After the first round saw some of the lesser known talents take the courts of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the BNP Paribas Open really gets going on Saturday as the top seeds begin their campaigns in the desert. With a stacked order of play in store for fans on day four, there will be intriguing battles all across the grounds with spots in the third round on the line in the Coachella Valley.
Match of the day: Victoria Azarenka vs. Sloane Stephens
While many would not expect a second-round clash between the a wildcard and the 11th seed to be a blockbuster showdown, all eyes were drawn to this potential weekend matchup when the women’s draw was revealed and fans in the California desert will get to see it. After an emotional return to tennis following a lengthy absence due to a custody battle over her one year-old son, two time champion Victoria Azarenka is back on the courts of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and looking to make up for lost time. Having played only seven matches in the last 20 months, expectations should be lowered for the Belarusian despite her incredible pedigree.
She has been training for the past year however and is 3-0 lifetime against Sloane Stephens, having never dropped a set to the American including a testy battle in the 2013 Australian Open semifinals, the pair’s first match. Stephens, the reigning US Open champion, has won just two matches since her first Grand Slam triumph and with no indication as to where the 11th seed’s form is at the moment, the match should be on Azarenka’s racquet.
Pick: Azarenka in three
Roger kicks off Indian Wells campaign under the lights
The biggest draw of day four without a doubt will be world number one and five-time BNP Paribas Open champion Roger Federer, as the 20-time major champion looks to begin his Indian Wells title defense against Federico Delbonis of Argentina. Delbonis, a powerful lefty, owns a win over the Swiss great back in 2013 in Hamburg, the pair’s only meeting, but it is safe to say Federer is playing far better now than he was five years ago, the worst season of his career. The defending champion comes in brimming with confidence and there’s no signs of undefeated start to 2018 stopping.
Pick: Federer in two
Under the radar showdown of the day: Bellis vs. Vesnina
With so many matches slated for a blockbuster Saturday in Indian Wells, it’s hard to pick just one under the radar match to follow but this one between Cici Bellis and defending champion Elena Vesnina will be it. Bellis, an 18-year-old Californian, has been very steadily climbing the rankings the last 12 months and just last month scored some noteworthy upsets during good runs in the Arabian deserts of Doha and Dubai.
Bellis will be looking to continue that desert success against the player who mastered the Coachella Valley last year, Russia’s Elena Vesnina. Vesnina, a talented singles and doubles player, has struggled to post any major results like she did here last season but as a veteran she can never be counted out, especially against a youngster like Bellis. If you’re looking for an intriguing battle to go watch tomorrow at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, this one should not disappoint.
Pick: Bellis in three