While the men’s draw has suffered from marquee withdrawals by Federer and Nadal, the women’s draw in Miami witnesses the return of world #1 Serena Williams and Australian Open finalist Li Na to North American hard courts. They have landed in the same quarter of the Sony Open draw, with which we start our women’s preview.
First quarter: Since she won Brisbane to start 2013, Serena’s season has not gone as she would have hoped. Injury and illness have contributed to losses at the Australian Open and Doha, so she will hope to regroup from those setbacks at her home tournament, which she has dominated when healthy. More successful here than almost anywhere else, Serena should deploy her serve to devastating effect against the meager return games of her first few opponents. Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta would have wished for a better draw than facing the world #1 in the second round, while potential fourth-round opponent Dominika Cibulkova should find her height and wingspan too limited to cope with this level of first-strike power. Somewhat more intriguing is the prospect of Lucie Safarova, a lefty more capable of matching Serena hold for hold when at her best, but her results have remained too erratic to depend on her reaching the fourth round.
On the opposite side of the quarter, an intriguing draw would pit Indian Wells runner-up Wozniacki against Australian Open runner-up Li in the fourth round, a rematch of some scintillating three-setters that the two have played on outdoor hard courts. Neither faces too intimidating a challenge before that stage, although the former might take note of surging Spanish phenom Garbine Muguruza. That rising star reached the fourth round of Indian Wells as a qualifier and easily could upset the reeling Pavlyuchenkova in the second round to reach Wozniacki in the third. But the Dane should have taken more confidence from her finals appearance in the desert than from her resounding defeat to Sharapova there. She should weather the test posed by Muguruza and probably also the challenge presented by Li, who has not played since her outstanding January campaign. The Chinese star may need some matches to regain her rhythm after so long an absence and so severe an injury. If Wozniacki does meet Serena in the quarterfinals, the top seed likely would relish the opportunity to avenge a miserable loss to the same opponent at the same stage last year.
Second quarter: Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska could not have drawn a much more challenging route to a repeat performance in Miami, nor did her performance over the last two weeks inspire much confidence in her. More impressive on a similar surface at Indian Wells, Mona Barthel will train her huge serve and return weapons against the Pole in the third round. Perhaps more compelling for local fans is the third-round meeting between Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens, who personify the past and future of American women’s tennis. The latter woman has not built upon her Australian Open semifinal in recent weeks, however, struggling with an abdominal injury and exiting Indian Wells in her first match. Venus, who has not played since Sharapova demolished her in Melbourne, has shared her sister’s history of success at their home tournament but fell to Radwanska here a year ago.
If she can survive the imposing serves in her immediate vicinity, Radwanska can expect little reprieve in the quarterfinals. The highest-ranked woman who could meet her there, Petra Kvitova, dismantled her with ease last month in Dubai and reached her first Indian Wells quarterfinal last week. On the other hand, Kvitova never has distinguished herself in Miami and will have some obstacles of her own to surmount before she can reach Radwanska. Among them is Marion Bartoli, knocking on the door of the top ten again and more successful here than Kvitova. The double-fister suffered a surprising loss to Errani in the desert, but her competitive tenacity could allow her to exploit the Czech’s inevitable episodes of erratic play. One of the most intriguing unseeded players in the draw, Andrea Petkovic aims to reawaken the memories of her 2011 semifinal run in Miami. She faces a stern series of opening tests against Bojana Jovanovski, Bartoli, and Julia Goerges before she even reaches Kvitova. From this unpredictable section of the draw, an unexpected semifinalist could emerge.
Semifinalist: Er, Kvitova?
Third quarter: One match short of the Indian Wells-Miami double in 2006, Maria Sharapova eyes a comfortable route to position herself at least within range of that accomplishment. She has not lost a set to anyone but Serena in her last two tournaments, cruising to the desert title without any physically or emotionally arduous matches that would have drained her energy. Many women would suffer a hangover after capturing a title of that magnitude, but the career Grand Slam champion has grown sufficiently accustomed to achievements on that level to avoid such a lapse. Even if she did, early rounds against Vesnina or an assortment of qualifiers and wildcards should not threaten her. A rematch of the Indian Wells semifinal might loom in the fourth round, but Kirilenko may struggle to sustain her Indian Wells form. The only woman to win a set from Sharapova at Roland Garros last year, Klara Zakopalova could inconvenience her on one of her more inconsistent days.
For the second straight Premier Mandatory tournament, Sara Errani would await Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Despite the Italian’s ability to reach that stage at Indian Wells, she may find her path more complicated this time. The massive serve of Sabine Lisicki, always fragile and always dangerous, could produce a stark contrast of styles if she meets Errani in the third round. But the third-round match below offers more intrigue, for it should pit Ivanovic against either Makarova or former Miami champion Kuznetsova. Gifted shot-makers all, those three women will look to stay patient on the slow hard court and bounce back from Indian Wells disappointments. They must stay even more patient against Errani than each other, but each might have a stronger chance than the Italian to trouble Sharapova because of their greater capacity to finish points. It is hard to imagine the world #2 stumbling early if she sustains her Indian Wells form, though.
Fourth quarter: Will she or won’t she? The question hovers over the status of Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Miami champion who withdrew from Indian Wells with an ankle injury. Having glanced at her draw and seen the heavy serve of Madison Keys in her opener, Vika may feel some trepidation about testing that joint in a match where she will need her movement to shine. Afterwards, she could meet a group of slow-court specialists like Cornet, Vinci, or Suarez Navarro. Climbing the rankings regularly in recent weeks, the Spaniard showcases the finest one-handed backhand among the seeded women here. Together with Keys on the list of home hopes, Christina McHale continues to regroup slowly from her mono last year. She led eventual Indian Wells semifinalist Kirilenko by a set and a break, so she should feel encouraged by her progress. Young British hope Laura Robson rounds out this section’s crop of rising stars.
Veterans proliferate in the upper half of this section, from Jankovic and Petrova to Zheng and Schiavone. Indian Wells semifinalist Kerber will need to raise her spirits following a dispiriting loss to Wozniacki in which she seemed firmly in control and battled to the bitter end. If she can, none of the opponents in this section should match her blend of alert anticipation and lefty shot-making, although Sorana Cirstea flickered into form at Indian Wells by winning a set from Radwanska. A finalist in Miami during her prime, Jankovic did not bring her momentum from winning the Bogota clay tournament to North America and struggles to string together strong results. Of greater note is the eleventh-seeded Petrova, remarkable still near the elite in singles and doubles despite her age. This section remains difficult to predict as long as Azarenka’s status is uncertain, but Kerber looks poised to take advantage of a lapse by the Australian Open champion.
