The October-to-March turnaround means tennis’ brightest stars are back in the desert on the quick. Here are five storylines to keep an eye on at the 2022 BNP Paribas Open.
1 | CAN RAFA POSSIBLY REMAIN PERFECT?: Leave it to Rafael Nadal to sprint out to the best start of his career at the tennis-old age of 35. Now a spotless 15-0 on the season, the Mallorcan — the BNP Paribas Open champion in 2007, 2009 and 2013 — already owns a tour-best three titles in 2022, including the Australian Open, site of his record 21st Grand Slam. After sitting out the lion’s share of 2021 with left foot woes, he’s returned to his world-beating form with a vengeance. Nowhere was that more visible than in Melbourne, where Nadal roared back from two sets down to stun Daniil Medvedev, 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5. He would have an easier time against Medvedev en route to the Acapulco title, wining in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3.
2 | THE WILD, WILD WEST: Have we ever seen a more title-happy group of wild card recipients? We’re talking former No. 1, three-time Grand Slam champ, and two-time Olympic gold medalist Andy Murray; 2020 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin; Ukrainian star Dayana Yastremska; 10-time singles champion Sam Querrey; and Grand Slam doubles champions Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock, who’s coming off a dominant Davis Cup showing in Reno, where he helped clinch the tie against Colombia. Will we see a wild card winner in 2022? It’s happened before. In 2019, then-18-year-old Bianca Andreescu of Canada upset Germany’s Angelique Kerber to become the first wild-card winner in tournament history.
3 | COULD PAULA BADOSA PULL OFF A REPEAT IN THE DESERT?: The BNP Paribas Open has proven to be a launching pad for some of the sport’s biggest stars. Serena Williams triumphed at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in 1999, capturing the first of her Open Era-best 23 Grand Slam titles later that same year at the US Open. A shy, unassuming Naomi Osaka stepped into the spotlight here in 2018, then went back-to-back at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open. Most recently, Bianca Andreescu took the title in 2019, then powered he way to her first major trophy at the US Open. Is it Spaniard Paula Badosa’s time to shine? Since capturing her first WTA 1000 title at Indian Wells in October (def. Victoria Azarenka, 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(2) in three hours and four minutes), she’s won Sydney and climbed to a career-high ranking of No. 6. Will she go back-to-back at the BNP Paribas Open? Will 2022 be the year she claims her maiden major?
4 | ALL HAIL THE NEW NO. 1: Daniil Medvedev returns to the Coachella Valley as the ATP Tour’s new No. 1, having broken up a Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray stranglehold that stretched all the way back to 2004. The 26-year-old has never really found his footing at the BNP Paribas Open, his best showing a Round-of-16 finish in 2021 (l. to Grigor Dimitrov, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3). But the reigning US Open champ is playing with purpose. Don’t be fooled by the childhood-dreams postmortem he delivered after surrendering a two-sets-to-love advantage in the Australian Open final: The Muscovite is as title hungry as ever, and after a pre-tournament warmup on the courts at UCLA will be focused on a deep run in the desert.
5 | YOUNG DREAMERS: Powerhouse clusters like Medvedev-Zverev-Nadal-Tsitsipas-Rublev and Krejcikova-Sabalenka-Swiatek-Kontaveit-Badosa might be the headline-stealing ATP/WTA favorites at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, but don’t get caught sleeping on the young guns. Surprise US Open titlist Emma Raducanu, 19, is benefitting from some ahead-of-her-years perspective; Coco Gauff, 17, recently took out Paula Badosa en route to the Doha quarterfinals; Leylah Fernandez, 19, saved five match points to defend her title in Monterrey; and Clara Tauson, 19, scored a Top-10 win over Anett Kontaveit in reaching the third round of a major for the first time at the Australian Open. On the men’s side, 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz recently became the youngest ATP 500 champion since the category was created in 2009 when he ousted Diego Schwartzman in the Rio final; After going 0-8 (0-16 in sets) in finals, 21-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime finally claimed his first ATP crown, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rotterdam; and American Sebastian Korda (21) and Italian Lorenzo Musetti (19) are riding high after clutch Davis Cup performances.