Indian Wells Preview – Of Chilly Weather, Hot Prospects, and the Winds Of Change

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Bill Simons

You know you are damn good when, even on an off day, you bring the goods. 

And for decades, Indian Wells, like no other tournament west of the US Open, has brought plenty of buzz – and thumb drives of innovation. 

It’s the culture of the place. 

First it was powered by the flair of the visionary Charlie Pasarell. More recently, Indian Wells has taken full advantage of its stunning setting, its expansive desert space, the generous resources of its billionaire owner, Larry Ellison, and its “Let’s-make-this-place-better” mindset. Now, for tennis lovers from Manitoba to Menlo Park and Manhattan Beach, it’s a must-visit tennis destination.

Fans love its dazzling player fields, fabulous restaurants, Hawk-eye on all courts technology and easy access to stars. 

Happy voices are everywhere: 

“Hey Joe, that buff guy over there on the practice courts, he’s Nadal. Look behind you, that French fellow out there on the soccer field just scored a goal.”

It doesn’t hurt that visitors are quick to enjoy world class shopping, golf courses galore, mountain vistas and sunsets that feed the soul.  

So while Indian Wells rocked, others reeled.

Tournaments from San Jose, LA, San Diego, Vegas and Miami suffered. The BNP Paribas was so good that others couldn’t compete. Many folded. 

For decades, the Miami Open has been swimming upstream to keep up. Sure, the BNP Paribas has had its share of headaches: player withdrawals, stinging sandstorms, the Williams’s 14-year boycott, unhappy controversies, some foul-mouthed fans, a recession or two and a pandemic.  

But nothing seemed to faze Indian Wells.  Never mind that way back when, the tourney was almost shipped off to a distant port. 

Again this year there will be issues. Forecasts are for the 50s, or even more frigid, so bring your sweaters. And, holy superstars, for the first time since 2000 the tournament will be without any of the Big 3. Five-time champion Roger Federer has retired, three-time winner Nadal is still nursing a hip injury and five-time victor Novak Djokovic won’t be in town. 

Plus, Serena has retired, Venus, who is ranked No. 665, is in the shadows and Naomi Osaka, the darling of the 2018 tourney, is pregnant in LA,. 

Nick Kyrgios and former US Open champ Bianca Andreescu are both hobbled. Last year’s semifinalist Carlos Alcaraz, who could possibly the No. 1 seed, may or may not make it to the desert due to an injury and Sebastian Korda is out with a bum wrist.

Still, fans will have plenty to mull over. 

— First and foremost, can California wunderkind Taylor Fritz become the first American to win back-to-back titles at Indian Wells since Michael Chang in 1997? Now at a career high No. 5, the 25-year-old San Diego native reached the Dallas semis, won the fifth title of his career in Delray and reached the Acapulco semis.

— Can another American man make a breakout run like Fritz’s last year? Aussie Open semifinalist Tommy Paul has sustained his happy surge. Ranked 23, he downed Fritz to reach the Acapulco finals where he fell to Alex de Minaur. Tommy’s best Indian Wells run came in 2021 when he reached the fourth round. 

In six Indian Wells outings, US Open semifinalist Frances Tiafoe has never gotten beyond the third round. The Maryland native, who’s No. 15, is kind of an east coast guy. 

And what about another Aussie Open sensation? Can 20-year-old Ben Shelton (who can’t even buy a cold one at the Beer Hunter down the road) back up his AO flash? If he beats Fabio Fognini in the first round, he will have to face Taylor Fritz in the second round. Young Californian Brandon Nakashima is slated to play John Isner, despite a recent a wrist injury. But Jenson Brooksby’s wrist injury will sideline him. BTW: don’t write off No. 39 Isner. The 2012 finalist John Iwho won the doubles last year. 

— Can Iga Swiatek continue to prevail? Indian Wells defending champ used her 2022 victory as a springboard. She soon pulled off a 37-match win streak, captured the French and US Open titles and became No. 1. Of late she’s endured some tough losses. Jessica Pegula beat her early in the year and she fell to Elena Rybakina at the Aussie Open. But Iga thrashed Pegula to win in Qatar. Then she fell in the Dubai final. Still, the 21-year-old is a dominant No. 1. Many feel we are at the dawning of the age of Iga. Last year the Pole was the youngest to win the Sunshine Double – Indian Wells and Miami. And she’s seeking to become the first back-to-back Indian Wells winner since Martina Navratilova in 1990 and 1991. 

— America is the only country to have two WTA players in the top 10. Can either No. 3 Pegula or No. 6 Coco Gauff become the first American to win Indian Wells since 2001? Neither Floridian has won a Slam yet and last year at Indian Wells Jessica lost in the second round while Gauff fell in the third. 

And can any other American women in the top 40 – Madison Keys (No. 20), Amanda Anisimova (No. 34), Danielle Collins (No. 38) or San Jose finalist Shelby Rogers (No. 39), reach the quarters? 

— Aussie Open champ Aryna Sabalenka was Indian Wells’ No. 2 seed last year, but was upset in the first round. Since her Melbourne win, the Belarusian has only played Dubai, where she lost in the quarters. 

— Norway’s Netflix star Casper Ruud could be the No. 2 seed. Will the graceful French and US Open finalist provide a Ruud awakening for his desert foes? And speaking of players who reached two Slam finals last year, how cool would it be if Ons Jabeur became the second African native to win in the desert? Yanick Noah, who was reared in Cameroon, won in 1982 over Ivan Lendl when the tourney was at La Quinta.  

— Can one of Moscow’s towering troika become the first Russian man to cross the finish line? The resurgent Daniil Medvedev, No. 7, is the hottest player in tennis. He beat Djokovic 6-4, 6-4 in Dubai and has won three titles in three weeks,  Dubai finalist Andrey Rublev is No. 6 and Aussie Open semifinalist Karen Kachanov is No. 14. 

– Who among the ATP’s Next Generation stars who long have seemed poised to take over, will break out? Aussie Open finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas could be the No. 1 or 2 seed, but he’s coming off of a shoulder injury. Many a Canadian snowbird will be cheering Felix Auger-Aliassime. And Holger Rune, Hubie Hurkacz and Jannik Sinner are solid long shots.

— In a wide open field, will a hidden gem shine? Remember, in 2021, Cam Norrie beat Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili in the final. And what is more likely, that it snows at the BNP Paribas or our favorite wildcard, the plucky and oh-so-well-named Californian, Katie Volynets, reaches the fourth round.  

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