Check back tomorrow for a similar look at the men’s draw in Miami.
In the early rounds of most tournaments, you can expect the main stadium matches to be blowouts. They generally feature low ranked players against the very best and often turn out to be some of the least interesting matches. Tuesday’s schedule featured third and fourth round matches on the main stadium, just about the right time for the matches to get competitive. On paper, the main stadium match ups for Day 7 should have been no trouble for the higher ranked player and while all of them won, the matches provided some pretty entertaining tennis.
Novak Djokovic d. Grigor Dimitrov 7-6(4) 6-1
Novak Djokovic hasn’t lost a match yet this year. The Australian Open champion is the number 1 player in the world and very rarely troubled by anyone outside the Top 4. Grigor Dimitrov has been steadily working his way up the rankings and the 21 year old now sits at a career high 31 in the world. It looked like he came with his A game when he broke Djokovic in the first set. He had the chance to serve it out at 5-3 and it seemed like almost a sure thing, but that’s where experience comes into play. Dimitrov served up four double faults in that game to put them back on serve. Things dropped off quickly from there. Djokovic held and Dimitrov doubled faulted to open the tie break, which he ended up losing 7-4. The second set slipped away just as fast. Djokovic didn’t have to pull out his usual extraordinary play because Dimitrov was beating himself. “He started off well today, but then, you know, I think he gave me the break with four double faults. You know, I haven’t done much really in the match in the second set when I made two breaks. It was all of his unforced errors, so I just needed to hang in there and try to be patient” said Djokovic in his post match press conference. Dimitrov has plenty of talent to make a splash over the next few years, but today the more experience player definitely had the upper hand.
Maria Sharapova d. Lara Arruabarrena Vecino 7-5 6-0
Are you unfamiliar with the name Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino? You’re not alone. The 20 year old from Spain is currently ranked 87 in the world. No one thought she had much of a chance against Sharapova, the number 2 seed. Sharapova was stumped when asked about Arrubarrena-Vecino after her last match, saying, “well, I hope my coach was out there watching the end of that one.” Sometimes the unknown players can provide the best challenge and despite being broken early in the first set, Arrubarrena-Vecino was able to come back. Once again, the wheels fell off after the lower ranked player lost the first set and Maria Sharapova was able to roll through the next set 6-0. Sharapova explained her early slips, saying, “I think maybe I was going for the lines a little bit more than I had to, especially in the first few games when you haven’t really don’t know too much about your opponent or haven’t played her.”
Jo Wilfried Tsonga d. Mardy Fish 7-6(4) 7-6(0)
The score line may not be lopsided but the tie breaks certainly were. Perhaps the closest match of the day on paper, this one did not disappoint. A year or two ago, these players would not have met so early in the tournament as they were both Top 10. Mardy Fish is playing his first tournament back after an extended break for health reasons and was seeded number 32 at this event. As it should have been the match was extremely close, but it came down more to Fish’s errors than Tsonga’s winners. After losing the first set tie break, Fish went up a quick 4-0 in the second set before being broken back twice. When asked if those breaks could be attributed to lack of match play, Fish responded, “maybe. I mean, I usually don’t lose 4-0 sets very often. I can’t remember the last one. So, yeah.” Fish was visibly disappointed with the loss, admitting it would’ve been a different story if he had lost 3 and 2. In the long run, this isn’t such a shabby start to Fish’s comeback. There’s certainly no shame losing to a player of Tsonga’s calibre. Tsonga will play Milos Raonic in the fourth round.
In the early stages of a draw as large as Indian Wells, more questions often are asked than answered as we learn just enough to know what we don’t know—and what we want to know. Here are twelve burning questions to ponder while the core of the tournament approaches.
1. Will Federer and Nadal meet for the first time in a year?
For the first time since their rivalry took flight, the archrivals did not clash on clay or grass last season. By placing them in the same quarter, the draw gods have done their best to ensure that they will meet at Indian Wells for the second straight year. Especially promising is Federer’s path, for only Ivan Dodig and the winner of Hewitt vs. Wawrinka stand between a Swiss star who looked crisp in his opening demolition of Denis Istomin. Nadal’s route looks generally benign as well on paper, but the surging Ernests Gulbis could pose a severe test if he can keep up the form that has carried him through his longest winning streak ever.
2. Will Azarenka and Wozniacki meet for the first time in two years?
The two BFFs last faced each other on this court in 2011, when Wozniacki held the #1 ranking and Azarenka faced serious questions about her physical and emotional durability. How times have changed since then. Now, Wozniacki must field questions about her continued relevance as a contender, while Azarenka has become the face of the WTA’s new generation (albeit not always the face that the WTA would want). What makes this potential quarterfinal between the last two Indian Wells champions intriguing is Wozniacki’s former control of their rivalry, which seemed not so much technical as psychological. Still undefeated this year, Vika looks nearly certain to reach that rendezvous if she can keep injuries at bay. Chronic nemesis Goerges still might intercept Caro, as might a revived Petrova.
3. Can Berdych take care of business?
As if the weakest quarter in the men’s draw needed to get any weaker, Kevin Anderson upset the only serious threat to the Czech in David Ferrer. With his route to the semifinals wide open, Berdych need not worry about anyone more dangerous than Gasquet. The Frenchman does happen to be rather dangerous at the moment, granted, since he has won two (small) titles this year and should prosper on the slow surface. But Berdych also has enjoyed a consistent season to date, so his superior weapons leave him in control of his own destiny.
4. Can Sharapova take care of business?
Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino. Sara Errani. Marion Bartoli. None of these potential pre-semifinal opponents ever has defeated Sharapova, and only once has any of them threatened her. That occasion did come recently at last year’s US Open, when Bartoli won the first set before Maria stormed back. All the same, the 2006 champion should overwhelm the Spanish journeywoman in the fourth round and rely on her dominance over those rivals to reach a third straight semifinal in the desert. Even without her best form against a top-25 opponent, Suarez Navarro, she eased through in straight sets by—as usual—growing more aggressive rather than less when the match could have tilted in either direction.
5. Should Murray’s fans be concerned?
After an easy third-round assignment, the competition will get stiff for the Scot as Nishikori and Del Potro loom. With those obstacles ahead, Murray would have benefited from a strong and efficient start to the tournament, but he didn’t get it in a three-set scare against Evgeny Donskoy. While the Russian has plenty of talent and ambition, he is not the sort of player expected to trouble one of the Big Four. Anybody and everybody has troubled Murray here recently, though, for he dropped seven consecutive sets at Indian Wells between a 2010 quarterfinal and the first set of his opener here. Hangovers from Australian Open disappointment have hampered him emotionally in those appearances, so his body language will bear watching if more sustained adversity arises. That said, he matches up extremely well to Nishikori and Del Potro, neither of whom ever has defeated him on a hard court.
6. Should Radwanska’s fans be concerned?
The sun of Indian Wells usually has not shone brightly on Radwanska, usually more successful at the tournament’s sequel in Miami. But her draw looks more comfortable than it often does, or at least it did until she toiled for two and a half hours to suppress Sorana Cirstea in the third round. The type of player whom Radwanska tends to dismantle with ease, the erratic yet powerful Romanian hit through her surprisingly often considering the court speed and her defensive skills. Radwanska also twice failed to serve out the match in the third set once she had reversed the momentum, a strange lapse for someone who has established herself as a fine competitor over the last eighteen months. Her next two projected opponents, Kirilenko and Kvitova, have spelled trouble for her at significant events before.
7. Which Novak will show up?
This question would have sounded ridiculous a set and a half into what looked like a humiliating rout of Fabio Fognini. When Djokovic threw away the second set and did not immediately reassert himself in the third, some eyebrows raised over this extended lapse. Also suggesting competitive fatigue was a minor altercation over a time violation warning that he received. Djokovic is not nearly as dangerous a player when his head is not in the right place, and early signs of trouble historically have spelled trouble later in the draw. If the man who smoothly struck every shot in the book during the first set returns, however, he will remain the title favorite. Djokovic may have time to collect himself, for his next two opponents do not look intimidating, nor did quarterfinal foe Tsonga in his convoluted victory over Blake.
8. Which Petra will show up?
Always a woman of two sides, Kvitova brought her bad version to the Australian hard courts and her good version to the Persian Gulf. As remarkable as it sounds, the same woman who won two games from Cibulkova one month came within two games of knocking off Serena (and demolished Radwanska) the next. More of a lamb than a lion in March recently, Kvitova showed some of both extremes in a three-set victory over the pedestrian Govortsova and a third-round battle with a qualifier that nearly reached a third set as well. She can contend for the title as convincingly as anyone, especially with her past success against Azarenka, but every opponent whom she faces should enter that match knowing that they have a chance.
9. Can a former US Open champion prove himself (again)?
When he knocked off Nadal and Federer in succession to win the 2009 US Open, Del Potro looked like the next big thing for the ATP. He still could be, but the odds of his becoming one of his generation’s great champions grow slimmer with every season since his wrist surgery in which the Big Four and even players like Ferrer throttle him. One of the few men who has won a major but not a Masters 1000 tournament, Del Potro may need to walk before he can run. In the peaceful environment of Indian Wells, where he has produced strong results before, he should take heart from the early frailty displayed by Djokovic and Murray.
10. Can a former US Open champion prove herself (again)?
Compared to Stosur’s recent results, those of Del Potro look positively brilliant. The 2011 US Open champion has not won a title since that miraculous breakthrough against Serena, and winning a single match lay beyond her abilities early in 2013. Unlike most players who win a major, the Aussie drew no fresh confidence from her achievement. The good news is that she finally has strung together a few victories in her recent tournaments, and a commanding victory over Keys showed form that could prove good enough to carry her through the weakest quarter in the women’s draw. When she last faced Azarenka at the US Open, Stosur extended her to a third-set tiebreak. Who knows what could happen in a semifinal against her if she accumulates some momentum before then?
11. Who will be the last American man standing?
There are two candidates left at this stage: Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey. Both find themselves uncomfortably close to Djokovic, never a good place to be. Fish is just grateful to have started to play matches again after his health scares, and anyone who believes that Querrey can become the next great American champion probably just clicked on an email from Nigeria. That said, the Californian deserves credit for surviving the elephantine serve of Ivo Karlovic, and it will be intriguing to see how he handles bearing the mantle of the top-ranked man from a nation frustrated with its tennis underachievement.
12. Who will be the last American woman standing?
Well, let’s take a look at the options. There’s Stephens and,…oh, she lost already? Anyway, there’s Keys, who…she’s gone too? Maybe Christina McHale with…hmm, Kirilenko came back? Time to do a Ctrl+F for USA on the women’s draw.
1 match. Jamie Hampton.
Enjoy the rest of the tournament, and feel free to suggest answers for questions 1-11 in the comments.
Sharapova shows no mercy against fellow French Open champ Schiavone
In what was seemingly one of the trickier second round match-ups, Maria Sharapova had no trouble beating veteran Francesca Schiavone 6-2 6-1, despite the cold, windy conditions to kick off her 2013 BNP Paribas Open campaign. Schiavone may not have been playing her best tennis, but Sharapova knew better than to discount her, saying, “no matter where she is in the rankings, she has experience, has a Grand Slam, you know, behind her back. She likes those center court matches. She lives in those opportunities.” Sharapova will face Carla Suarez Navarro in the next round. Of course, a Maria Sharapova press conference wouldn’t be complete these days without a few questions about her off-court enterprise, Sugarpova. Business savvy Sharapova says that her gourmet candy line will be expanding from twelve flavors to fifteen in the next few weeks.
Kuznetsova overcomes bagel to bounce Jankovic
Former Indian Wells champion Jelena Jankovic raced to a quick 6-0 lead against Svetlana Kuznetsova in their second round match. This would appear to spell the end for Kuznetsova, but with these two players, it’s never quite that simple. But the pants came off in the second set and the momentum turned around. Kuznetsova was wearing leggings in the first set to deal with the unseasonably cold weather, but apparently pants just don’t suit her. Asked about the weather, she responded, “it’s very difficult to play in cold weather because even I tried to play in the long tight pants the first set, I cannot.” After two lopsided sets, things got interesting once again as it looked like the players were headed to a third set tiebreak. However, Kuznetsova was the one to draw first blood, breaking Jankovic to win the match 0-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Blake into 2nd round, has gained perspective from being a dad
33 year old James Blake scored a much needed first round win on Thursday over Robin Haase. Blake underscored the importance of getting match wins in gaining back confidence. He described it as, “sort of the chicken or the egg, which is first? If I’m not confident I’m going to play a little more passive, and if I’m playing too passive it’s tough for me to get confident.” Blake hasn’t had much luck in singles this season, and turned to doubles to boost his victory count, which he says helped him build some confidence coming into this tournament. Another motivating factor? Family. Blake credits his newborn daughter with helping put things in perspective, saying, “the things that she does are more important than the things that I do now. That’s something that’s probably been foreign to me for most of my career, because most athletes are so selfish. For a good reason. We sort of have to be to be successful with our career.”
Sock falters after missing match point
Young American Jack Sock faced a difficult first round opponent in Ivo Karlovic. Sock started the match well, winning the first set 6-3. Karlovic upped his game in the second set, but he still found himself facing match point in the tiebreak. Unfortunately for Sock, that’s where things started to unravel. One missed backhand and it was a whole new game. He ended up losing the deciding set 6-2. Asked about that spiral, Sock explained, “when you have match point, seems like it’s pretty much in your hands. Pretty routine backhand up the line to make, and I missed it by a couple of inches and missed a simple forehand to lose the set.” Understandably disappointed, Sock still isn’t putting any numbers on his game. Rather than targeting a specific ranking, Sock is happy just to compete, saying, “I mean, for me just to stay out there and stay healthy and feel like I’m improving, if I feel like I’m a better tennis player at the end of the year than I am right now, I would say that’s a pretty successful year.”
The main draw matches at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells are scheduled to commence today, which is to say on Wednesday morning local time. Even as I write, the men’s qualifying draw – dense with fascinating matches – is slimming down to an even dozen. The women’s qualifying draw is already there.
Television coverage is due to begin on Friday, provided initially by the Tennis Channel. In the dreary parlance of marketing, we are informed that this is ‘one day earlier than the network’s traditional first-Saturday start’, ‘tradition’ in this case being employed capaciously to denote anything that previously happened for any length of time at all. For the arithmetically challenged, this radical new Friday start will occur fully two days after main draw play begins. I’m not the first person to note this discrepancy, and I won’t be the last. Nor would I be the first to suggest that the decision to delay coverage until the third day of play isn’t driven by money.
In any case, pointing it out is redundant, since no one, including the networks, is pretending otherwise. Instead we’re left to bask in the rapturous news that ‘the tournament will culminate with 12 live hours on ESPN networks’. One cannot elude the impression that the fans are supposed to be grateful. Any fans particularly overcome by gratitude are encouraged to call up the network and let them know.
However, it is debatable whether the main draw really begins today. Indian Wells, like Miami, doles out an extravagant selection of byes: all thirty-two seeds are granted safe passage to the second round, the point at which Andy Murray ‘traditionally’ loses. This is precisely one third of the main draw (which is 96 strong). The remaining 64 players – qualifiers, wildcards and those unwashed members of the top hundred whom Ernests Gulbis cannot pick out of a police line-up – are left to vie for the privilege of facing a seed. By this rationale, the Indian Wells first round is really just a supplementary or transitional qualifying round. In order for a seeded player to win the title, he or she must win six matches. A non-seeded direct entrant or wildcard must win seven matches. Qualifiers must win nine matches. It doesn’t seem fair, but, once again, I assume that’s the point.
The goal of seeding is to protect the best players from having to face each other early on, thus limiting the opportunity for upsets. A little over a decade ago the seeding in 96 (and 128) player draws was expanded from sixteen to thirty-two players, which provided added protection. The bye system provides even greater protection. Even without a bye it is eminently unlikely that, say, Victoria Azarenka would lose in the first round, but the bye removes any doubt whatsoever, thereby transforming a theoretical unlikelihood into a practical impossibility. For the general sports fan – who really just wants to see the most famous players facing off – this probably isn’t a bad thing.
More to the point, it isn’t a bad thing for ESPN. Those twelve hours of semifinals and finals coverage that we’re supposed to be grateful for didn’t come cheap. ESPN will do everything it can to guarantee the best return on its investment, and from their point of view the best return is to have Federer, Sharapova, Nadal, Williams, Djokovic and Azarenka present at the tournament’s conclusion. (Williams of course won’t be at Indian Wells, and you can be sure that the presiding television interests aren’t thrilled about that.) The only exceptions are if a local player makes a deep run. Last year’s men’s event was thus pure spun gold: Federer and Nadal in one semifinal, and Isner defeating Djokovic in the other. Each protagonist was recognisable to a general sports fan, and the narrative of local boy making good is always compelling.
And it’s those general fans that provide ESPN’s revenue, which has invested considerable time and effort grooming Chris Fowler in order that he can render the eldritch intricacies of the sport comprehensible for the layperson. In and of itself, there’s no inherent problem with having the best players contest the later rounds at every tournament. Some may (justifiably) contend that seeing the same few players fight for titles each week grows stale. On the other hand, the freshness gained by seeing a new face is often offset by the perfunctory thrashing they receive when they encounter an elite player. But it is a problem when the urge to see certain outcomes causes the sport to tilt results in that direction, which is more or less the tacit goal of the bye system (and, let’s be frank, the seeding system). The top players have an objectively easier time reaching the later rounds than their lower-ranked peers, notwithstanding that they’re already better players anyway.
Unlike ESPN, the Tennis Channel by definition caters to viewers with a specific interest in the sport itself, who’re willing to pay a premium to watch tennis theoretically whenever they want to (though in practice they’re often constrained by the superior purchasing power of rival networks). These are fans whose interest extends beyond Sharapova or Nadal, all the way to, say, Gasquet and Kuznetsova, and beyond. Although, apparently not far beyond. Not far enough that they’ll get to see the WTA’s first round, let alone any qualifying. Fans who are that hardcore will have to resort to alternative means, such as audio coverage through the website.
The combination of the 96 draw and a midweek start (rare in tennis) conspires to make the qualifying event feel more like a part of the tournament than is elsewhere the case. Qualifying began on Monday, which is the point at which tournaments traditionally begin – and here the term ‘tradition’ is warranted. Meanwhile having a weirdly inconsequential first round helps the qualifying tournament shade into the main one. In some ways, this would be a nice thing, if it wasn’t so effectively undone by the clear message of the television coverage, which is that the initial few days (and the men and women playing on those days) aren’t worth the effort. The three levels of fandom, it seems, neatly correlate with the three classes of players in the respective tours: the big names, the lesser names, and the unwatchables.
Sadly, the lack of early-round coverage hardly helps the lower ranked players, whose already anaemic aspirations might be starved by a lack of exposure. What Indian Wells really does is reinforce the multi-tiered system that seeding originally created, and that the expanded seeding arrangement later augmented. The television schedule then makes it clear for all the non-seeds that their necessary toils do not merit a wider audience.
The BNP Paribas Open likes to refer to itself as the unofficial fifth Slam. This is mostly a fairly meaningless marketing term, but it is only rendered more so by the consideration that the last Major we enjoyed – the Australian Open – had coverage not only from day one, but high-definition streams running through qualifying. Indian Wells certainly has the money – the prizemoney increase this year is to be heartily applauded – and the technological wherewithal. I can watch Thiemo de Bakker play Christian Garin at a Challenger in Santiago, but I couldn’t watch Gulbis play Christian Harrison in southern California. Is it too much to ask to have some cameras rolling from the outset?
Read about what to expect from the first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2013 as we break down each quarter of the WTA Indian Wells draw in detail!
First quarter: For the second straight year, Azarenka arrives in the desert with a perfect season record that includes titles at the Australian Open and the Premier Five tournament in Doha. Able to defend those achievements, she eyes another prestigious defense at Indian Wells on a surface that suits her balanced hybrid of offense and defense as well as any other. In her opener, she could face the only woman in the draw who has won multiple titles here, Daniela Hantuchova, although the more recent of her pair came six long years ago. Since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, Kirsten Flipkens staggered to disappointing results in February, so Azarenka need not expect too stern a test from the Belgian. Of perhaps greater concern is a rematch of her controversial Melbourne semifinal against Sloane Stephens, who aims to bounce back from an injury-hampered span with the encouragement of her home crowd. Heavy fan support for the opponent can fluster Azarenka, or it can bring out her most ferocious tennis, which makes that match one to watch either way. Of some local interest is the first-round match between Jamie Hampton, who won a set from Vika in Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur runner-up Mattek-Sands.
The most intriguing first-round match in the lower section of this quarter pits Laura Robson against the blistering backhands of Sofia Arvidsson. In fact, plenty of imposing two-handers highlight that neighborhood with those of Julia Goerges and the tenth-seeded Petrova also set to shine. The slow courts of Indian Wells might not suit games so high on risk and low on consistency, possibly lightening the burden on former champion Wozniacki. Just two years ago, the Dane won this title as the world #1, and she reached the final in 2010 with her characteristic counterpunching. Downed relatively early in her title defense last year, she has shown recent signs of regrouping with strong performances at the Persian Gulf tournaments in February. On the other hand, a quick loss as the top seed in Kuala Lumpur reminded viewers that her revival remains a work in progress. She has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s breakthrough in mid-2011, so a quarterfinal between them would offer fascinating evidence as to whether Caro can preserve her mental edge over her friend.
Second quarter: Unremarkable so far this year, Kerber has fallen short of the form that carried her to a 2012 semifinal here and brings a three-match losing streak to the desert. Even with that recent history, she should survive early tests from opponents like Heather Watson and the flaky Wickmayer before one of two fellow lefties poses an intriguing challenge in the fourth round. For the second straight year, Makarova reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and her most significant victory there came against Kerber in a tightly contested match of high quality. Dogged by erratic results, this Russian may find this surface too slow for her patience despite the improved defense and more balanced weapons that she showed in Melbourne. Another woman who reached the second week there, Bojana Jovanovski, hopes to prove that accomplishment more than just a quirk of fate, which it seems so far. Also in this section is the enigmatic Safarova, a woman of prodigious talent but few results to show for it. If she meets Makarova in the third round, an unpredictable clash could ensue, after which the winner would need to break down Kerber’s counterpunching.
Stirring to life in Doha and Dubai, where she reached the quarterfinals at both, Stosur has played much further below her ranking this year than has Kerber. A disastrous Australian season and Fed Cup weekend have started to fade a bit, however, for a woman who has reached the Indian Wells semifinals before. Stosur will welcome the extra time that the court gives her to hit as many forehands as possible, but she may not welcome a draw riddled with early threats. At the outset, the US Open champion could face American phenom Madison Keys, who raised eyebrows when she charged within a tiebreak of the semifinals in a strong Sydney draw. The feisty Peng, a quarterfinalist here in 2011, also does not flinch when facing higher-ranked opponents, so Stosur may breathe a sigh of relief if she reaches the fourth round. Either of her likely opponents there shares her strengths of powerful serves and forehands as well as her limitations in mobility and consistency. Losing her only previous meeting with Mona Barthel, on the Stuttgart indoor clay, Ivanovic will seek to reverse that result at a tournament where she usually has found her most convincing tennis even in her less productive periods. Minor injuries have nagged her lately, while Barthel has reached two finals already in 2013 (winning one), so this match could prove compelling if both silence other powerful servers around them, like Lucie Hradecka.
Third quarter: Another woman who has reached two finals this year (winning both), the third-seeded Radwanska eyes perhaps the easiest route of the elite contenders. Barring her path to the fourth round are only a handful of qualifiers, an anonymous American wildcard, an aging clay specialist who has not won a match all year, and the perenially underachieving Sorana Cirstea. Radwanska excels at causing raw, error-prone sluggers like Cirstea to implode, and she will face nobody with the sustained power and accuracy to overcome her in the next round either. In that section, Christina McHale attempts to continue a comeback from mono that left her without a victory for several months until a recent breakthrough, and Maria Kirilenko marks her return from injury that sidelined her after winning the Pattaya City title. Although she took Radwanska deep into the final set of a Wimbledon quarterfinal last year, and defeated her at a US Open, the Russian should struggle if rusty against the more confident Aga who has emerged since late 2011. Can two grass specialists, Pironkova and Paszek, cause a stir in this quiet section?
