Indian Wells, California

March 8 - 21, 2021

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BNP Paribas Open Notebook: Sunday, March 11

Sloane Stephens

by Melissa Isaacson

Sloane’s Scene

Sloane Stephens admitted that life became somewhat overwhelming at times after her first Grand Slam title, the 2017 US Open. Along with the excitement came added commitments and an eight-match losing streak followed her Flushing Meadows triumph. But with her 6-1, 7-5 victory over Victoria Azarenka on Sunday in a rain-postponed second-round match, the 24-year-old No. 13 seed has now won three of her last four matches and proclaimed “everything’s all good.”

For Stephens, who faces No. 20 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia in the third round, the circumstances surrounding her 2016-17 turnaround — from an 11-month layoff due to a foot injury and subsequent surgery to a Grand Slam title — is still worth mentioning.

“I’m going to listen to my body and make sure that I can do everything possible not to get injured again, and make sure I take care of myself mentally and physically the best way I know how,” she said. “My main priority is just making sure that I’m good and just staying happy.”

Bigger Meaning

Despite his setback in the second-round on Sunday against Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel, five-time tournament champion Novak Djokovic was trying his best to see the big picture. Asked if a cold affected his energy level on a day in which he said it felt like “the first match I ever played on the tour,” he didn’t look for excuses.

“It’s life, you know,” Djokovic said. “God always challenges you when you expect it least. He always throws everything possible at you. I have experienced many times similar situations, so I know that there is always something good in it. You just need to try to set your mind at that frequency…There is a reason everything happens in life.”

Vika Hanging On

Despite her loss Sunday to Sloane Stephens and the ensuing disappointment in her performance, Victoria Azarenka was impressed with one thing. Shes been consumed for the better part of the last eight months with a custody battle involving her 15-month-old son, Leo, which has kept her out of the last two Grand Slam tournaments.

“This whole process, honestly amazes me that I still have my [stuff] together,” Azarenka said. “I really am surprised that [with] the challenges that I have been put through and I’m still going through, I wouldn’t expect myself to be this calm and this positive and this optimistic for this long period of time.

“So there is definitely a lot of things and a lot of strength that I’m finding [in] myself outside of the court. And I need to get confidence back because there is no other way than going out there and failing, getting up, failing, getting up, but just working hard.”

It’s another story, however, to stay concentrated on her job.

“You want to think simple, but then you go out there and sometimes everything becomes more complicated. It’s up to you to just try to stay focused on the moment and what you have to do.  Right now, it’s a little bit of a difficult moment for me to do just that.”

Dolehide Strides

Caroline Dolehide plopped down in a small, airless interview room on Sunday night and offered up a weary smile.

“I’m really tired right now, sorry,” she said.

If anyone had a right to be on Sunday, it was the 19-year-old wild card from Hinsdale, Ill., who pushed world No. 1 Simona Halep and wowed the Stadium 1 crowd with a high-energy, all-court game before Halep prevailed in two hours, six minutes, 1-6, 7-6(3), 6-2.

“If she stays healthy, her upside is fantastic,” said Hall of Famer and Tennis Channel analyst Martina Navratilova. “I think she can get to the Top 30 by the end of the year if things go well, I really do. Let’s put it this way, Caroline Dolehide played Top-30 tennis today.”

Dolehide, one of a group of young American women who made significant strides in Indian Wells, was playing a Top-20 player for the first time in her career, and was coming off a second-round upset of No. 30 seed Dominika Cibulkova.

Coming into Indian Wells ranked No. 165, she referenced her victory over then-No. 48 Naomi Osaka last summer in Stanford as the impetus for her latest surge.

“It’s something you think about and dream about and it’s kind of crazy how it’s actually happening,” Dolehide said. “After that win against Osaka, it gave me a lot of confidence and kind of showed me I had the right to be there. Ever since then, I’ve been playing freely.”

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