The plan was to write a relatively straightforward intro to this preview column ahead of the 2016 BNP Paribas Open. That plan stayed intact until late afternoon on Monday, March 7, when it, well, changed.
As you’ve heard and read since, Maria Sharapova hijacked a good portion of the news cycle of this early week, with a relatively impromptu press conference to announce that she had failed a drug test at this year’s Australian Open.
The test, we now know, detected traces of meldonium in Sharapova’s sample. “I wanted to let you know that a few days ago, I received a letter from the ITF that I had failed a drug test at the Australian Open. I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it,” a composed Sharapova said. “For the last 10 years, I have been given a medicine called Mildronate. A few days ago, after I received the ITF letter, I found out it also has another name of meldonium, which I did not know.”
Sharapova says she’s been taking substance since 2006 for magnesium deficiency and irregular ekg results. Drug put on banned list for 2016.
— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) March 7, 2016
As she said, it’s a substance the 28-year-old had been taking for about a decade prior to this drug test; and if you wonder why this positive test didn’t occur before, it’s because the substance has only been added to the International Tennis Federation’s list of banned substance at the beginning of 2016.
Sharapova: takes full responsibility. “I made a huge mistake. I let the sport down. I let my fans down.” Hopes to be able to come back.
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 7, 2016
What happens from now? We’ll undoubtedly know more in the days and weeks to come, including why exactly Sharapova managed to announce the scoop herself, and we’ll probably tackle the topic in full in next week’s edition of the #TennisElbow.
For now, all we know is that the Russian will not participate in the 2016 BNP Paribas Open. Still, let’s write a preview of sorts, by which we mean that we’ll run through two pros and two cons for both the men’s and women’s draws.
–The return of Serena Williams. While the American stopped her boycott of the event in 2015, it’s nice to see her come back to Indian Wells and the world’s largest ATP and WTA tournament in the world (non Grand Slam edition) for the second year in a row. Presumably, with how she performed at the Australian Open, Serena Williams will even arrive in California motivated and eager to impress and do well.
–A deep and dangerous draw. As we’ve witnessed at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, women’s tennis has a very deep and very dangerous and powerful middle class, with Williams alone (more or less) at the top.
–Upsets galore. But if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then so is chaos. One person’s upset is another’s sign that the sport is in a down cycle and shouldn’t be followed all that closely because whomever is at the top one day will not be there the following day. (Never mentioned is the fact that before this current golden age, men’s tennis was really mostly in a similar predicament.)
–The shadow of Maria Sharapova. As mentioned above, the likely pending and upcoming punishment of the Russian looms over the entire event.
Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Simona Halep; Petra Kvitova over Coco Vandeweghe; Belinda Bencic over Victoria Azarenka; Timea Bacsinszky over Ana Ivanovic
Semifinals: Petra Kvitova over Serena Williams; Belinda Bencic over Timea Bacsinszky
Final: Belinda Bencic over Petra Kvitova
–The presence of Juan Martin Del Potro. Remember him? The tall and powerful Argentine had inspired me to overhaul my forehand in the summer of 2013 and, more relevant and important here, has battled injuries for the better part of the six years since his win at the 2009 US Open. He’s back in Indian Wells and, if we get bad Tomas Berdych, who looms in the second round, then maybe Del Potro can break through to the quarterfinals.
Taylor Fritz the new American superstar. A year ago this week, Taylor Fritz was ranked No. 941 in the world; in 2016, the young man has gained a wild card into the main draw of the BNP Paribas Open, and he’ll be paired up against fellow wild card entry and fellow young American Frances Tiafoe. He’s the answer to “Who’s got next?” in American tennis.
–Too many good matches? I don’t know, I’m really trying here. This 2016 Indian Wells draw seems really pretty good; just look at these potential blockbusters.
#BNPPO16 potential blockbusters (for real)
2R Berdych-Del Potro
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 8, 2016
No Roger Federer. Roger Federer is injured, getting older, and won’t be able to maintain this form for much longer, etc. etc. But we’ll never get tired of watching him play. Get well soon, Rog!
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) February 26, 2016
Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Dominic Thiem; Kei Nishikori over Rafael Nadal; Stanislas Wawrinka over Alexandr Dolgopolov; Tomas Berdych over Andy Murray
Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Kei Nishikori; Tomas Berdych over Stanislas Wawrinka
Final: Novak Djokovic over Tomas Berdych
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG