Indian Wells, California

March 8 - 21, 2021

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18 for ‘18: Talking Points for the #BNPPO18

by Richard Osborn

1. Lookin’ out for No. 1:

Halep? Wozniacki? Muguruza? Pliskova? Kerber? Can anyone grab hold of the WTA Tour’s No. 1 ranking and hang on to it for more than a few weeks? There have been plenty of power plays in Ms. Williams’ absence, but not much in the way of staying power.

2. Can we expect an in-form Serena only six months after the birth of baby Alexis?

If Serena Williams has made one thing clear over the years, it’s that she won’t throw her name in a draw unless she believes she can walk away with the trophy. That said, it would be a big ask to expect her to go the distance in just her first tournament since the 2017 Australian Open. (But bet against her at your own peril.)

Serena Williams about to backhand.

3. Does Maestro Roger have another sunshine double in him?

Roger Federer further cemented his ATP World Tour Masters 1000 legacy in 2017 with back-to-back wins in Indian Wells and Miami, the third time the Swiss maestro had pulled off the so-called Sunshine Double. What made it all the more astounding was that he was able to accomplish the feat at the tennis-old age of 35. Can Fed pull off another bi-coastal sweep at 36?

Roger Federer hoists the trophy.

4. Five on five

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are co-leaders atop the BNP Paribas Open honor rolls with a record five singles titles each. Are we in store for a tiebreaker in 2018?

5. Welcome back, Vika!

It’s been a trying few years for Victoria Azarenka, who following the birth of her son has been entangled in a nasty custody battle, a dilemma that has kept her away from match play. But the two-time BNP Paribas Open champion is returning to the court in Indian Wells thanks to a main-draw wildcard. The Belarusian returns to the desert for the first time since raising the trophy in 2016. The former No. 1 is making her 11th tournament appearance.

6. Can Sloane Stephens get back on track?

Her recent Sports Illustrated photo shoot aside, things just haven’t been right for Sloane Stephens since she claimed her first major title last year at the US Open. She went 0-6 post-Flushing Meadows in 2017, including a pair of losses in the Fed Cup Final. The American arrived at the #BNPPO18 at 2-3 in 2018, and is clearly seeking a confidence boost. Will she find one in the desert?

7. Is this the year Grigor Dimitrov finally puts it all together?

We’ve been rooting for this guy since we, fairly or unfairly, labeled him “Baby Fed” when he turned pro a decade ago. It hasn’t always been an upward trajectory for the graceful Bulgarian, however. Buoyed by his dominant run at the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals, where he claimed the biggest title of his career, Dimitrov has climbed to No. 4 in the world and is beginning to resemble the player we always believed he could be.

Grigor Dimitrov reaches for the ball mid-volley.

8. Are we in for a breakthrough?

As Elena Vesnina showed in 2017, Indian Wells is an ideal locale for a breakthrough. A year after falling in the first-round of qualifying, the supposed doubles specialist scored the biggest singles title of her career, downing fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova in a thrilling three-set final. We might just see another new face assert herself in 2018. Keep an eye on the likes of Daria Kasatkina, Kristina Mladenovic, Julia Goerges, Ashleigh Barty and CiCi Bellis.

9. What to make of Maria?

Her primetime matchup with then-No. 2-ranked Simona Halep at the US Open stands as one of the most anticipated opening-round encounters at a Grand Slam. A zoning Sharapova outpunched the then-No. 2-ranked Romanian in three tough sets and showed that she’s still more than capable of playing top-flight tennis. But the two-time BNP Paribas Open titlist has since struggled with consistency. Historically one of the tour’s most confident performers, that may just be what she’s lacking now.

Maria Sharapova following through on a serve.

10. Do Bob and Mike Bryan have another Indian Wells title in them?

Vets Bob and Mike Bryan doubled up in the desert with back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014. But the twin Californians — holders of a team-record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles — are pushing 40 and now face some stiff competition from a new generation of players.

11. It’s bloomin’ beautiful around here

Flowery prose? Perhaps. But the Indian Wells Tennis Garden has undergone a transformation that has seen the one-of-a-kind tennis destination add 62 palm trees throughout the grounds, along with floral installations, plants and greenery, all bringing a springtime explosion of color to the tournament.

12. The next great American man

There’s no sugarcoating it. When it comes to the men’s game, the U.S. has been in somewhat of a funk since Andy Roddick won the US Open a decade and a half ago. No American man has raised a major trophy since. But there’s ample reason for optimism. Jack Sock, a semifinalist here last year, finished 2017 with a career-high ranking of No. 8, the first American man to crack the year-end Top 10 since Mardy Fish in 2011. Now in their 30s, Sam Querrey and John Isner are still playing Top-20 tennis themselves. But it may a young crop of 20-somethings, including Frances Tiafoe (fresh off the Delray Beach title), Jared Donaldson, Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, Ernesto Escobedo, Reilly Opelka, Stefan Kozlov and Mackenzie McDonald, that holds the most promise.

13. What’s app, doc?

The Official BNP Paribas Open App is the ultimate courtside companion, featuring biographies and photos of more than 200 WTA and ATP stars, as well as live scoring and real-time results. A must-download.

14. Nick Kyrgios is a freakish athlete

From his whiplash forehand and concussive serve to his ‘tweeners and acrobatic overheads, Nick Kyrgios is as exiting to watch as they come. But despite his early success against some of the sport’s elite (he defeated Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in his career-first encounters with the Grand Slam legends), it’s only more recently that the enigmatic Aussie seems at home on the ATP World Tour. Kyrgios opened 2018 with a run to the Brisbane title, and will shoot to better his quarterfinal finish here from last year

15. Petra Kvitova’s return to the top 10 is nothing short of miraculous

To think that her future in this sport was in doubt only months ago. The victim of a December 2016 knife attack in her Prague apartment, the two-time Wimbledon champ suffered severe tendon and nerve injuries on her left hand. Originally expected to be sidelined for six months, the Czech was back on the court sooner than expected, her determination defying the medical prognosis. The 27-year-old has now beaten six top-10 players in 2018, winning back-to-back titles in St. Petersburg and Doha, and is among the favorites in Indian Wells.

16. How healthy is Nole?

There was a collective sigh of relief when word spread Novak Djokovic was seen training alongside his Hall of Fame coach Andre Agassi in Las Vegas last week. The 12-time Slam champ has been dealing with an elbow ailment, one that forced him to abbreviate his service motion. The Serb, who has played just four matches in 2018, underwent a medical procedure in February to help alleviate the pain, and he hopes to be close to 100 percent at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Djokovic owns a record five BNP Paribas Open titles, including three straight between 2014 and 2016.

Novak Djokovic following through on a returned ball.

17. Angelique Kerber is back in business

It should have been a time to celebrate. But a year after winning the Australian Open and US Open, and rising to world No. 1, Angelique Kerber all but fell off the map. She suffered a pair of first-round losses at the majors in 2017, and finished the year both title-less and outside the Top 20. It was the kind of year the German would like to forget. She’s done a good job of putting it behind her thus far in 2018, opening the year with the Sydney title and following with quarterfinal-or-better finishes in Melbourne, Doha and Dubai.

18. At 37, Venus Williams is as hungry as ever

She played her first match here more than two decades ago, but Venus Williams comes into the 2018 BNP Paribas Open as committed to the sport as she was when she was a beaded teenager. Ranked No. 8, she reached two Slam finals last year and appears as healthy and happy on the court as she’s been in years.

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