The women’s and men’s finals at this year’s BNP Paribas Open couldn’t be any different. With a women’s final no one would have predicted two weeks ago compared to the anticipated, blockbuster final on the men’s side, the two title matches are polar opposites in the desert. Yet both Indian Wells finals bring tremendous intrigue and uncertainty, with four very compelling players all poised to lift the BNP Paribas Open trophy.
Here’s what to look out for on finals day in the desert:
Women’s final: Naomi Osaka vs. Daria Kasatkina
For both 20 year-olds Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina, very few would have predicted them to the title match here in Indian Wells, yet both, with very different games, have had extremely difficult, and similar, paths to the final. For unseeded Osaka of Japan, the world number 44 has powered her way into the BNP Paribas Open final, reeling off a handful of impressive wins over two-time champion Maria Sharapova, 2014 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, former world number one Karolina Pliskova, and current number one and 2015 champion Simona Halep. The big-hitting Japanese star has long possessed the weapons to defeat anyone, but with a newly developed discipline and focus in matches under new head coach Sascha Bajin, Osaka is finally blossoming in the desert.
On the other hand, Kasatkina, seeded 20th, has every shot in the book and with her creative game and plenty of variety has battled her way into the final. The Russian has enjoyed a superb last two months under new coach Philippe Dehaes, making finals here and a few weeks prior in Dubai. During her Coachella Valley run, the players Kasatkina has upset is a who’s who of Slam champions, earning wins over US Open winner Sloane Stephens, Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, two-time major winner Angelique Kerber, and seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams en route to the biggest final of her career.
Between the two, Osaka and Kasatkina have never met on tour but with very contrasting styles, the match will likely come down to who can be the more aggressive in the key moments. For Osaka, the unseeded Japanese will look to establish aggressive patterns on her serve, trying to dictate as many points as possible with her powerful strokes. On the flip side, Kasatkina will be looking to change up the pace and spin on Osaka, extending points and putting the ball outside of the Japanese’s strike zone to frustrate Osaka. Expect the creative and versatile game of Kasatkina to put Osaka in too many uncomfortable positions and to help the young Russian to the biggest title of her career.
Prediction: Kasatkina in three sets
Men’s final: Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin del Potro
A very highly-anticipated and blockbuster men’s final awaits fans in the California desert as 20-time major winner and world number one Roger Federer looks to defend his Indian Wells title against former US Open champion, Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina. The top-seeded Federer had looked clean throughout his BNP Paribas Open campaign until the last round, where an inspired Borna Coric troubled the Swiss legend. With rumors of a sore back for Federer, the defending champion committed more errors than he would have liked but escaped the young Croat 6-4 in the third to reach his eighth final in the Coachella Valley.
Fresh off a title run in Acapulco before heading to Indian Wells, sixth seed del Potro has shown flashes of brilliance while being forced to battle through some tough tests to reach his second final in the desert. Del Potro survived a stern test from his countryman Leonardo Mayer in the fourth round before escaping yet again against German Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4 in the third. It was much smoother sailing for the powerful Argentinian in the semifinals, easing past Canada’s Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-3.
Federer and del Potro have met 24 times prior to their Indian Wells meeting, with the Swiss great leading the head-to-head 18-6. While the pair’s only meeting at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden was a comprehensive 6-3, 6-2 victory for Federer, recently the big Argentine has proved a problem for the world number one, upsetting the 36 year-old in four sets at the US Open before Federer figured out the del Potro game to take three set wins later in 2017 in Shanghai and Basel.
The difference maker between the two will be the return of serve, where Federer would be expected to have a slight advantage. If the defending champion can return del Potro’s booming serve well and get into many of his service games, it should be a straight forward victory for the world number one. However, if del Potro can dominate on his serve the way he did last year at the US Open, it will make for a very close match and one the Swiss great will have to work hard to get out of. Look for del Potro to serve well but just not quite well enough towards the backend of sets, giving Federer the looks on the return he needs to claim a record sixth Indian Wells title.
Prediction: Federer in three sets