As the east coast of the United States continues to bear the brunt of a mid-March blizzard, the stars of pro tennis are battling 90 degree temperatures in the California desert. The field at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells is starting to dwindle. Here is a look at all the latest happenings from the event.
Serena Withdraws, Kerber handed top ranking- World No. 1 Serena Williams needed to reach the semis at Indian Wells to keep that distinction. Williams withdrew citing knee issues on the eve of the event. Serena will also miss next week’s event in Miami.
Come Monday, Angelique Kerber will retake the top spot that she lost following the Australian Open. The rankings system is what it is. However, the German is barely a .500 player in 2017 and has struggled with the newfound expectations that came with last year’s success. Kerber fell in the round of 16 to Elena Vesnina this week.
Even with the lengthy absences of Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka in recent years, no one has been able to emerge and stay at the top. At the moment, I shudder to think what the WTA Tour will look like when these four megastars hang up their racquets for good.
Murray Stumbles- The men’s game has not been immune to the upset bug this week either. Andy Murray was beaten in his opening match by Canadian qualifier Vasek Pospisil. The top-seeded Brit snagged a title in Dubai just before coming to California. Thus, there is not much reason to sound the alarm in regards to the three-time grand slam champion.
Almost every player has an event that they just do not fare well at for whatever reason. Indian Wells is becoming that event for Murray. Having played there every year since 2006, Murray has only reached one final and has never taken home the big trophy. This is a disastrous record for any event by Murray’s lofty standards. A bounce back week should be fully expected in Miami, one of Murray’s training bases.
Strange Rankings Create Ridiculously Good Early Matchups- Unlike the Grand Slams, there is not typically a day off for players between rounds of the tournament in Indian Wells. Matches are often made and played in well under 24 hours. This makes it very difficult for media outlets to do match previews in the early rounds of the tournament. For this particular event, a day off would have been nice for the sport to catch its collective breath. Allow me to explain.
With so many talented players on comebacks from injury layoffs on both tours, the best players are not necessarily ranked the highest right now. By the time this gets published, the following matches will be scheduled or have already taken place. Novak Djokovic vs Juan Martin Del Potro, Djokovic vs Nick Kyrgios, Madison Keys vs Caroline Wozniacki, and Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal.
Every single one of those matches is realistic for the final weekend of a major, we have not even reached the semis of this event yet. Federer vs Nadal has decided 11 Grand Slam Finals, including the most recent one. For this tournament, it will only decide a quarter-finalist. That is simply mind boggling.
Looking Ahead- Even with Djokovic and Kyrgios lerking ahead of their showdown, the winner of Federer vs. Nadal is the favorite to win the title. Both legends have had immense success at this tournament and both are playing at a very high level. Nadal was my pre-event pick and the slower hardcourts in Indian Wells suit his game better than Federer’s. Look for Nadal to prevail in two tight sets.
Of the players left, no ladies champion would truly surprise me. Experience on a big stage is always a good thing. An edge goes to veterans like Caroline Wozniacki, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams. The ESPN family of networks begin their coverage of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday and will split it with Tennis Channel until finals day. ESPN will both singles finals live back to back on Sunday at 2 ET.