Glimpse Of The Future
Dubbed the unofficial “Fifth Slam” on the tennis calendar, the tournament at Indian Wells has traditionally conjured beautiful scenes of springtime in the desert oasis.
Unfortunately, pandemic restrictions that were in place earlier this year forced the first Masters to postpone until this week in the fall. The new time slot and autumnal imagery will not be the only factors giving the tournament a different feel this year, however, as it also marks the first time in over two decades that not a single member of the Big 3 will be in the field.
With those stalwarts absent, all will be keen to see who will step up to fill that massive void.
While there are a number of talented competitors in the field, there are three in particular who will undoubtedly be looking to see a title run at Indian Wells as a means to further separating themselves from the rest of the pack, starting with top seed Daniil Medvedev. The Russian's arrival in the sport was not as meteoric as Alexander Zverev's, nor his game as flashy as that of Stefanos Tsitsipas, but Medvedev has nonetheless found himself as the current leader of the pack. Fans had already seen him breakthrough at other Masters events, and he also reached two other slam singles finals prior to securing his maiden major crown last month in New York. He was especially impressive with the way he handled himself against Novak Djokovic in that US Open Final. He knew what an opportunity it was given all of the pressure on the Serb's shoulders, and he took full advantage. He smothered Djokovic in that contest, and with the exception of a brief wobble towards the finish line, played that match like a man who believed he not only belonged there but should win. Astonishingly, he did not take much of a breather following that victory, going on to play stellar tennis in the Laver Cup and is now looking to continue his momentum at Indian Wells. Earning a title in the desert would only serve to further cement his place as the leader of the next generation and establish him as one of the clear favorites heading into 2022.
Not far behind Medvedev is Zverev, and no doubt the German will be hungry to do what he can to overtake the top seed. A few years ago he appeared to be the clear-cut leader of this generation, but hiccups at the majors saw his progress up the ranks stall. He has since righted the ship where the sport's most prestigious events are concerned, however, and last year actually came within two points of securing his first major at the US Open. Although a slam title remained elusive in 2021, he did capture Olympic Gold in singles. Like Medvedev, he has a solid all-around game, including exceptional movement for his size, and after his exploits in Tokyo, there remains a feeling of “when” not “if” he will finally breakthrough at a major. He could go a long way towards sending a message to the rest of the field, including someone sure to be a chief rival like Medvedev, if he were to return to the winner's circle with a victory at Indian Wells.
A potential leader of the next generation arguably more in need of a deep run in the desert than either Medvedev or Zverev though is Tsitsipas. It seems hard to believe now, but it was only a few short months ago that the Greek looked like he would be the one to lead the charge in dethroning the Big 3 at the slams. He was up two sets in the final of Roland Garros before Djokovic managed to find a way to claw his way back and avoid the upset. That painful loss, coupled with the passing of his grandmother, left Tsitsipas ripe for an opening-round upset at Wimbledon. Things would not improve from there, with the Greek suffering another early upset to talented teen Carlos Alcaraz at the US Open. Add on the controversy pertaining to extended toilet breaks which feature Tsitsipas at its center, and it has been a rough patch for the second seed to say the least. Conventional wisdom would say that he is too talented not to pull himself out of this slump, but with no guarantees in sports and losing as much of a habit as winning, Tsitsipas could definitely do with a little magic in the desert to put himself right back in the battle for being the face of the next generation.
As previously noted, there is a lot of talent in the men's field at Indian Wells even with the glaring omissions of the Big 3. All will be eager to make the most of the opportunity before them. But the onus will be on the next generation's top three to live up to their respective seeding and stake their claim as the face of the future of men's tennis.