BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells Tournament Preview

The WTA tour heads to sunny California for the first premier mandatory event of the season, the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. 29 of the top 30 players in the world will be in action in the Californian desert, Maria Sharapova being the only member of the top 30 not taking part in the event due to an ongoing forearm injury (and a provisional ban due to taking a recently banned substance at the Australian Open in January). The tour’s top players will be looking to restore order over the next couple of weeks after a wacky February which was filled with upsets and surprise champions. Most notably, Serena Williams will be aiming to claim her first Indian Wells title since 2001 in her second appearance at the event since a decade long boycott of the event. Defending champion Simona Halep will also be keen for a big fortnight after a very slow start to the season.

 

One of the biggest stories of the event will be the return of Venus Williams to Indian Wells. The American has not participated it the event since 2001 where she was booed upon her arrival to centre court to watch Serena Williams participate in the final (Venus handed Serena a walkover into the final due to injury). This will be one of the biggest moments in the American’s stellar career, it promises to be an emotional return just like it was for Serena last year. Venus has landed in the same quarter of the draw as Serena and will start her tournament with a second round clash with either Teliana Pereira or a qualifier after receiving a bye through the opening round.

All 32 seeds will receive a bye into the second round of the draw meaning the first round line-up isn’t particularly exciting. Laura Robson, Peng Shuai and Galina Voskoboeva will all be returning from long-term injuries this week. Robson faces Magdalena Rybarikova in the first round whilst Peng Shuai will face Yulia Putintseva and Galina Voskoboeva will play Heather Watson in their opening matches.

(1) Serena Williams: The world number 1 will take to the courts for the first time since her shock loss to Angelique Kerber in the final of the Australian Open in January. Serena made an emotional return to Indian Wells last year where she reached the semi-final stage before handing Simona Halep a walkover into the semi-finals. Serena didn’t have any great expectations at Indian Wells last year, instead she was proud just to take part in the event. This year will be very different, Indian Wells is one of very few tournaments outside of the Grand Slams that Serena will be desperate to win in 2016. The world number 1 wants to create new memories at the event to override the horror of 2001. Serena will also be desperate to reassert her dominance on the tour given her failures at the two most recent Grand Slams.

 

(2) Angelique Kerber: There has never been so much pressure/attention on Angelique Kerber heading into Indian Wells. The Australian Open champion made a really disappointing return to action in Doha last month, suffering a first round loss to Saisai Zheng in her first tour level match since her triumph at the Australian Open. Kerber has lost in her opening round match at Indian Wells in the past two years and will been to do much better this year. Angie has a great chance to push closer to the world number 1 ranking over the next couple of weeks given she only has 63 points to defend at Indian Wells and Miami, two deeps runs (and a couple of slip ups from Serena) would bring the German within reach of the world number 1 ranking.

(3) Agnieszka Radwanska: The former finalist at Indian Wells has made a good start to the season, reaching the semi-finals at the Australian Open and in Doha. Aga seems to be making a conscious effort to compete in less tournaments this year and really focus all her energy on the bigger events. Radwanska has a good record at Indian Wells and will see this event as an opportunity to gain a heap of ranking points given the Pole suffered a shock second round loss to Heather Watson last year. Interestingly, Radwanska has reached at least the semi-final stage in her last 6 events. The draw hasn’t been particularly kind to the Pole given she looks likely to run into Dominika Cibulkova in the second round, a tough early round test for Aga.

(4) Garbine Muguruza: In 2016 the Spaniard has struggled to emulate her brilliant end of 2015 season form. Garbine has a 4-4 win/loss record this year, losing to 4 opponents that she would usually expect to defeat (Varvara Lepchenko, Barbora Strycova, Elina Svitolina and Andrea Petkovic). Muguruza has never made it past the second round at Indian Wells, and has only ever won 1 main draw match at the event in her young career. Muguruza has struggled with ongoing injuries over the last couple of months but I expect these issues to be less troublesome over the coming weeks and the Spaniard should be expected to raise her level.

 

(5) Simona Halep: The Romanian claimed the biggest title of her career at Indian Wells 12 months ago, her first and only premier mandatory level title. However, Simona arrives in the Californian dessert in poor form and totally deprived of confidence. The world number 5 has lost 4 of her last 5 matches and looks very likely to struggle in her title defence at Indian Wells. Simona has a large chunk of points to defend this month as she also reached the semi-finals in Miami last year, if Simona doesn’t quickly find her range her ranking will drop dramatically.

The WTA tour has been particularly unpredictable over the last couple of months and we are again likely to see more upsets in the Californian desert. However, I do believe some order will be restored, I expect Serena Williams to be incredibly difficult to defeat and expect players such as Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza to have a good couple of weeks. I think Serena will ultimately be crowned champion. The world number 1 hasn’t won a title for quite some time now and will be eager to make amends for her recent failures. Serena hasn’t won this title since that infamous 2001 championship and will be very motivated to override those negative memories by winning the title this year. Again, it’s hard to see Serena losing, but it’s always possible.

Predicted Champion: (1) Serena Williams


2 thoughts on “BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells Tournament Preview”

  1. There are a lot of good players in the WTA top 10 in Indian Wells this year. But with all the drama that happened in Dubai and Doha, it seems that most of the people in the top 10, EXCEPT Serena Williams, are visibly struggling.

    Simona Halep has already dropped her opening matches in Melbourne, Dubai, and Doha. Considering that Halep has way more points to defend while struggling with an nose/throat/ear infection, I believe that she’s putting her career in jeopardy. She already postponed her surgery as she’s desperate to keep her game going, but that’s not a good decision to make – she’s not putting her health first.

