College basketball is not the only sport in America that features “March Madness.” The best tennis players in the world spend the month playing back-to-back tournaments on the hard courts in Indian Wells and Miami. After the four majors, these two events are widely considered the most prestigious in the sport.
The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, kicks off Monday. All 32 seeded players in both singles draws receive first-round byes. We will not see them until the middle of next week. Here are a few storylines to watch for in the California desert.
Can Djokovic Get Right?
As hard as it is to believe, Novak Djokovic has been flat out ordinary for the last six months. His struggles continued with a quarterfinal loss to inspired Aussie Nick Kyrgios after taking a late entry into Acapulco this week.
The world number two has won a combined 11 titles in Indian Wells and Miami. His recent struggles are becoming harder to explain and ignore. He has become increasingly testy with the media.
Even with all the questions surrounding him, it is not time for the Serbian to truly panic, unless he fails to win at least one of these next two events.
Del Potro Still Dangerous
The good news for the other top players is that former U.S. Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro is seeded at this event. He will not play another seed until round three. The bad news is he is seeded 32nd. That means he will likely play someone seeded in the top eight in the third round. Given the way the Argentine has played recently in limited action, none of the big guns want to see him that early in this event.
The favorites in Indian Wells are Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in that order. Del Potro is just half a notch below this fearsome foursome of all-timers when it comes to winning this tournament.
Ladies Top Ranking Up For Grabs
Angelique Kerber started 2017 as world No. 1, but has only reached one semifinal in five events.
As poorly as she has played, the WTA’s complicated rankings system allows her a chance to regain the top spot from Serena Williams in Indian Wells. Rather than bore you all with numbers, the simplest thing that can be said is that Serena must reach at least the semis to keep the top ranking.
Given her tendency to sleepwalk at the non-majors, the semis are not a lock for Williams. Tuesday’s singles main draw and the matchups will be key.
New mom Victoria Azarenka will not be back to defend her Indian Wells and Miami titles as she continues to get into post-pregnancy shape. However, talented young American Madison Keys is back in the fold after missing four months with a wrist injury.
Seeded ninth, rust is a concern for the 22-year-old. However, anyone who serves as hard as Serena Williams and has an average groundstroke speed that tops most of the men is worth keeping an eye on.
Television coverage of the BNP Paribas Open starts Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. ET on Tennis Channel. Both men’s and women’s matches will be featured along with some doubles. Several online platforms are also available. The ESPN family of networks will become more prominent as the event progresses.