By Jane Voigt
March 8, 2017 — Known for its desert mystique and deafening music festivals, the Coachella Valley in and around Indian Wells, Calif., is also known for its tennis. In fact this tournament, a combined men’s and women’s event of the highest order in terms of mandatory participation and points awarded to players, is the biggest tennis event outside the four annual Grand Slams.
The BNP Paribas Open began March 5, with qualifying rounds ending yesterday for the women and today for the men, and ends March 19. So far, though, the men’s and women’s singles draws have been hotbeds of shock and speculation.
Andy Murray, seeded number one, sits atop the men’s mountain and Novak Djokovic, seeded number two, pins down the bottom half of the draw. But there was no luck-of-the-draw for Roger Federer (9) and Rafael Nadal (5), attention-getters at any event, when they found themselves in the same quarter as the former number one, Djokovic, the five-time and defending champion.
This sets up a possible fourth-round thriller between Nadal and Federer, and then a possible quarterfinal with the winner and Djokovic.
Tagging along in the bottom section for some early-round collision competition is Juan Martin del Potro, just one match-win away from Djokovic. Kei Nishikori (4), Marin Cilic (6) and the hottest player of early-season, Grigor Dimitrov (12), also reside on this side of the draw. Nick Kyrgios (15) and Alexander Zverev (18), two young aspirants, are also one match-win away from a third-round clash. (All seeded players have a be the first round.)
Although each draw — men and women — comprises 128 players and feels like a Grand Slam, the length of the BNP Paribas Open is effectively 10 days with 4 days of qualification. Pressure mounts with those that advance, of course, but little time is available for rest and recovery. Therefore no matter where a player’s name ends up in the draw, a quickened drum beat of competition will accompany them as the days march on.
Favorites on the men’s side remain the top-seeded players: Murray, Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Stan Wawrinka (3). But Murray’s chances of making the final are much higher, given the draw. Players to keep tabs on include Zverev, Dimitrov, Del Potro, Sam Querrey, David Goffin and Jo Wilfred Tsonga … all have begun the year with a bang.
Two-time Indian Wells Champion Serena Williams (1999, 2001) has been an infrequent participant at Indian Wells. Before her return in 2015, she had boycotted the event for 14 years. This year there’s no boycott, but knee problems have forced the 23-time Grand Slam champion to withdraw from Indian Wells and Miami, a favorite stop on the star’s schedule.
“Sadly, I have to withdraw from the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and the Miami Open,” Williams said in a statement, reported on the tournament website. “I have not been able to train due to my knees and am disappointed I cannot be there. I will keep moving forward and continue to be positive. I look forward to being back as soon as I can.”
The draw, which was released Monday, was reshuffled. Angelique Kerber, seeded number two, anchors the bottom half while Karolina Pliskova, seeded number three, takes over Williams spot at the top. Because of Williams’ withdrawal Kerber will regain her number one ranking, following the tournament, no matter how she finishes.
Choosing a winner on the women’s side is a daunting challenge with Serena out and defending Champion Victoria Azarenka home tending to her newborn son, Leo Alexander. However, Kerber lost last year in the second round and should be loose enough to push through to week two. Americans Venus Williams (12) and Coco Vandeweghe (20) will probably face off in the third round, as Venus’s semifinal win over Coco at the U. S. Open remains fresh in our minds. And another American, Madison Keys (9), returns to competition for the first time since the 2016 WTA Finals in Singapore. She was sidelined due to left-wrist surgery. Keys has also reunited with her former coach, Lindsay Davenport.