Sunday, March 14, 2023 - Jessica Pegula plays against Petra Kvitova during the 4th round of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Katelyn Mulcahy/BNP Paribas Open)
The sun has set on the 2023 WTA Finals, and it’s a familiar face in Iga Swiatek left standing as the champion of the year-end event.
Swiatek’s run to the crown in Cancun was dominant, capping off an incredible 2023 campaign that featured her winning a third career Roland Garros title and will see her end with the season’s World No. 1 ranking. At just 22 years old, the Polish superstar’s first-ever triumph at the WTA Finals crosses off another accolade to a loaded trophy case that also includes a 2022 BNP Paribas Open title.
With eyes now turning to the 2024 tennis calendar and the action of Tennis Paradise just a few months away, Swiatek will undoubtedly be one of the favorites to win the WTA draw in Indian Wells this March. But multi-time champions are hard to come by in the desert, and a number of top talents will be hungry to etch their name in the Tennis Paradise history books and become a first-time champion this spring.
Here are five names to watch who could lift the trophy in Indian Wells for the first time after coming off strong 2023 seasons.
The American prodigy scored the marquee moment of her young career this past fall, capturing the 2023 US Open title in New York to give her a coveted first Grand Slam victory. Gauff’s title run in Flushing Meadows vaulted her to the World No. 3 ranking and thus earned her a slot in the year-end WTA Finals.
Although she was unable to get into the late stages of the WTA Finals, Gauff proved in 2023 that she can not only hang with the best on tour, but beat them on the biggest stages in tennis. The bar has been raised for Coco with a Grand Slam title now to her name, and the pressure will be on early in the 2024 season to prove her consistency and show she is ready to build off a scorching end to this season.
Gauff’s 20th birthday will take place during the final rounds of the 2024 BNP Paribas Open, and there would be no sweeter present for her to celebrate with than a first-career Tennis Paradise title.
Sabalenka’s 2023 season was nothing to scoff at as the hard-hitting superstar broke through to win a first-career major at the Australian Open and also reach a first-career World No. 1 ranking. But as strong as her 2023 campaign was, Sabalenka can’t help but feel that there were plenty of more opportunities left on the table to make it even better.
She came just short of capturing the Indian Wells crown with a narrow loss to Elena Rybakina in last year’s BNP Paribas Open final, and also finished runner-up to Gauff in a US Open final that would’ve made Sabalenka a 2x Grand Slam champion in 2023.
A loss to Iga Swiatek at last week’s WTA Finals also stifled her chance at the No. 1 ranking to end the year, leaving her with unfinished business heading into 2024 despite a successful season. After narrowly missing out on Tennis Paradise glory in 2023, Sabalenka is undoubtedly one of the favorites to lift the trophy in the desert this March.
Pegula came just one match away from conquering the 2023 WTA Finals, giving her what would’ve been the signature title of her career. Although she ultimately fell short to the unrelenting Swiatek, Pegula still showed in 2023 that she remains one of the tour’s top forces.
The 29-year-old Buffalo native has become one of the perennial late-draw players in marquee tournaments, a constant nightmare for opponents thanks to her steady play, consistency and durability in the longest of rallies and matches.
The clock might be ticking for Pegula as she’ll turn 30 this February, but her run at the WTA Finals indicates she has no intent to slow down. Her attention will shift to Indian Wells next March as a pivotal moment to captured that long-awaited signature title on home soil.
Jabeur swift exit from the WTA Finals has her ending the season as the World No. 6, a ranking that is nothing to bemoan if it weren’t for the Tunisian feeling like there were opportunities left for the taking in 2023.
A second consecutive runner-up appearance at Wimbledon certainly is hard to swallow for Jabeur as she heads into 2024 still yet to achieve that major championship breakthrough.
With pass success on clay and a spin-heavy game, Jabeur’s skillset feels like a match made in heaven for the slower courts of Indian Wells. Injuries and a few bad draws have caused Jabeur to slip up in her past Indian Wells appearances, but 2024 could be the year where she puts together a deep run in the desert.
Maria Sakkari’s last two trips to Indian Wells have proven to be some of her best tournaments in recent memory. After coming up just short in the 2022 final, Sakkari put together another impressive run in the desert that saw her reach the semifinals before falling to Aryna Sabalenka.
Something about Tennis Paradise just seems to bring out the best in the Greek star. She won her first four matches at the 2023 BNP Paribas Open in three sets, thrilling crowds in the desert with a level of resiliency that has become emblematic of the passion and fire she plays with on court.
After a tough summer spell on tour, Sakkari scored the biggest title of her career at the WTA 1000 event in Guadalajara in September. With a strong track record in Tennis Paradise and some newfound confidence with a 1000 title under her belt, is Sakkari ready for her Indian Wells breakthrough?
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