Indian Wells Preview: Achieving utopia at the ‘Tennis Paradise’

Every year, nearly all of the top 75 ranked players in both the ATP Tour and WTA compete to win the glamorous BNP by Paribas Open title at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, in Indian Wells, California, as part of the annual Sunshine Double.

As the stage for the grandest non-Grand Slam event combining the ATP Tour and WTA gears up for another momentous edition on Monday, March 4, various tennis players have already confirmed attendance at the desert which kicks off the ATP Masters 1000’s and WTA Premier Mandatory events—and, though 17-time major champion Rafael Nadal will initially commence the festivities during the first ever Eisenhower Cup presented by Masimo, a Tiebreak Tens event scheduled on Tuesday for benefiting Coachella Valley non-profits, the event will just be as striking as ever.

Before the action begins next week, here is a quick preview on what to expect in both the men’s and women’s singles tournaments:

Revitalizing competition sans defending champion

Earlier this week, 2018 champion and maiden Masters 1000’s titlist Juan Martin del Potro revealed that he will not be defending his title as he continues to recover from a knee injury, leaving Roger Federer to earn the top four seed following the former’s withdrawal.

“I am truly disappointed that I will not be able to return to the BNP Paribas Open to defend my title. It is one of my favorite tournaments, and I have incredible memories from last year, but my doctors have advised me to rest. I hope to be back on court soon,” del Potro said.

The Argentine fractured his right patella in October last year at the Rolex Shanghai Masters as he played in all but none of the following tournaments thereafter, including the Rolex Paris Masters, Nitto ATP Finals, and the Australian Open to start the season.

Del Potro made his season debut at Delray Beach last week, but eventually failed at the quarterfinals with a bandage on his rehabilitated right knee.

“I fully understand how difficult it can be to deal with injuries, and that coming back from them is not always a straightforward process. We wish Juan Martin all the best in his recovery, and hope to see him back at the BNP Paribas Open next year,” BNP by Paribas Open tournament director Tommy Haas quipped.

But, while del Potro’s absence barely impacts anything except the seeding for the men’s draw, the competition for the men’s singles title has just been as open as ever and became more rightfully made in favor of the Big Three—Federer, Nadal, and current world number one Djokovic.

Federer, who as of this writing will compete for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis title against his Australian Open tormentor and Greek rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas, looks to avenge his epic three-set defeat against Del Potro last year with a sixth Indian Wells title in sight to go along with adding up to his 62 career match wins in the desert.

After failing to defend his title Down Under last January at the expense of Tsitsipas, Federer’s victory in Dubai will move him back up to the Top 5 and, most importantly, will secure him of his 100th career title. But, with the likes of his rivals Nadal and Djokovic playing as steadily as ever, the Swiss Maestro’s road to victory at Indian Wells will be just as hard as usual.

Nadal, who is coming off a loss in a three-set thriller against Australia’s Nick Kyrgios in Acapulco this week, will vie for a fourth title after missing the tournament in 2018, while Djokovic looks to strengthen his case as one of the greatest of all time by going for a record sixth title after already winning all of the nine Masters 1000’s events last year with his title in Cincinnati.

Among the storylines to watch this year, however, will be the story of the #NextGenATP players—who made a booming noise in Melbourne earlier this year—in their continuous quest to find a place at the ATP Tour as the aging Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic slowly leaves the spotlight.

Twenty-one year-old Alexander Zverev, who will face Kyrgios at the Acapulco final, leads the pack of the young core of tennis players which will also feature Tsitsipas, Australian Open quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe, Alex de Minaur, Denis Shapovalov, and Canada’s wildcard Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Returning from starting point

Over at the women’s side, reigning champion and current world number one Naomi Osaka will look to solidify to her hold at the WTA rankings as she attempts to defend the title in the tournament which sparked her rise to stardom last year.

The 23-year-old Osaka, after clinching the trophy last year by dropping just a single set, will try to win a back-to-back title at Indian Wells this year with a new head coach in USTA national mentor Jermaine Jenkins whom she hire two weeks after splitting with Sascha Bajin right after her victory at the Australian Open.

The reigning US Open and Australian Open champion will be challenged by former world number one Serena Williams, who just returned to the Top 10 after dropping to as far as the Top 800 since her pregnancy to her daughter Olympia in 2017, along with other former world number ones and Indian Wells titlists Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka, and Caroline Wozniacki.

Williams, who was a winner at the desert in 1999 and 2001, will try to end her title drought at Indian Wells by also attempting to elevate further in the rankings before the French Open starts at Roland Garros on May.

Among others who will try to make a noise in the women’s draw are Czech compatriots Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova, Venus Williams, Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko, and Sam Stosur, who are all yet to win a title in Indian Wells.

Meanwhile, two-time champion Maria Sharapova will miss this year’s tournament as she continues to recover from her shoulder injury.

The official draw ceremony for this year’s BNP by Paribas Open will be held on Monday, March 4, at 3:00 pm local time.


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