2021 ATP BNP Paribas Open preview: First time winner to be crowned

A NEW ATP BNP Paribas Open title winner will be crowned at Indian Wells this fortnight, with no past winners in the 96-player draw. Missing the ‘Big Three’ – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – as well as reigning 2019 champion Dominic Thiem due to injury, the field is an open draw led by US Open winner Daniil Medvedev as top seed. Only Ugo Humbert is otherwise missing from the Top 30, though none of last year’s semi-finalists will be here, with Milos Raonic also out, joining Thiem, Federer and Nadal on the sidelines. With the draw out and qualifying underway, we look at a few keep points to keep an eye on.

Can Medvedev edge close to the world number one spot?

The Russian world number two is in scintilating form of late, picking up his maiden Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows, decrowning the world’s best Djokovic who has had a stranglehold on the number one spot. Holding the pole position longer than anyone else in the history, the Serbian has been hard to move, but a title at Indian Wells will move the Russian to within 1000 points of top spot, with the ATP Finals to come, and 1500 points on offer there. Medvedev has won 16 of his past 17 games, losing only one game since Wimbledon – to compatriot Andrey Rublev – and has won the Canadian Open and US Open in the process.

He has a relatively good draw, coming up against either James Duckworth – who he beat easily in the Canadian Open – or Mackenzie McDonald – who he also beat easily at Cincinnati – followed by Filip Krajinovic – in the third round. Denis Shapovalov and Hubert Hurkacz loom as his next two opponents after that, though Hurkacz is coming off a Moselle Open title. His close mate Rublev in the semi-final may well be Medvedev’s first big challenge, with the Russian not likely to have too many issues getting there.

What are some matches to look forward to in the first round?

There are a number of crackers in the first round, with Hurkacz’s 32nd of the draw particularly competitive. He shares it with Sebastian Korda (32nd seed) who will come in as a seed at a major event for the first time, and will play the winner of Alexei Popyrin or Miomir Kecmanovic in the second round, with Benoit Paire or Frances Tiafoe set for Korda. The winner of that little group will go on to play either Shapovalov or Aslan Karatsev in the fourth round. Aside from the McDonald and Duckworth first round clash, another American-Australian contest to watch is former Top 10 talent Jack Sock – who has received a wildcard here – coming up against John Millman. In the same quarter of the draw, other fantastic contests include Kevin Anderson up against Jordan Thompson, and Andy Murray and Adrian Mannarino facing off. Lorenzo Musetti taking on Albert Ramos-Vinolas for the right to play Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round has potential as well.

Which potential seeded clashes are there to look forward to?

The all-Italian battle between 10th seed Jannik Sinner and fifth seed Matteo Berrettini is set to be the best of the third round contests, with the Hurkacz-Shapovalov the other pick of the bunch for Round of 32 action. Third seed Alexander Zverev might be a little nervous with first-time seed Carlos Alcaraz in his section of the draw, with the 30th seed Spaniard on track for a third round battle with the German. On the other end of the scale, massively out-of-form seeds in Cristian Garin and Alex de Minaur are set to clash in the third round, with the winner to face Stefanos Tsitsipas. Two in-form talents in sixth seed Casper Ruud and 26th seed Lloyd Harris – who is seeded at a major event for the first time – will also be a fantastic third round clash if as expected, it eventuates. Harris is the sole big serving seed in his part of the draw, with counter punchers Daniel Evans and Diego Schwartzman the other ones in that 16th of the draw.

Who are the Next-Gen talents running around?

As it stands, the far and away two best Next-Gen talents are high seeds Sinner and Auger-Aliassime who are predicted to at least find their way into the third round, but for Auger-Aliassime, perhaps a fourth round with Tsitsipas. Alcaraz, Korda and Musetti have already been mentioned, but there are another four automatic main draw players running around at Indian Wells. Jenson Brooksby is fifth in the Race to Milan for the Next-Gen finals, and he takes on a qualifier in the opening round with the tough challenge of Zverev awaiting him in the Round of 64. Brandon Nakashima takes on Federico Coria in the first round for the right to play compatriot Taylor Fritz, whilst the other American Next-Gen – who has been awarded a wildcard – in Zachary Svajda will play a qualifier before locking horns with Karatsev in the Round of 64. Danish teenager Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune also takes on a qualifier before facing Garin in the second round.

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