Thiem’s recent elevated status as world No. 13 and No.3 in the race to London, his opponents will be even more motivated to take him down.

Sock will be a tough task considering Sock’s aggressive game and the home crowd support he will receive. Also, if Thiem is at all tired from his February run and his recent Davis Cup battle with Portugal’s Gastao Elias which he won 7-6 in the fifth, he could be in trouble. However, if Thiem has recovered, he should have too much variety for Sock and repeat his straight sets victory over the American at last year’s Sony Open.

Thiem has drawn Tsonga in the round of 16. Tsonga won their one and only match in the Vienna quarters in 2013 in a third set tiebreaker and this could be a good opportunity for Thiem to get another prestigious win as Tsonga is not that match fit this season, only going 7-4, and recently lost to world No. 338 Thiago Monteiro in his Rio opener.

Thiem’s chances of bettering his current best ATP 1000 result- the Miami ’15 quarters- are not helped by his draw- Thiem will have to beat the best player in the world if he wants to take another step forward in his career. He would take two steps forward if he won- a first win over a world No.1 and a first ATP 1000 semi-final.

On the bright side, Thiem would likely have to beat Djokovic for the title anyway, and his chances of doing so are better earlier on in the tournament rather than in the final.

Djokovic was recently on the verge of reaching a record tying 18th consecutive ATP Tour final and of his last 17 finals he has lost just four of them. Of his last 17 semi-finals, he has won all of them. The last time he lost a quarter-final? His last event, Dubai. That was, though, a retirement due to injury. The last time that Djokovic went out in the last eight of an ATP tournament having completed the match was back in Doha, January 2015, before his final streak got going.

Match-up wise, well no one matches up well to Djokovic, and to beat him you pretty much have to put in a career best performance, but encouraging for Thiem he has been putting in plenty of those recently, and after his Davis Cup win he talked about how motivated he was to do well in Indian Wells.

Djokovic leads Thiem 1-0 after beating him in the 2014 Shanghai Masters 6-3, 6-4, and it seems only right that the world No.1 should face the game’s most in-form young player as he tries to win a record fifth Indian Wells title. It will be a big challenge for both and great entertainment for us.

Nick Kyrgios, ranked 27

Kyrgios Indian Wells

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February breakthrough: Kyrgios  won his first e ver title when he took the ATP 250 Open 13 tournament. Kyrgios was very impressive in his back to back defeats of Gasquet, Berdych and Cilic which saw some of the most impressive serve and return stats of anyone this season.

Indian Wells history: 1-1. Kyrgios reached the second round last year where he was beaten in a very competitive contest by Grigor Dimitrov.

Indian Wells potential: Kyrgios has the big serve, a much improved return, explosive ground-strokes and great shot-making skills to win big against attacking players like himself, but will have a more difficult time against the baseline oriented ones, and if his projected third round opponent Gael Monfils is in-form, Kyrgios will have a tough time making the last 16.

Murray would likely be waiting next. If Kyrgios’ aggressive game is clicking well enough to get past Monfils’ defense then he would be in good shape to fight past Murray who has beaten him the four times they have played on the ATP tour and lost just one set in their last ATP encounter at last season’s US Open.

Kyrgios does have one win against Murray, though, and their last meeting, too, when he defeated the Scot in straight sets at the ITF Hopman Cup. Only another aggressive, focused and confident performance like that will do against the world No.2, but if Kyrgios’ health is holding up, considering his recent form, he certainly has a chance of making another big stride in his ATP career this BNP Paribas Open.

Taylor Fritz, ranked 80

Fritz Indian Wells

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February breakthrough: Fritz made his first ATP final in Memphis last February playing only his third ATP event. Two weeks later, Fritz made the Acapulco quarters, beating veterans Jeremy Chardy and Victor Estrella Burgos before losing to Sam Querrey.

Indian Wells history: Indian Wells is the only ATP 1000 tournament at which Fritz has ever competed. Ranked 941, Fritz lost in the second round of qualifying last season to Thiemo de Bakker.

Indian Wells potential: Fritz may have limited experience in ATP main draws, but three of his four main draw appearances have come on hard courts. Indian Wells will play to his strengths- his serve and his ground-strokes- and compensate for his main weakness, his movement which means Fritz will have a bit more time to put his smart tennis brain to use from the baseline, but will also mean his wily potential second round opponent David Goffin will have that bit more time to bring him to the net and exploit his movement.

Fritz, the youngest player in the top 100, will face Frances Tiafoe, the youngest player in the top 200 at 177, in the opening round in what will be their first match. Should Fritz win, he would face Goffin and if he can upset him, a possible meeting versus in form Pablo Cuevas awaits in round 3. In the round of 16, Stan Wawrinka is the projected opponent.

Fritz has a tough draw, but the players in his way, while they may be in good form, are not the most consistent seeds, and if he can produce his steady baseline tennis, he will give himself a great shot at continuing to make a name for himself in the pro ranks.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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