THE DESERT BLOOMS: The World’s Best Come to Indian Wells’ Garden

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Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

FED:
The Swiss fellow who can’t help but astonish us is obviously a mountain guy. But, with a home in Dubai and his love of the Coachella Valley, it’s clear he’s also into deserts. Bring on the heat! The defending champ’s won the BNPPO five times. And dare we note the most obvious question in our sport: How long can this marvel go on? Fans hope forever.

SERENA:
If she actually shows, she’ll be back where she belongs: Serena in the Arena or, if you will, Ms. Williams in the Garden. Imagine how different the record book would be if Serena had been on hand over the years. Due to her boycott, a bad knee and a good pregnancy, she’s only played one year since her traumatic final in 2001 (and when has a tennis triumph been such a loss?). In 17 years she’s only won four IW matches and technically she’s never been defeated on court. Her only loss came when she withdrew due to a bum knee before the ’15 semis. Hopefully, Mama Serena will nourish us with great play and the game’s singular diva champion will again amaze.

RAFA:
BNPPO owner Larry Ellison loves to hang out with him. Fans love to see him practice shirtless or play dubs. Last year he fell in the semis. The three-time BNPPO champ hasn’t won in five years and Is coming off a hip injury, but was No. 1 until recently.

VENUS:
Returned to IW in 2016 after 15-year boycott and last year got to the quarters and reached two Slam finals. Lost in the first round of the AO and she’s now ranked No. 8. First visited IW as a kid. Can she still do damage as an elder?

NEXT GEN:
Next Gen players like Dimitrov, Nishikori and Raonic, and Next-Next Gens like Zverev, Kyrgios, Thiem, Korean sensation Hyeon Chung and the flashy teen Shapovalov have yet to really break through. Amazingly, an entire age segment, 28 and younger, has not won a Slam. Rome winner Zverev is No. 5 and only reached the second round last year. Kyrgios, who was supposed to play Federer last year before he got sick, is must-watch tennis, and Shapovalov is visual candy.

WOZNIACKI:
With an improved forehand, serve and mental toughness, David Lee’s main squeeze survived and then prevailed at the AO. Can the 2011 BNPPO champ, who’s now No. 1, sustain her Danish dazzle?

HALEP:
Romanian doesn’t have a clothes contract, a Slam or the No. 1 ranking she had until the AO final. She’s now lost two of the last four Slam finals – ouch. But she’s gained loads of love. But if there’s karma (Sloane Stephens says there is), does that mean the WTA’s best active player to never have won a Slam will again win IW like she did in 2015?

YANKEE DOODLE DANDIES:
Madison Keys reached the US Open semis and the quarters at the AO. Her best BNPPO result was the round of 16 last year. Rancho Santa Fe’s Fed Cup hero, Coco Vandeweghe, broke into the top 10, and was the 2016 BNPPO dubs champ. She’d go bananas if she could peel off from the bunch and make a desert run. Teen CiCi Bellis is due for a surge. Will there be a breakout run by a mainstay guy like Sam Querrey, John Isner, Stevie Johnson, Ryan Harrison or Jack Sock – who lost to Fed in last year’s semi? Or will a young Yank go deep, like Tennys Sandgren did at the AO?

BRYANS:
The timeless, eminently appealing 39-year-olds made it to the AO semis, won IW in ’13 and ’14 and last won a Slam in ’14. Consumer Alert: Bypass watching this delightful duo at your own risk.

SHARAPOVA:
Made the fourth round in NY and the third round in Melbourne. Now ranked No. 41 and in her first IW appearance since ’15. Will the ’06 and ’13 BNPPO champ reach the quarters?

AZARENKA:
Both she and Federer have sons named Leo. But Vika went through a dreary custody battle. Now that it’s over, many can’t wait to see (and hear) the wonderful two-time slam champ who won the BNPPO in ’12 and ’16. #WeMissedYou.

JUNIOR JIVE:
Santa Barbaran Kayla Day made a run to the third round last year. Will there be another feel-good result from a young player?

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
No. 3 Elina Svitolina hasn’t been a force at Slams, but the Ukrainian won five tourneys last year. No. 9 Angie Kerber came off a tough ’17 to reach the AO semis and again seems focused and hungry. Karolina Pliskova has a big serve and a low profile, and the ’16 US Open finalist is still in the conversation. France’s Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic are creating top 10 waves, power darling Naomi Osaka is emerging, and Miami champ Jo Konta, if her hip is better, could score some wins. Other long shots include St. Petersburg champ Kvitova, Suarez Navarro, Radwanska, last year’s finalist Kuznetsova (if she’s well), Timea Babos and the charming Russian, Elena Vesnina, the Olympics dubs champ, who’s still elated about her marathon win in last year’s toasty BNPPO final.

CHAMPIONSHIP METTLE:
Last year in the “WTAIWS,” (the Women’s Tennis Association Interim Without Serena) three young players won Slams: Ostapenko in Paris, Muguruza at Wimbledon and Stephensin NY. Can any of them reach the semis?

FRENCH STYLE:
One of the pleasures of tennis is watching fine French players inspire in Paris. But if you’re not headed to the French Open, just check out the grace and panache of the current French vintage, including Monfils, Tsonga, Gasquet and Simon.

STAN THE MAN:
Wawrinka fell in last year’s final to Fed and wept. Was off most of ’17 with injuries and fell to Sandgren early at the AO. But he’s got the best tattoo in the game: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

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