Not much more intimidating is the route that lies before the section’s second highest-ranked seed, newly minted Dubai champion Kvitova. Although she never has left a mark on either Indian Wells or Miami, Kvitova suggested that she had ended her habitual struggles in North America by winning the US Open Series last summer with titles in Montreal and New Haven. Able to enter and stay in torrid mode like the flip of a switch, she aims to build on her momentum from consecutive victories over three top-ten opponents there. The nearest seeded opponent to Kvitova, Yaroslava Shvedova, has struggled to string together victories since her near-upset of Serena at Wimbledon, although she nearly toppled Kvitova in their most recent meeting at Roland Garros. Almost upsetting Azarenka near this time a year ago, Cibulkova looks to repeat her upset over the Czech in Sydney when they meet in the fourth round. Just reaching that stage would mark a step forward for her, though, considering her failure to build upon her runner-up appearance there and the presence of ultra-steady Zakopalova. Having dominated Radwanska so thoroughly in Dubai, Kvitova should feel confident about that test.
Fourth quarter: Semifinalist in 2011, finalist in 2012, champion in 2013? Before she can think so far ahead, the second-seeded Sharapova must maneuver past a string of veteran Italians and other clay specialists like Suarez Navarro. Aligned to meet in the first round are the former Fed Cup teammates Pennetta and Schiavone in one of Wednesday’s most compelling matches, but the winner vanishes directly into Sharapova’s jaws just afterwards. The faltering Varvara Lepchenko could meet the surging Roberta Vinci, who just reached the semifinals in Dubai with victories over Kuznetsova, Kerber, and Stosur. Like Kvitova, then, she brings plenty of positive energy to a weak section of the draw, where her subtlety could carry her past the erratic or fading players around her. But Sharapova crushed Vinci at this time last year, and she never has found even a flicker of self-belief against the Russian.
Once notorious for the catfights that flared between them, Jankovic and Bartoli could extend their bitter rivalry in the third round at a tournament where both have reached the final (Jankovic winning in 2010, Bartoli falling to Wozniacki a year later). Between them stands perhaps a more convincing dark horse candidate in Kuznetsova, not far removed from an Australian Open quarterfinal appearance that signaled her revival. Suddenly striking the ball with confidence and even—gasp—a modicum of thoughtfulness, she could draw strength from the memories of her consecutive Indian Wells finals in 2007-08. If Kuznetsova remains young enough to recapture some of her former prowess, her compatriot Pavlyuchenkova also has plenty of time to rebuild a career that has lain in ruins for over a year. By playing close to her potential, she could threaten Errani despite the sixth seed’s recent clay title defense in Acapulco. Not in a long time has anyone in this area challenged Sharapova, though.
Come back tomorrow before the start of play in the men’s draw to read a similar breakdown!
More remarkable than any feat in tennis outside the majors, the Indian Wells-Miami double title requires many factors to fall together for those who would complete it: sustained form across twelve matches, resilient fitness in heat and humidity, efficiency in early rounds, the ability to raise one’s level in later rounds, adjustments to contrasting playing styles, and—perhaps—a bit of luck from fortuitous upsets late in the draw. Since Federer completed a stunning pair of doubles in 2005-06, only one player on either Tour has matched his accomplishment, but several have come close. We take a look at each of the leading threats to rampage through March in both the ATP and WTA.
Djokovic: The aforementioned architect of an Indian Wells/Miami double, the Serb demonstrated his improved fitness by sweeping these arduous draws early in his spectacular 2011 campaign. Even before he became the fearsome member of the big four, moreover, he came within a match of the same feat by finishing runner-up at the first and champion at the latter in 2007. Last year, Djokovic came within a tiebreak of the Indian Wells final before defending his Miami crown. The slow courts should favor his more physical style over Federer’s preference for short points, and he currently holds the momentum in his rivalry against Murray with three straight victories. Entering the Dubai semifinals, Djokovic had won 16 straight matches and 26 of his last 27, opening a massive lead as world #1.
Murray: Four years ago, he came within a win of the double when he fell to Nadal in the Indian Wells final before sweeping Del Potro and Djokovic to win Miami. Often at his best on North American hard courts, Murray has won six of his eight Masters 1000 titles there—but has lost three straight matches at Indian Wells, where he has advanced past the quarterfinals just once That futility in the desert, which should suit a high-percentage game adaptable to variable conditions, has stemmed from emotional hangovers after losses in the Australian Open final. Although he lost there again this year, Murray seemed less distraught afterward, so he could bounce back sooner. He might well avoid long-time nemesis Nadal at both events but probably will have to reconquer the Djoker at least once.
Berdych: A Miami finalist in 2010, he never has reached the final at either of the tournaments in any other year and has won just one Masters 1000 shield. Nevertheless, Berdych has grown more consistent in the last several months against players outside the elite, and he will take comfort from the knowledge that he may not face either Federer or Nadal. Securing his fair share of success against Murray over the years, he never has defeated Djokovic on a hard court. For a player of his size and (limited) mobility, Berdych handles slow courts unusually well because his groundstrokes still can power through them, while he often will have the time to run around his backhand for forehands.
Del Potro: The only active major champion outside the Big Four, he does own a somewhat recent victory over Djokovic and momentum against Federer following two victories last fall. But Del Potro never has defeated either Djokovic or Murray on an outdoor hard court, at least pending his Dubai semifinal against the former. Most of his notable successes have come on faster courts like those at the US Open or the year-end championships, where his forehand can break open rallies more quickly. Although his fitness has proved unreliable in the heat, his four-title surge during the summer of 2008 showed that he can stay torrid for a long time when his game starts to sizzle.
Federer cannot complete the double because he has not entered Miami. Nadal? Well, he remains entered in both tournaments as of this writing and thus will have a chance to complete a feat that he never quite has approached. In the reality of his comeback, however, Nadal surely cannot sweep twelve straight hard-court matches in elite draws and conclude an exhausting four weeks by winning Miami for the first time after losing three finals there. Nor might he want that accomplishment, for it surely would drain him before the crucial clay season.
Sharapova: Within one win of a 2006 double, when she won Indian Wells and finished runner-up to Kuznetsova in Miami, she has produced outstanding results at each of the March mini-majors in the last two years. Denied only in the finals of both 2012 tournaments, Sharapova has started this year with a relentlessness similar to what she showed last year despite a surprising loss to Li Na in the Australian Open semifinals. She has not defeated Azarenka on an outdoor hard court since 2009, but she towers above the rest of the Indian Wells field in credentials. Much more complicated is Miami, where she has lost all four of her finals and must hope for someone else to dispatch Serena.
Azarenka: Undefeated entering Indian Wells for the second straight year, she often has raced to a fast start early in the season before losing momentum as injuries accumulate. Last year, she won Indian Wells with ease but arrived significantly depleted in Miami, where she could not survive the quarterfinals. The world #2 shares Djokovic’s affinity for a surface that showcases her transitions from defense to offense as well as her returning prowess. Apparent niggles with her fitness already have surfaced this year in every tournament that she has played, however, leaving her durability still in doubt. Rarely has she won titles in consecutive weeks.
Radwanska: By contrast, the Pole whom Azarenka ruthlessly has suppressed since the start of 2012 has demonstrated her ability to win key titles in consecutive weeks. Radwanska swept the Premier Five/Premier Mandatory pair of Tokyo and Beijing in 2011, catalyzing a surge that has not yet ended, and she should welcome the slow courts. The defending champion in Miami, where she defeated Venus and Sharapova last year, she should approach the pressure of that status with her characteristic tenacity. But Radwanska has reached a major semifinal only once because of her failure to outlast the WTA’s fiercest aggressors through a seven-round tournament, and the same pattern might undo her in the attempt to win consecutive six-round tournaments against the best in the sport.
Kvitova: Feckless in North America until last year, she suddenly erupted during the US Open Series with two titles and a semifinal. Kvitova can tear through a draw or multiple draws without warning, as she showed by emerging from a slump to claim the Premier title in Dubai without dropping a set, including a victory over Radwanska. She never has defeated Serena and has struggled lately against Sharapova, while she astonishingly has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s rise early last year. More dangerous with every round that she advances further into a tournament, Kvitova will hope to avoid dark horses early in both draws and find the patience necessary to win rallies on the slow courts.
Among the key reasons why no woman has completed the double lately is the presence of the Williams sisters in Miami but not in Indian Wells. Their dominance at the former tournament, near their Palm Beach Gardens home, once inevitably forestalled the champion of the desert from repeating in Miami. While the tottering Venus probably cannot win a title of this magnitude, Serena remains the favorite at any non-clay tournament that she enters when healthy. Healthy she may not be, considering her injury-hampered hobbles through Melbourne and Doha, but the month of rest since the latter tournament may have allowed the world #1 to recover.
No stranger to the glitzy Hollywood scene, Maria Sharapova graced the Vanity Fair Oscar After Party with her glowing presence following Sunday night’s Academy Awards.
In her arrival interview, Sharapova talked about her love of Jennifer Lawrence, whether she gets starstruck and speaks to the glamour of attending the Oscars.
On her thoughts about Oscar night: “It’s certainly the most glamorous. It’s nice to be able to mingle with also some athletes — I’ve seen a few already. To be able to watch the Oscars and get ready for a glamorous event is always fun for me. It’s very unusual to be part of something like this.”
On who she was rooting for: “I personally love Jennifer Lawrence. I think she’s had such a great attitude. She’s an amazing actress, but so young and fresh and youthful. Doesn’t take everything so seriously. I love that type of attitude in an actress. I’m happy to see her win.”
On whether she gets starstruck: “It’s nice to see people being celebrated for what they do. Obviously, tonight is Oscar night so it’s nice to be able to walk by an Oscar nominee or an Oscar winner. It’s such a different business to what I am usually a part of. But I think we all know how hard it takes to get to a certain position in our careers.”
She looked stunning in a contemporary, floor-length silhouette by Amanda Wakeley which emphasized her athletic physique with relaxed and flowing tailoring and a deep-cut back. Shoes were Manolo Blahniks and the edgy yet chic clutch was an Alexander McQueen accessory. Earrings also by Isharaya and matching golden cuffs by Katherine Sultan.
Her makeup and hair were understated with just the right balance of youth and elegance. Seems Maria can do no wrong!
Actually, I take that back. Here’s the Alexander McQueen fail (sorry!) she wore at last year’s Vanity Fair Oscar After Party. Hey, at least she’s experimenting and learning from her mistakes! You can’t be a fashion icon without taking some risks!
And as a BONUS (because really, who doesn’t like freebies?!), a very clever fan photoshopped Maria Sharapova holding her very own Oscar. Because, why not? After practicing her trophy-hoisting pose by winning 4 Slams, casually hoisting an Oscar suits her quite well.
Formerly riddled with upsets and surprise semifinalists, WTA draws grew relatively predictable in 2012 as a small group of women won virtually every marquee tournament. That trend continued when Azarenka defended her Australian Open crown after several young stars rose and fell. In Doha, more of the familiar suspects look likely to shine. Read a preview of the draw, quarter by quarter.
First quarter: Just as she did in Melbourne, Azarenka may need to defend her title to retain her #1 ranking with the second-ranked Serena Williams anchoring the opposite half of the draw. Also like the Australian Open, the medium-speed hard courts in Doha suit the top seed’s style more than any other surface, and one must feel sanguine about her semifinal hopes in this weak section. Several of the women surrounding her played Fed Cup over the past weekend, when most looked pedestrian at best against modest competition. Although she upset Azarenka once and nearly twice in 2012, Cibulkova extended a discouraging span that started with her double bagel in the Sydney final by retiring on the verge of victory in Fed Cup. Bojana Jovanovski and Daniela Hantuchova collaborated on a hideous comedy of errors this Saturday, while the sixth-seeded Errani faces the challenge of transitioning from the clay of the Italy-USA tie. This section could implode quickly, which might open a door for the rising Laura Robson to build on her Australian upset of Kvitova.
Second quarter: Two women of Polish descent bookend a section that contains two former #1s who have sunk outside the top 10. Having withdrawn from Fed Cup with a shoulder injury, Ivanovic remained in the Doha draw as she hopes to erase the memories of a first-round upset in Pattaya City, where she held the top seed. The Serb likely would collide with Australian Open nemesis Radwanska as early as the third round, however, so she may gain little more from Doha than she did last year. An all-German encounter beckons at the base of the quarter between the last two Paris Indoors champions: the fifth-seeded Kerber and Mona Barthel. Meeting the winner in the same round as the projected Ivanovic-Radwanska clash is world #11 Wozniacki, who fell just short of an Australian Open quarterfinal in a promising end to an otherwise miserable January. Kerber stifled her on multiple surfaces last year, though, while struggling to solve Radwanska’s consistency.
