2017 BNP Paribas Open: PreviewMarch 13, 2017

By the time you're reading this post, Sam Groth and Matthew Ebden are practicing in Miami. Both players failed to advance to the main draw of the 2017 BNP Paribas Open, leaving Nick Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic and Jordan Thompson as the only Aussie players in the 96-men (singles) field. It wouldn't be the big news after the draw came out, though. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, with eleven BNP Paribas Open titles between them, found themselves in the same quarter of the draw. It means only one of them will reach the final four. It overshadows the resignation of Steve Healey as president of Tennis Australia.

Let's not suspect that the organisers have been planning it all along these past months, hoping the publicity would turn Indian Wells might into a fifth major tournament of the year. Any tennis fan knows that there's such a thing as luck of the draw, which happens a bit too often. And Andy Murray is the biggest beneficiary of this draw. The Scot lost to Nadal in the finals in 2009, his only finals appearance in the first Master 1000 tournament of the year. In fact, Murray's biggest threat in the upper half is Stan Wawrinka, who seemed inconsistent in tournaments other than the Grand Slam events. Before Murray's fans call it a tourney for their player to lose, let's look at the mouth-watering third-round matches. Let's assume that there won't be any upset:

Grigor Dimitrov (12) vs. Jack Sock (18). Sock, who had more success in doubles, had his sights on the Top 10 after winning the Delray Beach Open, his third singles title. If he hurdles his first two rounds, then he'll likely meet the red-hot Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. The Bulgarian won titles in Brisbane and his native Sofia also reached the semifinals of the Australian Open. Dimitrov may be too good for Sock on any day, but American players somehow manage to pull a surprise or two in their own turf. Dimitrov will be the victor of this encounter, but it might go the distance.

Lucas Pouille (14) vs. Sam Querrey (29). Pouille is still finding the form that would make him the most improved player on the tour last year. On the other hand, Querrey is feeling good after prevailing over a stacked field in Acapulco last week. (The American, once ranked in the Top 20, beat David Goffin, Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios and Rafael Nadal to claim his 13th singles trophy and an eye-catching sombrero.) The Frenchman has still time, but Querrey is too hot to handle at the moment.

Nick Kyrgios (15) vs. Alexander Zverev (18). The young German ace had been making steady improvement during the past twelve months, so he should be the favourite in this highly-anticipated match. But Kyrgios is feeling confident and cheeky at the moment. Djokovic, the best service returner in the tour, had no answer to the Aussie's booming serves during their quarterfinal encounter in Acapulco. The Canberran native may have lost to Querrey in the semifinals, but he would be motivated for his next match. His possible opponent would be the winner of the next match-up.

Novak Djokovic (2) vs. Juan Martín del Potro (31). Both players played sixteen times, with Djokovic winning twelve of their encounters. But the score revealed a tight contest. The Argentinian himself admitted that he haven't been close to his best form, so fans would be looking for del Potro's next clash with Djokovic. The winner of 12 Grand Slam titles seemed to lose the tenacity that made him almost unbeatable during the last few years, but he would still be too good for many players in the tour. The 2009 US Open champion could be one of those players.

Stan Wawrinka (3) vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber (29). The German veteran gave Murray a scare in their quarter-final clash in Acapulco, with the top seed fending off multiple match points before winning the final set in convincing fashion. If Kohlschreiber could play the same level against Wawrinka, then there won't be any reason for the 33-year-old from Augsburg to advance to the fourth round.

The fourth-round matches might be even better, as all eyes would be on the 36th encounter between Federer and Nadal. It will happen if they manage to make it past their first two matches, but only a few would doubt it. (Federer and Nadal contested their ninth Grand Slam finals in Melbourne two months ago.) The slower courts should favuor the Spaniard, but the Swiss made the finals on six occasions. It will go the distance one more time, and Federer may be lucky one more time.

The other (possible) fourth-round matchups include Marin Čilić and Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori and Pouille, and Djokovic and Kyrgios. Fans will flock to the last one, which could be dubbed the grudge match. Kyrgios would want to defend his seemingly disrespectful (Instagram) post after his win over Djokovic. It might be the Aussie's way to deal with the enormous pressure, and lightning could strike twice.

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