With Victoria Azarenka relying on a wildcard for main-draw entry, and fellow multi-Slam titlists Serena Williams (now unranked) and Maria Sharapova (No. 41) coming in with unsurprisingly low rankings, you just knew things would get interesting on draw day at the BNP Paribas Open.
Williams, she of the record 23 Grand Slam titles, makes her return to the tour at the WTA Premier Mandatory event having played but one Fed Cup doubles match in 14 months. A new mom, she is aiming to become the first woman to win three singles titles in Indian Wells, adding to her trophies from 1999 and 2001. But to do so, she’ll have to navigate a tricky quarter that, as the luck of the draw would have it, includes none other than her sister Venus, not to mention world No. 4 Elina Svitolina. But those are the breaks when you’re an unseeded entrant.
Williams, 36, isn’t alone in her quest for a record third title in the Coachella Valley. Both Azarenka (2012, 2016) and Sharapova (2006, 2013) will be shooting for that distinction, too. No woman has won more than twice in Indian Wells – ever.
The unseeded Sharapova is making her first appearance at the BNP Paribas Open since 2015. She’ll be tested early, having drawn Japan’s Naomi Osaka in the opening round. Azarenka, who returns to the desert after missing the 2017 event following the birth of her son, opens against Brit Heather Watson. The Belarusian’s prize should she survive that matchup? A second-round date with reigning US Open champ Sloane Stephens. Fortunately for her, she’s a combined 8-0 against those opponents.
BNPParibasOpen.com takes a closer look at the women’s draw:
1st Quarter: No. 1 seed Simona Halep and Jelena Ostapenko sandwich the draw’s top quarter, one that includes 2017 runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2017 semifinalist Kristina Mladenovic, Johanna Konta, Dominika Cibulkova, Sam Stosur and Belinda Bencic. Plagued by foot issues that trace back to her run to the Australian Open final and led to her pullout in Doha, Halep will need to be at her best to book a rematch of the 2016 Roland Garros final, which saw the powerful Latvian Ostapenko emerge victorious, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. That match wouldn’t come until the quarterfinals, however.
Our pick: Simona Halep.
2nd Quarter: From the (Oscars) red carpet to Indian Wells cement, Garbiñe Muguruza arrives straight from the glitz and glam of Hollywood to find herself in perhaps the tournament’s most talent-stacked quadrant. The Spaniard could face former world No. 5 Eugenie Bouchard in the second round. But there are plenty of other threats lurking in her quadrant, including world No. 5 Karolina Pliskova, the streaking Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, US Open semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe, Ashleigh Barty and Budapest champ Alison Van Uytvanck. But the match that has tennis fans the most worked up is Maria Sharapova vs. Naomi Osaka. The winner would face Radwanska, with the possibility of meeting Muguruza in Round 3. Buckle up.
Our pick: Petra Kvitova.
3rd Quarter: What are the chances? Considering the fact that they’ve faced each other 28 times over the years, pretty good, actually. Of all spots to fall, the unseeded Serena Williams landed in the same quarter as her sister Venus, a third-round, all-in-the-family encounter a real possibility. But to set up Williams-Williams XXIX, Serena will have to rediscover her form in a hurry against Kazakh Zarina Diyas, then No. 29-seeded Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens. Joining the Williams sisters in this quarter are Dubai winner Elina Svitolina, US Open runner-up Madison Keys, Auckland champ Julia Goerges, and Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig.
Our pick: Venus Williams.
4th Quarter: Australian Open champion and current world No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki is chasing her first Indian Wells title in seven years, having reached back-to-back finals in 2010 and 2011 (she won the latter). She anchors a crowded bottom quarter populated by the likes of defending champ Elena Vesnina, wildcard Victoria Azarenka, former No. 1 Angelique Kerber, US Open champ Sloane Stephens, Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia and Californian CiCi Bellis. It won’t be an easy road for Vika, who’s making her return after missing the 2017 event. She’ll face Britain’s Heather Watson in a highly anticipated opening-round matchup that’s sure to draw a capacity crowd at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Our pick: Angelique Kerber.
And 1st Rounders to Watch:
Maria Sharapova vs. Naomi Osaka
Serena Williams vs. Zarina Diyas
Victoria Azarenka vs. Heather Watson
Sam Stosur vs. Lauren Davis