Sky Bet's Tim Clement previews the Indian Wells Masters as the game's biggest names prepare to renew rivalries
Indian Wells brings together the game's 'big four' for the first time since Wimbledon, with Rafael Nadal back in action for the first Masters event of the year.
The Spaniard made his greatly-anticipated return from injury in the South American clay swing, gradually improving throughout the three events to pick up two titles, finishing with an emphatic 6-0 6-2 victory over David Ferrer.
That win was sufficient evidence to convince Nadal and his team to reverse the decision to miss the Indian Wells event, but a return to the hardcourts still represents a significant challenge.
The 25-year-old has not actually won a singles title on the surface since 2010, while it is considered to present the greatest strain on his troublesome knees.
Andy Murray will also be making something of a comeback, having avoided competitive action since his Australian Open final defeat, opting to spend much of the last month at his Florida training base.
Heading the betting, however, will be Novak Djokovic, who will be looking to continue his perfect start to the season, while the rest of the world's top 40 will all be in attendance.
The 24 courts at the Indian Wells Tennis Court are a brand of hardcourt called PlexiPave, which is the same as at the Australian Open. Early suggestions are that the courts are offering less pace than those at Melbourne court, however, with Bernard Tomic commenting "The court is pretty slow though the ball does fly a bit and you have to control it well" after his first-round win over Thomaz Bellucci. The main court is enclosed by the second biggest tennis stadium in the world, second only to Arthur Ashe at Flushing Meadows, with a capacity of 16,100.
Sun, sun and more sun is the predominant forecast for residents of the city in Riverside County, California. Natives had a shock during the qualifiers as they were presented by the threat of light rain, but once the main action begins temperatures are expected climb well into the 80s, with wind speeds expected to stay in single figures, news that Tomas Berdych will appreciate more than most.
Roger Federer saw off unlikely finalist John Isner in the men's final, picking up his fourth title here in the process, ending a relative barren run of five years without lifting the trophy. Isner upset the odds to dump out Djokovic in the semi-finals while Federer saw off his great rival Nadal.
Leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Novak Djokovic (11/10)
The world number one is the clear favourite as he looks to continue his unbeaten start to 2013, having already racked up titles at the Australian Open and the ATP Dubai. The Serb is a two-time champion here with triumphs in 2008 and 2011 and can be expected to be at his best again with it being on his best surface. Djokovic's draw might be considered favourable given he has won the last three meetings with potential semi-final opponent Murray and the last five against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the next highest ranked player in his quarter. Essentially, there is no reason not to expect the 25-year-old to rack up a 37th career title.
Roger Federer (5/1)
The 17-time grand slam winner will not only be defending the title but his place as the world number two. Failure to retain the trophy could see Murray leapfrog him in the rankings, which would typically lead to further suggestions of his demise. The Swiss player has endured relatively disappointing six months, with his last title coming at the Cincinnati Masters in August, while he has suffered upsets at the hands of Julien Benneteau and Berdych in Rotterdam and Dubai. The draw has also hardly been kind to Federer, with an anticipated quarter-final clash with Nadal, although a semi-final meeting with David Ferrer would present the chance to add to his remarkable record of winning all 13 of their meetings.
Andy Murray (4/1)
The world number three will be looking to rid himself of a wretched recent record at Indian Wells and claim his first title at the venue. Murray has lost his first match at the event in the last two years, suffering badly on the back of tough Australian Open losses. The 25-year-old once again heads to California as the runner-up at Melbourne Park but should have confidence instilled in him from Olympic and US Open triumphs. Juan Martin del Potro, who the Brit has not faced since 2009, is the danger man in his quarter but has been struggling with a wrist problem and has lost all of their previous hard-court meetings.
Rafael Nadal (9/1)
The fact that Nadal is even here represents a significant step in his recovery, with his absence from Indian Wells and Miami widely expected and then confirmed during his time in South America. However, such was the impressive nature of his display in Brazil, the Spaniard has reversed his decision to stay clear of his least favoured surface. The 'King of Clay' certainly has the track record to be considered a contender having won the Indian Wells singles in 2007 and 2009 and then the doubles in 2010 and 2012. However, it is still a huge ask for the Spaniard to go all the way again given it is nearly 12 months since his last hardcourt event.
Best of the rest
David Ferrer (25/1)
Ferrer may head into the event at a career-high ranking and with two titles under his belt already this season, but it is difficult to foresee him lifting the trophy. While the 30-year-old's consistency is admirable, his record against the 'big four' is no better than the majority of those ranked lower. Expect the Spaniard to be lining up in the quarter-final against Berdych, who he boasts a 6-3 lead over. It would take a brave backer to support him in a semi-final clash with either Federer or Nadal.
Tomas Berdych (12/1)
While the powerful Czech has started the season admirably, making finals in Marseille and Dubai, his inability to rack up titles makes him an each-way bet at best. Sky Bet are staying on side with the 27-year-old given his accessible route to the final, but his record against favourite Djokovic is woeful, losing their previous 11 meetings. The US Open semi-finalist has failed to win a Masters event since triumphing in Paris in 2005, while his record in Indian Wells is modest with a solitary quarter-final appearance.
Juan Martin del Potro (14/1)
The 24-year-old is often touted as the main challenger to the game's top names but all too rarely proves to be. The seventh seed is still looking to secure his first Masters title and has not even reached a 1000 event final since 2009, while he has also failed to make a semi-final of a grand slam since his US Open triumph. While his talent is without question, it is time for the 'Tower of Tandil' to deliver on the bigger stages again, having racked up five third/fourth tier titles in the last 12 months.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (40/1) looked to be getting back to his best when he triumphed in Marseille, but inconsistencies seeped back through with a defeat to Michael Llodra in Dubai. Last year's finalist John Isner (80/1) has been off the boil since a third-round exit at the US Open, with a defeat to world 105 Edouard Roger-Vasselin at Delray Beach last week representing a new low. Richard Gasquet (66/1) has a favourable draw and has racked up titles in Doha and Montpellier already this season, but has made early exits in Rotterdam and Marseille since.
It has never been more difficult to look past favourite Djokovic despite the strength of the field. Murray will have been working hard in a mini off-season so will have the fitness if not the form. With the Brit's inheritance of the world number two spot merely a matter of time, their anticipated semi-final clash essentially brings together the game's top two and will probably provide us with the eventual winner. The other end of the draw may well throw up more upsets, so each-way opposition of second seed Federer looks to provide the value.
Novak Djokovic to win - 11/10
Tomas Berdych e/w - 12/1
Djokovic to beat Berdych in the final - 9/1