Breaking Down the Group of Death

Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open

Andy Murray took a few touches, then struck the ball high into the desert air. The Scotsman was playing a little morning soccer, a warm-up activity that’s become something of a ritual here over the years on the impossibly green grounds of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. He looked at ease, smiling in the sunshine.
 
And who could blame him? The World No. 1 finds himself atop the BNP Paribas Open draw as far away from his most storied rivals as could be. As fate would have it, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro all landed in the same quarter at the bottom of the draw, in FIFA-speak their own grupo de la muerte.
 
Players will often tell you that they never look ahead at the draw; that they take it one match at a time. This ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event might just be an exception to that rule, if it were ever really a rule at all. Djokovic — aiming for his fourth straight Indian Wells title, and record sixth overall — could face Del Potro as early as the third round. Only weeks removed from their historic clash in the Australian Open final, in which the Swiss captured his historic 18th Grand Slam title in five sets, Federer and Nadal could meet again in the fourth round. Of course, there are others in the quadrant who are more than capable of shaking things up, including young guns Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev, each of whom has shown that they can hang with the big boys.
 
All this is not to say that Murray, who is still seeking his first BNP Paribas Open title, has a clear path to the final. His quarter features the likes of Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (who’s already snared titles this year in Rotterdam and Marseille), Belgian David Goffin, Chennai winner Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, and Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas (fresh off the Sao Paulo title). Murray can smile now, exchanging tennis ball for soccer ball, but when play gets underway, he’s sure to be all business.
 

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Potential Group of Death quarterfinals:
[2] Djokovic vs. [5] Nadal
[2] Djokovic vs. [9] Federer
[5] Nadal vs. [31] Del Potro
[9] Federer vs. [31] Del Potro 

Watch: Lucky Fans at the ATP Draw Ceremony