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.
By Lisa-Marie Burrows
“Last year, through the Dubai, Rotterdam and Indian Wells swing where I won all three, I didn’t get tested once. That shouldn’t be OK.”
At the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Roger Federer once again shared his thoughts about doping and testing. He revealed that in 2012, there was a lack of frequent and consistent testing for doping whilst he was competing, despite having won three consecutive tournaments.
This week, the ITF (International Tennis Federation) have shared their plans for biological passports. They have been busy of late redesigning their Davis Cup and Fed Cup websites and their latest relaunch has been the official website of its Anti-Doping department.
The website aims to share detailed information on the Tennis Anti-Doping programme and it has uploaded many PDFs from recent years of blood testing which has been carried out on the athletes.
A summary of testing conducted under the 2012 ITF Tennis Anti-Doping Programme is now available on their website of all players who hold an ATP or WTA ranking. The results show the amount of times the athletes have been tested during the year whilst competing and also when they are out of competition. The results do not include samples collected during the London Olympics by the National Anti-Doping Organisations.
During 2012, the statistics show that a total of 1727 in-competition urine specimen samples were taken from male and female athletes and 124 specimens of blood.
Out of-competition testing was slightly lower with 271 specimens for urine and 63 for blood. Overall, 2185 total specimens were taken and it is interesting to see how consistently players were tested, particularly the higher ranked players. I have put together a table of results for the current top 20 ATP and WTA players.
ATP Top 20 Testing Summary
These are the sample testing results for the players ranked in the top 20 in the ATP rankings as of this week.
The samples are fairly consistent with Djokovic, Murray, Ferrer, Berdych, Del Potro, Tsonga. Tipsarevic, Gasquet, Cilic, Wawrinka and Seppi all tested on seven and above occasions, whilst the other players were largely tested four to six times.
The only exceptions are Rafael Nadal, who due to injury was not tested for in-competition as frequently and therefore has a higher out-of-competition sample compared to his colleagues. Milos Raonic was also tested on one to three in-competition occasions.
For further names of athletes and their testing summary, you can access the ITF anti-doping website here:
WTA Top 20 Testing Summary
These are the sample testing results for the players ranked in the top 20 in the WTA rankings as of this week.
Half of the WTA top 20 players were tested during competitions on seven or more occasions and surprisingly four out of the current top 5 have been tested fewer times than some of their counterparts. Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Na Li have been tested on one to three occasions and four to six occasions respectively.
For further names of athletes and their testing summary, you can access the ITF anti-doping website here:
Over the next few years, expect the number of overall testing to rise, as the ITF have made it clear that they are going to increase the number of blood tests done each year under its anti-doping programme.
Federer was pleased by the announcement and said at the BNP Paribas Open:
“I think tennis has done a good job of trying everything to be as clean as possible but we are entering a new era. We have to do everything to ensure our tour is as clean as it possibly can be.”
By Romi Cvitkovic
With David Ferrer’s 6-0, 6-2 loss to Rafael Nadal in the final of Acapulco last week, followed by his opening round loss to Kevin Anderson at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday, is Ferrer — at age 30 — on his way out of the game?
Known for his ferocious and undying hustle on court, the No. 4 seed seemed well on his way to a straight set win in Indian Wells over world No. 37 Anderson, when at 4-all in the second, the South African stepped up his game and never looked back.
“I had my chance in the 4-all, two break points up, but he played good in important moments,” commented Ferrer. “He played more aggressive, more consistent than me, and in the third set I was a little bit tired and he was better than me. I don’t have excuse, no?”
Addressing why he felt so tired, Ferrer simply commented that “it’s tennis, it’s normal.”
While his age may be indicative of one approaching the end of their tennis career, Ferrer credited his loss to bad play, and not as a sign of an imminent descent. Sure, he was handed a devastating loss by a player who had just returned to the game after being out for more than seven months, but that is a different story. Ferrer and Nadal know each other’s games as well as they know their own, and Nadal simply had a lot more riding on his return than Ferrer did on his game. Perhaps some friendly intimidation and respect played a factor in Ferrer’s loss to his good friend as well.
