Nick Kyrgios showed everything he had to offer in Acapulco last week: talent, temperament, and even some cheeky innovation as he underarm-served to Rafael Nadal with the Spaniard almost in the front row of the stand.
After knocking out the 17-time Grand Slam winner, Kyrgios beat Stan Wawrinka, John Isner and Alex Zverev to claim his fifth ATP Tour title.
The big question from a tennis betting perspective is whether this victory is the springboard to the sport’s top table, or a blip with the Australian quickly reverting to his bad old ways.
Everyone knows he has the ability to beat the best, but can he do this on a regular basis?
On the plus side, the last time Kyrgios played at Indian Wells was in 2017 when he knocked out defending champion Novak Djokovic before having to pull out of his quarter-final with Roger Federer due to illness.
Against that, with a Court Pace Index of 27.9 last year, the courts at the California venue are even slower than the pedestrian courts of Acapulco which clocked in at a CPI of 30 last year.
And that’s just persuaded me not to back him especially as he’s been drawn to face Djokovic in round three. Kyrgios obviously comes with risks attached but 11/1 to win his quarter with Betfair and 33/1 generally in the outright market are fair enough.
World number one Djokovic hasn’t played since clinching his 15th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, but that should not cause him too many problems.
He has lost both previous meetings with Kyrgios, in quick succession at Acapulco and Indian Wells two years ago, but that was a very different Djokovic from the one we see today.
The Serb has won no fewer than five times in the California desert with his first triumph back in 2008. He returned to his best in 2018 and his Melbourne success makes him very much the man to beat here.
But a top-price 5/4 with Ladbrokes is just a bit skinny for me and I’m going to look elsewhere for an outright bet.
The other five-time champion in the field, Roger Federer, heads to California on the back of winning his 100th title in Dubai. His last win came in 2017 which was a mighty effort on such a slow surface. But he is 37 and I take the view that his best days are behind him.
Yes, he may have exacted revenge on Stefanos Tsitsipas last week but this is a quick turnaround for the Swiss, certainly since his decision to pick and choose his events after injury ended his 2016 season prematurely.
The slow courts will make this a stamina test and I feel he might struggle with the distance. That said, he is in what looks a weak third quarter with perhaps only Kei Nishikori or the rejuvenated Lucas Pouille seriously blocking his path to the semis.
I was hoping the bookies might over-react to Nadal’s exit to Kyrgios in Acapulco but, alas, not. His run to the Australian Open final was a superb effort with his modified serve proving very effective.
The demolition of Tsitsipas was quite awe-inspiring, and all of this on a surface far quicker than ideal for the King of Clay.
Nadal was beaten in three by Djokovic in the 2011 final and lost to the Serb in the 2016 semi-finals. He went down to eventual winner Federer in the fourth round in 2017. Those defeats are hardly the stuff of nightmares.
No one came closer to beating Kyrgios – who is close to unbeatable on a going day – and the slightly slower conditions in Indian Wells would swing the pendulum in Nadal’s favour should they meet (although that could only be in the final).
The left-hander has been handed a pretty good draw and the endurance demands cited earlier would make him favourite to beat Federer in a potential semi-final in my book.
I think the 5/1 with Coral is a more than fair each-way price and if (a big if, granted) Djokovic exits early, this will look massive.
We go back to the top half, and the second quarter, for my other bet. After a couple of lean seasons, Milos Raonic looks somewhere back to his best and he always seems to bring his ‘A’ game to Indian Wells.
Seeded 32 last year after coming back from injury, he fell to eventual winner Juan Martin del Potro (sadly out injured this year) in the semi-finals.
The big-serving Canadian reached the final in 2016 where he was unceremoniously thumped by Djokovic, and went out to Roger Federer in the 2015 semis.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the slow courts of Indian Wells would not suit Raonic. But he is one of the sharper minds on the circuit and uses his weapons astutely. Not many players can get back Raonic’s 230 km/h deliveries on any surface.
But it’s on the return of serve where the lack of pace works in his favour, giving him time to run around his backhand and unleash his huge forehand.
Now 28, Raonic reached the quarter-finals at the Australian Open where he was surprisingly beaten by Pouille.
His preparations have not been ideal with an early exit to Jan-Lennard Struff in Dubai followed by news emerging on the eve of this tournament of a split with coach Goran Ivanisevic. Fabrice Santoro has taken over as his adviser in California.
But, as mentioned, Raonic is a tried and tested performer at Indian Wells and he is in better shape than 12 months ago.
He also has what looks a very winnable second quarter with Zverev, his fourth-round victim in straight sets in Melbourne, and Tsitsipas the main threats on paper.
Djokovic in the semis would almost certainly be a bridge too far but there could be big returns if the top seed suffers a mishap. A quarter bet and a small each-way outright bet are the plays here.
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