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March 8 - 21, 2021

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Three former Top 10 players headline electric WTA qualifying draw

by Jeff Donaldson

The 44th edition BNP Paribas Open officially blooms today as an electric women’s qualifying draw kicks off, pitting a generation of resurgent veterans against a fleet of fresh faces keen to make their mark in Tennis Paradise.

17-year-old Anastasia Potapova leads the charge as the top seed as she starts her qualifying campaign against Australia’s Priscilla Hon. The 2016 junior Wimbledon champion is coming off a semifinal showing at the Hungarian Ladies Open and currently finds herself at a career-high ranking of No. 72.

If Potapova can navigate her way past Hon, either Paula Badosa Gibert or Veronika Kudermetova stands in the way of the personable Russian’s main draw debut at the BNP Paribas Open.

Several competitors from last week’s Oracle Challenger Series Indian Wells will be looking to leverage their pre-tournament match play on the southern Californian desert hard courts into qualifying for the main draw this week. Semifinalist Zarina Diyas, seeded 10th, is up against Varvara Lepchenko, while quarterfinalists Nicole Gibbs and Kristyna Pliskova face Fiona Ferro and Catherine McNally, respectively.

The cherry – or should I say cherries – on top of an already-sweet qualies draw is a trio of former Top 10 players.

2013 quarterfinalist and former world No. 5 Sara Errani, who currently finds herself well outside the Top 100 following a myriad of off-court struggles, faces Heather Watson in a mouthwatering first-round clash. The winner of that match will play No. 3 seed Stefanie Voegele or Caroline Dolehide, who produced some of her best tennis last year in Indian Wells when she pushed Simona Halep to three sets in the third round.

2009 champion Vera Zvonareva, who finally finds herself back in the Top 100 this season after returning to competition following the birth of her daughter, is seeded fourth in qualifying. The 34-year-old Russian will square off against compatriot Irina Khromacheva, 23, in the first round, with the winner of Fanny Stollar and New Jersey’s Christina McHale waiting in the final round.

Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky, an ex-world No. 9 who has reached the second week of the BNP Paribas Open three times in her last four appearances, is also in action against a compatriot. Conny Perrin, then either Pliskova or McNally, stand in the way of her ninth main draw appearance in the Coachella Valley.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on talented youngsters Wang Xiyu and Iga Swiatek, both of whom have begun to make waves at the tour-level, as well as the endlessly eccentric Monica Niculescu, who plays No. 15 seed Anna Blinkova in the first round.

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