The 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 loss to Anderson, however, could be tougher to explain. It’s as if Ferrer just lost the plot to the match — which is something that rarely happens to the Spaniard. The BNP Paribas Open only marked Anderson’s second tournament back from elbow surgery, but the South African was not afraid to test his arm hitting six aces for the match.
Less a testament of what Ferrer can or cannot do, his loss today may very well have been just a bad day at the office, including emotions running high for both opponents on some questionable line calls. But according to Ferrer, ” some days (a) player is playing good, and sometimes he’s playing not so good. Today I (did) not play bad, but (it was) not my best match.”
Is it perhaps that Ferrer is simply unwilling to accept a couple of tough back-to-back losses as a sign of things to come? Truthfully, not likely. He’s one of the few that is keenly aware of his limitations (as minuscule as they may be), but he gives credit where it’s due and knows that hurdles like this are just part of the game.
In fact, he is so acutely cognizant of his game that he doesn’t even look to his current ranking of world No. 4, but looks ahead to the year-end rankings in order to gauge his progress.
“I start very good this season, and of course it’s important to finish the season top 10,” stated Ferrer. “But is difficult … The most important thing is (how I) finish the season. Now is not important … I want to practice a lot and hard work for to be top 10.”
As far as bouncing back from this tough loss to Anderson, Ferrer fans need not fret, as the Spaniard keeps a level-headed perspective.
“This is only sport,” commented Ferrer. “Of course, it’s my job. It was a bad day, and I am disappointed with (myself), but tomorrow I going to be good.”
March 8, 2013 — Tennis top stars and past BNP Paribas Open champions Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and Victoria Azarenka took part in the groundbreaking for the Indian Wells Tennis Garden expansion project on Friday.
The official groundbreaking ceremony involved numerous local dignitaries, including BNP Paribas Open tournament CEO Raymond Moore as well as Indian Wells mayor Mary Roche. WTA CEO Stacey Allaster was also on hand.
Back in February, the Desert Sun reported that the Indian Wells City Council approved the plans for the $70 million expansion project on the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Plans are in place for a new 8,000-seat stadium with 2,000 parking spaces. Construction is expected to begin following the 2013 event, March 17. Officials expect the 10-month project to increase the fan capacity for the two-week event to 500,000 in 2014.
After the official groundbreaking, the first serves on site were made with the players in-line and aiming directly for the media. It’s every tennis players’ dream to peg the media, right? Serves’ up!
(Photos: Getty Images and Reuters)
By Maud Watson
Rafael Nadal couldn’t have asked for a better start in his return from injury. He picked up his second title in three tournaments with his win in Acapulco, and what an emphatic win it was, too. In his last two matches, he took out his fellow countrymen Almagro and Ferrer in straight sets, and the win over Ferrer in the final was particularly brutal. He was moving around the court like a jack rabbit, and, when the opportunity presented itself, appeared to be growing more and more confident in his ability to take the ball on and dictate the point. His impressive win in Mexico doesn’t suddenly make him the favorite for Roland Garros as some overzealous fans and analysts have suggested, but it’s clear by what we saw coming off his racquet last week that he’s already starting to resemble the Nadal of old. We’ll see how Nadal’s clay court success translates onto the hard courts at Indian Wells, but it’s safe to assume that even at this early stage in his comeback, he’s going to be a tough out on the dirt.
While Rafael Nadal was busy showing the tennis world he’s firmly in the thick of it, Novak Djokovic was busy showing everyone why he’s World No. 1 and has no intention of giving up his perch anytime soon. Playing in his first event since winning the Australian Open, Djokovic barely showed any signs of rust as he claimed his fourth Dubai title and second of 2013. He waltzed through the tournament without the loss of set, though he was pushed to a tiebreak on two occasions. His ability to raise his level just that little bit, however, is what separates him from the majority of the pack. He enters Indian Wells as the top favorite, and after bowing out last year to Isner in the semis, you can be certain he’s going to be extra hungry to reclaim that title and keep his perfect record for 2013 intact. It’s going to take something special to stop the Serb, because right now, he’s in a league of his own.
