Indian Wells, California

March 8 - 21, 2021

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Five Things to Watch Friday: No. 1 Halep Takes the Court

Simona Halep practices on stadium court

by Richard Osborn

Item No. 1

The WTA Tour’s No. 1 ranking has been making the rounds these days, with no one seemingly able to hang onto it for more than a few weeks. But it’s Simona Halep who has the bragging rights at the moment. The Romanian, a runner-up earlier this year at the Australian Open, will face Czech Kristyna Pliskova in a first-round encounter in Stadium 1 during the day session. “All the girls from the Top 10 are really good. The level is similar,” Halep told “Every tournament is open. It’s more interesting, in my opinion. We have more fun like that, changing the No. 1. I’m not saying it was boring seeing Serena winning everything and being No. 1 all the time, because she’s a great champion, but now it’s different and, I feel, more interesting.”

Tiafoe’s time

There are plenty of young twentysomething Americans to be excited about in the men’s game these days, including Jared Donaldson (21), Taylor Fritz (20), Ernesto Escobedo (21), Mackenzie McDonald (22), Tommy Paul (20), Stefan Kozlov (20), Michael Mmoh (20) and Reilly Opelka (20). But the best of the bunch might just be 20-year-old Frances Tiafoe. The Maryland-born product of the College Park-based Junior Tennis Champions Center, the facility his father, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, helped build, Tiafoe has been making some serious strides of late. He arrived in Indian Wells on the heels of his first ATP World Tour title in Delray Beach, and has shown that he can hang with the big boys. He achieved a career-high ranking 11 times in 2017, peaking at No. 60, and even pushed Roger Federer to five sets at the US Open. Catch him in action in Stadium 2 against fellow #NextGen riser Escobedo.

We can be heroes

The annual Salute to Heroes Ceremony, recognizing veterans, military personnel, police and firemen, will take place on Stadium 1 following the first evening session match between Garbine Muguruza and Sachia Vickery.

An American flag being held by service people on the court of Stadium 1.

Slam champs in action

Several Grand Slam winners will be opening their 2018 BNP Paribas Open campaigns on Friday, including 2011/2014 Wimbledon titlist Petra Kvitova (vs. Yulia Putintseva), 2011 US Open champ Sam Stosur (vs. Kristina Mladenovic), and 2016 Roland Garros/2017 Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza (vs. Sachia Vickery).

Spain vs. USA

There’ll be a Davis Cup kind of vibe for the Stadium 1 nightcap on Friday, as Americans Jack Sock and John Isner team up in doubles against Spaniards Fernando Verdasco and Albert Ramos-Vinolas (not before 8:30 p.m.). Another Spanish duo — Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez — will be in action on Stadium 2 (not before 6 p.m.), where they’ll face the mighty pairing of Juan Martin Del Potro/Grigor Dimitrov.

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