    Like Halep, Angelique Kerber is most likely under pressure too, because lots of people are expecting her to keep her form that helped her win the Australian Open title. However, about 90% of the time, after Kerber wins a title, she often has a big dip in form and ends up losing in the opening rounds of some tournaments. This may be hard to imagine, but I’ve seen this happen to her umpteen times already in her career after she won eight WTA titles in Paris, Linz, Charleston, Stuttgart, Birmingham, Stanford, and Melbourne.

    For Petra Kvitova, her form has just gotten completely horrendous now – ever since she got diagnosed with mononucleosis, her game hasn’t been the same like it was when she won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014. I noticed that Kvitova visibly struggles to hold on to her leads in matches and her serve has been matched to a Maria Sharapova serve status now – more double faults than aces and more errors than winners.

    Garbiñe Muguruza has also started out strong, but when she plays an opponent who’s very strong in the serve or forehand, like Karolina Pliskova, she tends to fall apart. With the exception of making the quarterfinals in Doha, Muguruza didn’t have very good results in Brisbane, Melbourne, or Dubai. Though Roberta Vinci and Belinda Bencic, who had both beaten Serena Williams last year, had good results in 2015, I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up that momentum, as they both tend to have inconsistencies.

    Ever since Aga Radwanska won Tianjin, Tokyo, and Singapore last year, along with Shenzhen earlier this year, she has been the one most consistent in the top 10, excluding when Serena has withdrawn from tournaments to recover from injuries/illness. Though she doesn’t have what it takes to beat Serena, I have a feeling she’ll make it to the finals and have a strong finish.

    Despite taking the rest of the year off for rest and recovery after last year’s US Open, Serena was able to reach this year’s Australian Open final without dropping a set – she went on a perfect 12 for 12 on sets won and came through the entire draw with flying colors. To me, she made the right choice in taking the time off from both Dubai and Doha, as we did see her struggle with illness in the Australian & French Opens. Along with the illness, she did have the elbow and knee injuries that caused her to withdraw from Indian Wells, Rome, Bastad, and Stanford. Despite all these struggles she had last year, her serve and movement have gotten so much better this year. She was the only player to have not dropped a set in the tournament at this year’s Australian Open, up until the final. Throughout all six matches, she served no more than three double faults per match and she kept her winners-errors ratio very close, more winners than errors and more aces than double faults. Despite finishing runner-up to Kerber at this year’s Australian Open, Serena was still all smiles in the ceremony and she was happy that Kerber had won the title 🙂 Even in her press conference, Serena was happy and just overall very positive and upbeat. She herself said that any loss has helped her to improve her game. She’s been very calm, composed, and healthy so far. I know she’ll be able to tie Steffi Graf and Margaret Court’s records this year. Steffi Graf has already backed up this fact and believes that Serena will be able to overtake her. Despite coming down with the flu and being scheduled to play in Dubai and Doha, she made a very good decision to withdraw from both tournaments to recover . She gave herself plenty of rest in six weeks worth of time to be 100% healthy to play in Indian Wells and Miami. Serena’s doing a very good job in rethinking her tournament schedules this year, along with putting her fitness first – something we have failed to see in other WTA top 10 ranked players, unfortunately. When she got the flu a month ago, I’m 100% sure she remembered how much she struggled with the flu last year in the Australian and French Opens. To me, Serena’s withdrawal from both Dubai & Doha shows that she’s taking better proactive steps to improve her game and that she didn’t want to struggle on that path again. She and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou make a great team working together. They always make sure Serena’s 100% healthy and her game is at her highest level. But one very good unique thing I find in these two working together is that Serena HAS NEVER EVER requested a coach on a changeover in a WTA tournament. She believes in solving any problems on court on her own, without being dependent on her coach. She wants to be confident, calm, composed, strong, and healthy – that is toughness that Patrick Mouratoglou really instilled in her. Not only that, he also has his notebook out in EACH AND EVERY SINGLE match that Serena plays, whether it’s the Grand Slams or WTA tournaments. So, they both have the sense of awareness in the sport, not just in her game but also her opponent’s game too. They’ve always gone out on the practice court after her matches to get ready for her next match/tournament.

    Being ranked in the top 5 gives the top 5 WTA ranked players a very good chance to snatch the #1 ranking from Serena. But, it seems that nobody even have the slightest chance to do it, because Serena’s game ends up being way too strong for any of the WTA’s top 10. With all the things I’ve seen in the WTA’s top 10 up until now, it’s hard to say who’ll make it how far. However, if there’s anyone that I see packing their bags soon, it’s Kerber and Halep. But, if I have to pick a favorite to win the title, I’m going for Serena to win it without dropping a set. Or, she’ll reach the final without dropping a set and win the championship in three sets.

    1. Thanks for the very detailed reply 🙂

      You are quite right that the majority of the top 10 are really struggling and I agree that Halep is playing a dangerous game at the moment by postponing her surgery and putting a lot of pressure on herself.

      Yes, Radwanska is the only consistent member of the top 10 in the last couple of months…

      I think Serena is in a wonderful position to do well over the next couple of weeks, having had a lot of time off. I’m sure that she will be desperate to do well after the disappointment of losing the AO final and that would have been keeping her motivated during this last month. Like you said, I am sure that she has been working really hard to improve her game in her time off.. I also can’t see Serena being beaten this week and strongly believe that she will end up winning the title..

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