Apparently the governing bodies of tennis are capable of coming to a unanimous decision as evidenced by the news that the ITF, ATP, WTA and the four Grand Slams are giving their full support to the new biological passport program that will take effect on both tours yet this year. The passport program also will come with more blood tests as well as an increased number of out-of-competition testing. This new endeavor will be made possible by the increased funding that all of the governing bodies have pledged to provide to the program. This will undoubtedly make the players happy as well as the fans. It’s important that tennis be able to back up the assumption that it is a clean sport, with the cheaters being more the exception than the norm. It’s encouraging to see how quickly everyone is moving on this, and with any luck, any nasty doping accusations leveled at the players will soon be a thing of the past.
Earlier this week, both Wozniacki and McIlroy, who have suffered some recent setbacks in their respective sports, came out to squelch rumors that they had ended their relationship. The takeaway from Wozniacki’s press conference, however, wasn’t her commentary regarding the status of her relationship with Rory, but rather her comments concerning where she is with her game. The Dane insisted that she wasn’t slumping due to the relationship and that she didn’t have a problem. She rationalized that “When you are No. 1, there is only one way and it’s down and you can’t go further up. I feel like I am playing well.” She’s living in a fantasy world if she thinks she’s playing well and that her trajectory as a former No. 1 is acceptable. She needs to take a look at players like Azarenka, Serena Williams, and Sharapova. All three women have been at t he top, but they continue to work to get back to the top and at least remain close to top to seize an opportunity to pounce when one is presented to them. They don’t frequently suffer shock losses and drop out of the Top 10 unless an injury or illness is the culprit. Someone needs to get a hold of Wozniacki and help her right the ship, because it’s clear she doesn’t have a realistic grasp of where she is with her game or her spot within the sport.
Head of the Class
Earlier this week, the International Tennis Hall of Fame named their incoming class for 2013, and it’s a pretty decent slate of inductees. The Class of 2013 is headed by the sole Recent Player Inductee, Martina Hingis. The Swiss Miss was one of the craftiest players to ever pick up a racquet. In addition to the numerous awards she received over the course of her career, she garnered 15 major titles. She still holds the record for being the youngest woman to ever win a major – winning the Wimbledon Ladies’ Doubles in 1996 just three months shy of her 16th birthday – and she was also the youngest woman to reach the No. 1 singles ranking at 16-and-a-half years of age. Furthermore, she was one of those rare top players that excelled in both singles and doubles and is one of only five female players to have simultaneously held the No. 1 ranking in both. Hingis will be joined by Master Player Inductee, the great Australian Thelma Coyne-Long, whose induction is long overdue. Rounding out this year’s class in the Contributor category are three former players who have continued to serve the sport through providing television commentary and tournament administration. They are Cliff Drysdale, Charlie Pasarell, and Ion Tiriac. It’s a well-rounded and deserving class, and they should make for an enjoyable induction ceremony later this summer.
Players like Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Victoria Azarenka took time out of their busy schedules on Thursday evening to walk the “green” carpet at the IW Club for the annual BNP Paribas Open players’ party. This years theme? Disco. But don’t expect many disco themed outfits. As usual, the green carpet saw everything from players in jeans and sweatshirts to mini skirts and six inch stilettos. Let us know what you think of the players’ fashion.
March 7, 2013 — With many of the top tennis players having already been in Indian Wells, CA for days, it’s no surprise to see fans flock out to the practice sessions of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray even before each player starts their official bid for the title.
With all three players having a bye in the first round, Roger Federer will open up against the winner of Vasek Pospisil versus Denis Istomin, Rafael Nadal will open up against tonight’s winner of Ryan Harrison versus Go Soeda, and Andy Murray will open up against the winner of Evgeny Donskoy versus Ito Tatsuma.
