The list of teenage champions at the BNP Paribas Open is long and illustrious, with tennis luminaries such as Monica Seles (1992), Martina Hingis (1998), Serena Williams (1999 and 2001), Daniela Hantuchova (2002), Kim Clijsters (2003), Maria Sharapova (2006) and Bianca Andreescu (2019) all hoisting the trophy before turning 20.
This year, a handful of talented teens will seek to follow in the footsteps of the legends who have gone before them. Let’s have a peek at the youngsters who are angling for the title in 2022:
After a head-spinning run to the US Open title in 2021, where Emma Raducanu became the first qualifier to ever win a major title and the youngest Grand Slam winner since 2004, the British star has hit a few expected speed bumps along the road. Raducanu contracted COVID-19 prior to the Australian Open, then suffered from blisters when she finally got out of quarantine to play the event.
A few weeks ago the 19-year-old had to retire from a grueling three-set battle with Daria Saville in Guadalajara when a hip injury became too much to bear.
Here at Indian Wells, Raducanu admitted that she’s still trying to find her competitive balance her after a whirlwind six months.
“Still trying to figure it out, everything is very new and it’s going to take a while to really settle into it,” she told a packed media room on Wednesday. “I kind of accept that it’s not going to be the smoothest ride, it’s going to be bumpy. What can I do about it? I feel like I’ve been kind of put in a scenario that’s not really been done before and I’m just figuring it out as I go along.”
Raducanu, seeded 11, will face France’s Caroline Garcia in second-round action.
Coco Gauff has been progressing ever since she broke onto the tour at Wimbledon in 2019, reaching the second week as a 15-year-old. The next giant step – a prestigious title like the one on offer next weekend at Indian Wells – could be coming soon for the precocious American.
“Coco Gauff is going to break through at a really big event really soon,” former champion Lindsay Davenport said last week. “I don’t know if it’ll be at Indian Wells or if it’ll be at the French Open or somewhere. I feel like something is going to happen big for her here pretty soon. She’s worked too hard, she’s too good for that not to happen.”
During her pre-tournament press conference, Gauff was asked about those comments and told reporters that she prefers to not worry about expectations. For the 17-year-old world No.17 it’s about staying in the moment right now.
“I mean for me, I don’t really want to put pressure on myself to win anything,” she said. “I’m just trying to stay in the moment, and take it one match at a time. I feel like if I look too far ahead then I’m putting pressure on myself for something that might not even happen. I think for me [it’s about] just enjoying one match at a time.”
16th-seeded Gauff will face compatriot Claire Liu in second-round action.
Canadian sensation Leylah Fernandez comes to Indian Wells fresh off of her second WTA title at Monterrey, Mexico, where she successfully defended her title with a brilliant cliff-hanging victory over Colombia’s Camila Osorio. The 19-year-old from Montreal saved five championship points in the final, demonstrating the same trademark grit and determination that took her through four consecutive three-set victories and into the US Open final last September.
Fernandez had an impressive debut in Tennis Paradise last year, winning two rounds before being edged by Shelby Rogers in the round of 16.
“I think she’s kind of settling into being a top player,” Davenport says of the 21st-ranked Canadian. “We’ll see when she can kind of find that A game.”
Denmark’s Clara Tauson has been a player on the rise since the start of the 2021 season. The daughter of an ex-professional hockey player and the niece of a former ATP pro, 6’-tall Tauson has an easy athleticism and stunning power in her game. Best of all, she is constantly looking to add elements to her tennis.
Tauson trains at the Justine Henin Tennis Academy, and is coached by Olivier Jeunehomme – both are committed to making the Dane a complete player that can not only overpower opponents, but also surprise them.
Having never finished a season ranked higher than 143, China’s Zheng Qinwen is looking to cut that number in half in 2022. The 19-year-old has racked up 15 wins on tour this season, reached her first WTA semifinal and made her top-100 debut. She made a winning Indian Wells debut on Wednesday as she powered past former champion Vera Zvonareva, 6-3, 6-2, to set up a second-round showdown with three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber.