March brings a change in tennis geography to the shifting winds of the desert, and with it, mysteries surrounding the Indian Wells BNP Paribas draws for both the men and women.
As of this writing, Novak Djokovic is in the draw as the number two seed in the bottom half, but his vaccination status puts last minute questions over his participation at center stage. As of now, Djokovic is technically not allowed to enter the United States because he’s unvaccinated. If he cannot play Indian Wells, that section of the draw becomes a big opportunity. This time, Andrei Rublev, as the next-highest seed in that section, could benefit from the 20-time Grand Slam champ’s absence.
The men’s side points to some fairly obvious “who not to pick” players as well.
At the tippy top of the draw stands Daniil Medvedev. The new world #1 has a first-round bye, then plays the winner of Alexei Popyrin and a qualifier. Here’s why Medvedev has a tough task ahead of him:
1. The events in Ukraine have put external wear-and-tear on the Russian.
2. The currently undervalued Popyrin would not be an easy first round match.
3. Indian Wells is a slow hard court, which has not been Medvedev’s wheelhouse. The best he’s ever done there is the round of 16, with an overall record of 5-4.
And what of Rafael Nadal? His blazing 15-0 start to the season clashes with fatigue and lack of humidity. The 21-time Grand Slam icon generally likes humid conditions, though he has won Indian Wells three times. Also making the draw tough for Rafa: Medvedev and Denis Shapovalov in his half. That said, who in their right minds picks against Rafa these days?
Other players on sandy ground in the desert: Alexander Zverev who’s on a big, “watch-what-you-say-and-do” ATP probation after an outburst and world #6 Matteo Berrettini, who has struggled with an abdominal injury.
That leaves world #4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who hasn’t quite played himself back into form after offseason elbow surgery but has looked better, making the semifinals in Acapulco and winning the doubles title there.
Players to watch include: Defending champion Cameron Norrie– the lefty has been hot this year, with a title in Delray Beach, young gun Carlos Alcaraz, slow-court specialist Casper Ruud and native Cali boy Taylor Fritz, with a strong showing all the way to the semifinals at Indian Wells in the fall.
My players for each quarter in the men’s Indian Wells draw: Alcaraz, Nadal, Rublev, Fritz.
SF: Nadal, Rublev.
The women’s side of the Indian Wells BNP Paribas draw brings equal plot drama with the conspicuous absence of Ash Barty. The World #1 decided to forego the trip to the U.S. all the way from Australia, preferring to stay home where she will compete in the BJK Cup.
It’s a bad look for the top player in the world to skip the 5th biggest tournament of the year, but this is 2022, a time when mental health takes priority over tennis.
Then this bombshell: The top seed in the tournament, Barbora Krejcikova pulled out after the draw was made with an elbow injury. So it shakes things up, just as it does on the men’s side with Djokovic. The next player to be seeded, Alizé Cornet, moves into Krejcikova’s top line in the draw. This spells major opportunity for someone in that quarter.
Once again, it’s a wide-open draw on the women’s side. Paula Badosa is defending champion from last fall, where she beat Victoria Azarenka in a classic match, but the Spaniard hasn’t quite regained her form in 2022 yet.
Azarenka, from Belarus, is likely struggling with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, as many players are, including World #2 Aryna Sabalenka.
U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu had a terrible showing at Indian Wells in the fall and has yet to bring the sparks she did in New York, with a string of withdrawals and poor results. Yet Raducanu gets a first-round bye. That U.S. Open title just keeps bearing gifts for the Brit.
In addition, a few undervalued women actually face each other in early rounds, meaning superstars will fall out early. One blockbuster match pits 4-time Grand Slam Champion Naomi Osaka against U.S. Open titleist Sloane Stephens, who has regained swagger lately with a win in Guadalajara.
Potential glamor matches in the round of 16 include Iga Swiatek against Angelique Kerber and Badosa against the hot-hitting Jelena Ostapenko. That match is the one to set every alarm on your phone to watch. It would be a battle of heavy hitting prowess and tightly-strung drama. Look for Badosa to triumph but be scathed coming out of that one.
Meanwhile, the young Polish star Switek is playing with loads of confidence coming off a breezy win in Doha. This surface should suit her.
This is also a prime opportunity for 17-year-old Coco Gauff, who sits in the weakest quarter of the draw. Gauff prefers a slower surface so she can wind up her big forehand.
Other players to watch include the rising and solid Annet Konaveit, entertainer Ons Jabeur, and Greek goddess Maria Sakkari.
My players for each quarter in the women’s Indian Wells draw: Gauff, Swiatek, Kontaveit, Sakkari.
SF: Swiatek, Sakkari.
My dark horse is Osaka. The superstar will regain her footing at some point, and she’s won here before. Watch her with interest.