For the first time since Wimbledon 2012, all of the Big Four convene at the same tournament. We take a detailed look at a balanced Indian Wells ATP draw.
First quarter: Twice a champion at Indian Wells, Djokovic brings a perfect 2013 record to the desert following titles at the Australian Open and Dubai. Having faced Federer at neither tournament, he could face the Federer facsimile Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. While his one-handed backhand certainly spurs thoughts of the Swiss star, this young Bulgarian continues to alternate encouraging results (Brisbane final) with disappointing setbacks (first-round loss in Melbourne). The towering serve of Isner ultimately undid Djokovic in an Indian Wells semifinal last year, and Querrey’s similar game toppled him at the Paris Indoors last fall. Now the Serb can eye an opportunity for revenge in the fourth round, where he could meet the latter and will hope to stay mentally sturdier than he did against Isner here. A higher-ranked potential opponent does loom in Juan Monaco, but the world #14 has not won a match this year outside the Davis Cup as injuries have sapped his confidence. Among the intriguing first-round matches in this section is serving leviathan Karlovic against future American star and forehand howitzer Jack Sock.
Winless against the top eight from the start of 2012 until last month, Tsonga may have gained confidence from finally snapping that skid against Berdych in the Marseille final. On the other hand, he also lost immediately in Rotterdam to an unheralded opponent and thus still seems less trustworthy than most of those ranked around him. Rarely has he made an impact on Indian Wells, outside a near-upset over Nadal in 2008, but his draw looks accommodating through the first few rounds. Returning American Mardy Fish, a former finalist here, surely cannot sustain the level of tennis necessary to discomfit Tsonga at this stage of his comeback if they meet in the third round. In the opposite side of this eighth lies Milos Raonic, tasked with outslugging the more balanced but less intimidating Marin Cilic in the third round. Lesser players of note in this area include French serve-volleyer Michael Llodra, who upset Tsonga in Dubai, and Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, who has not won a match since stunning Nadal there. Although Tsonga obtained considerable success early in his career, his results against him have tapered so sharply of late that one might think Raonic the sterner test for the Serb.
Second quarter: Assigned probably the smoothest route of any top-four man, Murray cannot expect much resistance at a tournament where he reached the final four years ago. Nevertheless, early losses to Donald Young and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his last two appearances illustrated the Scot’s struggle to recover from his annual late-round disappointment in Australia. Murray will want to bounce back more smoothly this time on a slow hard court that suits his counterpunching so well. Looming in the fourth round is Memphis champion Kei Nishikori, who faces a potentially edgy opening test in Tursunov. Resuscitating his career in February, the Russian reached the Marseille semifinals as a qualifier and qualified for this draw as well. The mercurial Dolgopolov, the second-most notable player whom Murray could face in the fourth round, has floundered throughout 2013 and probably lacks the steadiness to threaten either Murray or Nishikori.
Of all the seeds whom he could have faced in the third round, Del Potro surely would have wished to avoid Australian Open nemesis Jeremy Chardy. The Frenchman receded into obscurity again after reaching the quarterfinals there, but he may hold the mental edge over Del Potro should each win his opener. Not since his first appearance in the desert five years ago, though, has the Tower of Tandil tumbled to anyone other than Federer or Nadal, and he has taken care of business against lower-ranked players with impressive consistency over the last year. One of the most compelling third rounds in the men’s draw could pit Almagro against Haas in a clash of exquisite one-handed backhands and volatile shot-making arsenals. The eleventh-seeded Spaniard has produced an early 2013 campaign inspiring and deflating in equal measure, but his Australian Open quarterfinal (nearly a semifinal) reminded viewers what a threat he can pose away from clay with his underrated serve. Accustomed to wearing down mentally dubious opponents, Murray should handle either Almagro or Haas with ease, and he compiled a flawless hard-court record against Del Potro even during the latter’s 2009 heights.
