Of the whopping 25 Americans playing 36 qualifying matches Tuesday at the BNP Paribas Open, just eight men and women combined emerged from the red, white and blue mosh pit. Even considering that two men’s matches and one women’s pitted American versus American, it wasn’t the best of days for the homeland.
And yet, as four U.S. women advanced to the main draw and four men made their way to the second round of qualifying, the day also made still another strong statement about the resurgence of American tennis.
“Maybe they didn’t have the best time today, but people can see in tennis how quickly things can change in a year or two,” said Taylor Fritz, who will play fellow young American Reilly Opelka in a first-round match. “We just have so many people who are young and can improve so much, and easily in a year or two be at the top of the game. So it’s great to see.”
In all, 12 qualifiers on the men’s side and 12 on the women will move on to the main draw of the 30th edition of the BNP Paribas and the right to compete for $1,340,860 each in championship prize money.
A crowd at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden that more closely resembled a main draw afternoon, enjoyed free admission for the second day of qualifying and saw American women Taylor Townsend, Sachia Vickery, Sofia Kenin and Madison Brengle move on to the main draw. Among those advancing to the men’s second round were Americans Mitchell Krueger, Evan King, Tim Smyczek, (who defeated fellow American Sebastian Korda) and Mackenzie McDonald (who beat compatriot Alexander Sarkissian).
The main draw that welcomes back to the tour two new moms and longtime rivals in 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka on the women’s side, and 20-time Grand Slam singles winner Roger Federer, and old nemesis Novak Djokovic, who has been plagued by elbow problems and has played just four matches in 2018.
Between the four, they have won 14 titles (five each for the men, two each for the women).
Does a qualifier have a chance to win? The best result on the women’s side was turned in by Australian Jenny Byrne, who lost to Manuela Maleeva in the 1989 final. After Byrne, three women’s qualifiers, and two since 2014 – Argentina’s Gisela Dulko and Australia’s Casey Dellacqua – made it to the quarterfinals.
But this year might actually see a breakthrough with a strong group of qualifiers including Vera Zvonareva, the 2009 BNP Paribas champ and a two-time Grand Slam finalist, and Yanina Wickmayer, the 2009 US Open semifinalist, among them.
“I think women’s tennis in general is at a very high level and it’s a deep field at every tournament, so I think there’s a chance for everybody right now,” Zvonareva said. “It’s a tough competition and it’s just a matter of how you’re able to perform that week, If you’re able to bring out your best tennis, you can go from qualifying to winning the tournament.”