The first Masters 1000 of the season began this week in California. The Grand Slams may be the biggest showcase for the top players, but tournaments like Indian Wells can tell us a lot about them as well.
Rafael Nadal -- He's the indisputable No. 1 in the world and is dominating his sport like few could ever boast. He won three of the last four Grand Slams and when he's not winning it's often due to an injury. Rafa always gives 100 percent and never plays with the brakes on.
Right now, he's most impressive because for every major event he succeeds in finding technical and tactical answers in order to win. For example, long rallies, outstanding defense and topspin help him win the French Open. A better serve, shorter points and more flat shots earned him a US Open title. He believes in the culture of winning.
In my opinion, Rafa is the player with the strongest mind in tennis history. But his body may betray him. It's both his strength and his weakness because he's constantly made it suffer by always asking it more and more. Indian Wells is his first tournament since the Australian Open. Can he stay healthy?
Novak Djokovic -- In the past eight months he's taken his game to new heights. He was a a finalist at the US Open, hoisted the Davis Cup (where he was amazing at every level by winning by playing great despite the huge pressure of a whole country on his shoulders) won the Australian Open and then capped it off in Dubai by crushing Roger Federer in the final. It's no stretch to say he could be the next No. 1. There is still that little matter of Mr. Nadal though, so the time isn't coming quite yet. Indian Wells will tell us where he stands now and it'll be thrilling to see those two players in the battle. Djokovic is getting closer to Nadal on the game level but he'll have to be more efficient in order to win on these hard courts.
Roger Federer -- Roger, we have a problem. Even if it's tough to admit for a champion of this caliber, and even if we want to still see him at his best level, he has clearly on his downswing. It's enough to look objectively at his last results to be convinced. Beyond his recent lack of efficient play, his whole game is lacking consistency. During his matches, he can display the best and then the worst and seems to suffer from big focusing issues. He could soon lose his No. 2 ranking to Djokovic and that could hurt his confidence. Whether he can hold off the Serb is why Indian Wells and Miami will be of great interest.
Andy Murray -- Andy Murray is a mystery for many of us. Amazingly gifted, he reached three Grand Slam finals without being able to even win a set. Then he comes out and loses to Donald Young this weekend. In 2010, after his loss against Federer in Melbourne, he went totally down mentally for months before getting himself together at Wimbledon. Born in 1987, Andy is a young player, talented and with the future ahead of him. I hope he still believes he can win a major. He'll have to work even harder now and keep his motivation going on the long run if he really wants to get one of these Grand Slam. Will 2011 is any different from 2010? Will the Scotsman find the strength to overcome his Australian disappointment? I'm worried for him. I hope I'm wrong.
Two players to watch
Juan Martin Del Potro -- Away from competition for a year because of a right wrist tendonitis, which ended in a bone edema and had to be solved with a surgery, he's really making his come back since the start of the season. We can see him improving day after day and because of it he won in Delray Beach. His level is rising slowly, but surely. Indian Wells and Miami will be new steps in order to see where he's standing regarding the top players.
Milos Raonic -- The Canadian is the youngster to watch at the moment. Since the start of 2011, he's on a great streak of good results and he's becoming a terror of the courts (the good kind). With a huge serve as a weapon, as much on his first than his second serve, he's also playing without any inhibition. Brimming with confidence, he can display some impressive sequences on his first serve followed by some powerful forehands and even a fairly efficient net game. His next step will be battling with the top players in order to evaluate the path he still has to go before reaching the top level. These 1000 events could be the next big steps.
- Roger Federer
- Rafael Nadal
- Novak Djokovic