Third quarter: The section without any member of the Big Four often offers the most notable storylines of the early rounds, although Ferrer succeeded in living up to his top-four seed at both of the majors where he has held it. Never at his best in the desert, however, he may find his transition from clay to hard courts complicated by the two towering servers whom he could face at the outset in Kevin Anderson and Igor Sijsling. The latter upset Tsonga and nearly Cilic last month, while the former started the year impressively by reaching the second week of the Australian Open before injury sidelined him. Curiously, the fourth round might hold a less formidable test for Ferrer because his grinding game matches up more effectively to the two seeds projected there, Simon or Kohlschreiber. The quirky Benoit Paire and the lanky lefty from Luxembourg, Gilles Muller, add some individuality to an otherwise monochrome section, as does the invariably entertaining but terminally fading Verdasco.
Berdych may loom above the opposite eighth, considering his two February finals in strong fields at Marseille and Dubai. But an equally intriuging storyline may come from Jerzy Janowicz, still attempting to find his footing in the crucial post-breakthrough period when players encounter scrutiny for which they are not yet prepared. The next several months could prove critical for Janowicz in consolidating his seeded status, and he will deserve credit if he emerges from a neighborhood filled with diverse talent. Nalbandian could await in his opener, and the trio of Bellucci, Tomic, and Gasquet will vie for the right to face the Pole in the third round. Twice a titlist in 2013 already, the last of that trio has retained his top-ten ranking for a long time without scording a signature victory. Such a win could come in the quarterfinals if he can solve Berdych, unlikely to expend much energy before that stage against the likes of Troicki and Florian Mayer. The heavier serve of the Czech should propel him through on a hard court, though, as it should against a fourth seed who has not played as crisply this year as his results suggest.
Fourth quarter: Defending champion Federer can anticipate his first quarterfinal meeting with archrival Nadal in the history of their rivalry, but a few obstacles await before then. Like Del Potro, the second seed probably drew the least auspicious third-round opponent imaginable in Benneteau, who nearly upset him at Wimbledon last year and succeeded in finishing the job at Rotterdam last month. Federer obtained avenge for a February 2012 setback against Isner at Indian Wells a month later, so he can seek similar revenge this year. A rematch of last year’s final beckons against Isner himself in the fourth round, although little about the American’s recent form can infuse his fans with confidence that he even can reach that stage. Much more consistent this year is Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss #2 who played the most thrilling match of the Australian Open against Djokovic and backed it up with a February final. This section also features the most curious match on Thursday, an encounter between the battered Hewitt and the one-match wonder Lukas Rosol that should offer a clash of playing styles and personalities. Despite falling short of the final in his first three tournaments, Federer looks fully capable of sealing his side of the rendezvous with Nadal.
Not in much greater doubt is Rafa’s side of that appointment, for he could face no opponent more intimidating that Tipsarevic through the first four rounds. Young American Ryan Harrison looks set to become Nadal’s first hard-court opponent of 2013 (exhibitions aside), and his woeful results of the last several months intersect with a non-competitive effort against Djokovic in Melbourne to suggest a lack of confidence fatal here. While Youzhny has enjoyed several successes and near-successes against the Spaniard before, the Russian has left his prime several years behind him and lacks the power to outhit him for a full match. Hampered by injuries recently, the ninth-seeded Tipsarevic never has tested Nadal in their previous meetings and should count himself lucky to reach that projected meeting. The Serb’s current four-match losing streak could reach five in an opener against lefty serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez or Delray Beach champion Gulbis, who carries a ten-match winning streak of his own. Either the winner of that first-round meeting or the unpredictable Baghdatis seems a safer bet than Tipsarevic to meet Nadal one match before Federer. Afterwards, the Swiss should repeat his victory in their semifinal last year.
Check out the companion piece that we wrote yesterday to preview the women’s draw if you enjoyed this article.
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?
By Romi Cvitkovic
NEW YORK, NY (March 4, 2013) – Sunday night at Madison Square Garden was a night to remember as the BNP Paribas Showdown took over a packed venue with help from tennis players Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro, and countless entertaining on-court moments.