Third quarter: A 2008 champion at this tournament, the third-seeded Sharapova eyes a comfortable start to the tournament against a qualifier or wildcard. Rolling through Melbourne until her competition stiffened suddenly, she may find an opponent worthy of her steel in Sloane Stephens, although her fellow Australian Open semifinalist withdrew from Fed Cup this weekend. Looming on the opposite side is an encore of the 2011 Melbourne marathon between Kuznetsova and Schiavone, separated just by a qualifier and the dormant Bartoli (also a Fed Cup absentee). The Russian returned to relevance with an outstanding January considering the sub-50 ranking with which she started it before reaching quarterfinals at Sydney and the Australian Open. Her athleticism and rising confidence should serve her well against the Schiavone-Bartoli winner and against the eighth-seeded Stosur in the following round. Still struggling to regain her rhythm after ankle surgery during the offseason, the Aussie probably cannot defend her runner-up points in the vicinity of two multiple-major champions from Russia.
Fourth quarter: Among the questions looming over this tournament is the health of Serena Williams, the prohibitive favorite in Melbourne until multiple injuries overtook her. Serena probably would not participate in an event like Doha unless she felt confident in her condition, however, so one should take her entry at face value for now. As she has reminded rivals over the last several months, few can break her serve on a non-clay surface when she is healthy, and she should overpower clay specialists in the early rounds like Medina Garrigues and Vinci. Of greater suspense is the identity of the woman who will emerge from the section occupied by Kvitova, who clings to the seventh seed in a manner far from convincing. Although playing a Fed Cup tie on home soil may have boosted her spirits, she has not strung together victories at a WTA tournament since last August. Often troubled by the task of defeating a compatriot, she could meet Fed Cup teammate Safarova in the third round. Before then, Beijing nemesis Suarez Navarro lurks in a challenge for her consistency. And Russian veteran Nadia Petrova adds an entertaining mixture of power and petulance to a section full of fiery personalities.
Come back on Friday to read a semifinal preview!
1. Agnieszka Radwanska needs more weapons: Radwanska is many people’s favourite player with her quirky, imaginative style – combining speed with a deft touch. But despite arriving in Melbourne in the form of her life, we saw Radwanska come unstuck in the latter stages once again when up against a big hitter. Despite having more variety than Caroline Wozniacki, it appears she could suffer the Dane’s fate of always falling short at the majors unless she learns to attack a little more.
2. Bernard Tomic still has a huge ego: Don’t get me wrong, Tomic has impressed me so far this season but he’s not as close to the top 10 as he thinks. ‘It’s only a matter of time before I get my ranking up alongside these guys,’ he told us after losing in straight sets to Roger Federer. Before we start believing that, Tomic needs to start producing the goods, outside of Australia.
3. Maria Sharapova’s serve is still an Achilles heel: As unexpected as Serena Williams’ loss to Sloane Stephens was, Sharapova’s demolition at the hands of Li Na a day later was almost as surprising. Like many people, after a week’s action in Melbourne I had the Russian nailed on as the champion. But the first time she seriously came under some pressure, her serve folded and her error strewn display saw her bomb out with a whimper.
4. Roger Federer checks betting odds: Now we’re sure that Roger doesn’t gamble with all the strict match-fixing regulations imposed by the ATP these days but he still keeps up with the odds. After beating Milos Raonic in the fourth round, he informed us that he’d seen Novak Djokovic’s odds ahead of his match with Stanislas Wawrinka and he thought they were really disrespectful to his fellow Swiss. Bet365, you’ve been told!
5. The tennis world is prone to overreacting: We couldn’t help but sympathize for poor old Victoria Azarenka who had to take on Li Na in front of a very hostile Rod Laver Arena who cheerfully applauded her double faults and her every error. Ok Azarenka may have been guilty of playing a few games in her semi-final but she wasn’t the first to do so and she won’t be the last. Plus Sloane Stephens had only held 1 service game in the entire match so one can hardly say it was a surprise she got broken after Azarenka’s ‘time out.’ Part of this is the fault of the press who whipped the Aussie public into a frenzy over the Belarussian’s alleged ‘cheating.’
6. Modesty gets you nowhere: Like many people, I was pretty disappointed by David Ferrer’s comments after his semi-final demolition at the hands of Djokovic. ‘These guys are just better than me. What can I do?” shrugged Ferrer. The Spaniard had played extremely well en route to the semis but you sense he just doesn’t believe he can beat Djokovic, Federer or Murray which is a disappointing attitude for the world number 4 to have.
7. The equal pay debate will always come up at the slams: The one-sided routs which Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams handed out for the first four rounds saw plenty of grumblings arise from the men’s game. Just like at Wimbledon last year. And at virtually every slam. While it’s a little disappointing that Sharapova was able to win her first two matches without conceding a single game, one should also look at just how easily Djokovic and Murray won their first few matches before pointing the finger.
8. Tsonga can get away with outrageous things: How did he get away with saying this? After losing to Roger Federer in 5 sets, the Frenchman was questioned on why there’s more upsets in women’s tennis. He replied, “You know, the girls, they are more unstable emotionally than us. I’m sure everybody will say it’s true, even the girls (laughter). No? No, you don’t think? But, I mean, it’s just about hormones and all this stuff. We don’t have all these bad things, so we are physically in a good shape every time, and you are not. That’s it.” If Djokovic, Federer or Murray had said that they would have been publicly castrated but instead this caused barely a ripple.
9. No excuses from Murray: Many players would have blamed blisters maybe a sore hamstring for losing to Djokovic in 4 sets in the Australian Open final. Federer gained a bit of a reputation at one time for finding injury-related excuses to explain his occasional defeat. But Murray deserves huge credit for telling the press that they had no impact on the match and Djokovic simply played the big points better.
10. Djokovic has found his mecca in Melbourne: There’s no doubt that the Australian Open is Djokovic’s favourite slam. He’s said many times that Rod Laver Arena is his favourite stadium in the world and it seems to inspire him to new heights every year. Just as Rafa Nadal is a different beast at Roland Garros, Wimbledon brings out something extra-special in Federer, Djokovic has found his mecca in Melbourne.
Article provided by David Cox from Livestreamingsport.com an award-winning sports, news and live stream website.