The BNP Paribas Showdown was a part of a global tennis participation effort termed “World Tennis Day,” and was held to promote 10-and-under tennis which tailors the game to its youngest players.
The evening at The Garden started with all the players being welcomed onto the court as they ran down the lower-level corridor, to a swarm of cheering and high-fiving fans.
The atmosphere was vibrant and the spectators ready – all 15,984 of them – as the No. 1 and 2 ranked-women Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka opened up the night with a serious yet humorous tone to their match. There were brilliant and aggressive plays, a few breaks of serve and even an appearance by Azarenka’s boyfriend RedFoo!
Williams handily took the first set 6-4, but what was more impressive was that they didn’t treat it like an exhibition. They put their energy and competitiveness on the line as if it were a regular season match at a tournament – not holding much back for this packed house. That kind of respect for not only the fans but for each other says a lot about their immense characters on the court.
Look further and glance at the stands, and you would find RedFoo in the corner with his Wilson “Juice” tennis racquet in hand, quietly supporting Azarenka. During nearly every changeover, the ever-popular musician kindly obliged to take photos and chat with fans while enjoying the evening.
After Azarenka went up a quick 2-0 to open the second set, Williams evened it out. At 3-all, Azarenka did what Caroline Wozniacki did during last year’s BNP Paribas Showdown, as she brought up her boyfriend to play a few points against Williams. RedFoo may need to work on that serve a bit!
After all the fun, Williams cruised to a solid finish, closing it out 6-4 in the second set, but not before playing a few points using their left hands and drawing cheers and laughter from the audience.
In their joint post-match press conference, the two ladies were at ease with each other, showing just how close of friends they are off the court. Azarenka revealed that her and Williams are in the process of recording a karaoke duet together of Rihanna’s “Stay,” with Williams on vocals and Azarenka on piano. It sounds like an great way for tennis players to pass the time on Tour, and Azarenka even joked that they should debut their musical collaboration as a concert at Madison Square Garden.
Next up on the tennis menu was the men’s singles match featuring Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal, who was taking to the hard courts for the first time since returning from his knee injury earlier this year.
Tennis exhibitions are known to not invoke full speed play from their competitors – but someone forgot to tell that to Nadal, who hustled for every volley, overhead and groundstroke. From the first point, the two players came out with a purpose – hitting winners all over the court in front of a highly-energized and cheering arena. The first set went the distance as del Potro pulled off the upset and won in a tiebreaker, 7-6(4), and followed it up with a 6-4 score in the second set to seal the win.
With most of the points seeing both players running down balls and displaying deft skills at net, a few splashes of humor added to the mix. Known as one of the most serious players on court, Nadal flashed his million dollar smile and jokes on several occasions, showing that he really does have fun on a tennis court no matter the setting.
There were points with exchanged ‘tweeners, ball head butts and plenty of fan interaction. At one point with Nadal about to serve, a woman ten rows up shouted that she loved him and he turned and threw her a ball. She then proceeded to send him air kisses for which he smiled and reciprocated the deed.
The moment of the night though occurred in the second set tied at 3-all, when, on the changeover, Nadal whispered something to del Potro and proceeded to pick out Ben Stiller from the crowd to join them on court for some doubles. With del Potro about to serve to Stiller and Nadal, he decided he needed his own partner and found a young girl from the audience to join him – and she easily stole the show. Check out the full clip below of one of the most entertaining and memorable moments in tennis history that I can remember.
In their own joint post-match press conference that started at 11:45pm, Nadal and del Potro were both relaxed with Nadal taking most of the questions regarding his knee, goals and schedule. Del Potro imparted his own thoughts on a few subjects with his own sweet charm, but otherwise silently enjoyed listening to his friend Nadal.
With the evening coming to a close to the tune of “New York, New York,” World Tennis Day witnessed four tennis greats coming together for an honorable cause, and also assured us that the return of Rafael Nadal to the hard courts was a VERY good thing.