2015 WTA Indian Wells (@BNPParibasOpen) Preview and Predictions
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
After an eventful first two months of the 2015 season, we reach the almost month long American hard court series, with back to back Premier tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami.
The first stop will be in the beautiful state of California for the BNP Paribas Open. The Indian Wells Tennis Garden will play host to the world’s best players from both the men’s and women’s tour with the main court holding over 16,000 spectators.
The BNP Paribas Open was originally a men’s only event in 1976. Thirteen years later the Garden would also host the women, albeit a week after the men’s tournament. In 1996, the decision was made to have the men’s and women’s tournaments run simultaneously, and it has since become one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world.
Among Indian Wells’ many accolades are being named the WTA’s Premier Tournament Of The Year five times – in 1997, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2013 – and the Premier Mandatory Tournament Of The Year in 2014; becoming the first event in the world to offer the Hawk-Eye challenge system on every match court in 2011; and becoming the first ATP/WTA combined tournament to distribute $1 million in prize money to each of its singles champions in 2012.
Previous champions include the likes of Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Martina Navratilova, Maria Sharapova and Monica Seles. Flavia Pennetta is the defending champion, as she overcame Agnieszka Radwanska in last year’s final.
Despite all the history, and the prestige of the event, the big story is the return of Serena Williams to Indian Wells.
The world number one hasn’t played in the tournament for 14 years, after the crowd heckled her and her sister Venus after alleged match fixing. It was also alleged that the reaction was also racially motivated. This led to the Williams sisters boycotting the event for 14 years; until now. Serena announced earlier this year that she will be returning to Indian Wells in an exclusive with TIME Magazine where she discussed both the happy and sad experiences from the event.
“It has been difficult for me to forget spending hours crying in the Indian Wells locker room after winning in 2001, driving back to Los Angeles feeling as if I had lost the biggest game ever – not a mere tennis game but a bigger fight for equality,” Williams wrote in her exclusive piece for TIME.
“I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove. I’m still as driven as ever, but the ride is a little easier. I play for the love of the game. And it is with that love in mind, and a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015.”
Venus however, will not return to the BNP Paribas Open this year.
For more information on the Williams sisters’ boycott of Indian wells and Serena’s return, please read my article posted yesterday.
BNP Paribas Open
Tier: Premier Mandatory
Location: Indian Wells, USA
Prize Money: $ 5,381,235
Date: March 11th- March 22nd
Top eight seeded players (Ranking)
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Maria Sharapova (2)
3. Simona Halep (3)
4. Caroline Wozniacki (5)
5. Ana Ivanovic (6)
6. Eugenie Bouchard (7)
7. Agnieszka Radwanska (8)
8. Ekaterina Makarova (9)
The notable exception is Petra Kvitova who withdrew from the tournament due to fatigue. Otherwise the top players are all in action, which should lead to an exciting tournament.
Note: There are 32 seeded players in the draw, all of which receive a first round BYE
First round matches to watch:
Julia Goerges vs Heather Watson:
Britain’s Heather Watson made a fantastic start to 2015 by winning the Hobart International tournament just before the Australian Open. However, the 22 year old hasn’t been able to capitalise on that momentum, only winning one match since. Goerges on the other hand has had a good start to the year, winning more often than not. That includes a round four appearance at the Australian Open where she lost to Ekaterina Makarova. These two previously met on the clay courts of Roland Garros three years ago, and it was The German who came out on top in straight sets. Watson’s form since Hobart hasn’t convinced me, but this is tennis and anything can happen. Expect the Brit to try counter Goerges’ power and remain consistent. The German will look to use her power to overwhelm Watson, forcing short balls and errors. It’s hard not to back Goerges given their respective forms, but if The 26 year old is spraying errors, except Watson’s consistency to shine through.
Anna Schmiedlova vs Lauren Davis
Two youngsters ranked within two places of each other, both looking to play their way into form, and one of them is American? Sounds like an enticing Indian wells opener to me. Schmiedlova vs Davis might be a match-up you see more of in the future, but this is their first ever meeting, meaning we have little to go by when it comes to deciding the winner. Schmiedlova recently made the final of Rio, but lost to Sara Errani in straight sets. The 20 year old hasn’t won a match since the clay court event in Brazil, losing both her opening round matches in Mexico. Davis hasn’t won since the Australian Open, albeit she has only played two matches since the first Grand Slam of the year. No matter which way it ends up going, this match should be close and will likely go the distance. The reward will be a round two clash with Jelena Jankovic.
(WC) Taylor Townsend vs (WC) Bethanie Mattek-Sands
One for you American fans out there. Taylor Townsend is younger than yours truly, and is in the top 100, making her one of the brightest prospects on tour. Mattek Sands is 11 years older and vastly more experienced, and she’s much better than her 187 ranking suggests. The 29 year old suffered an injury last year, which saw her ranking plummet from top 50 to outside the top 100. Townsend is still very young and learning her way around the tour, therefore the 18 year old isn’t yet the complete product. I expect Mattek-Sands’ experience to shine through as I don’t believe Townsend is ready to handle the pressure of the big crowd at Indian Wells yet.
The world number one’s triumphant return to Indian Wells will be met by the crafty Monica Niculescu or Aleksandra Krunic. The focus here won’t be on the tennis, but on how the crowd will react to Serena Williams after her 14 year boycott of the event. If the crowd is gracious, and Serena displays her usual form, there should be little to no trouble in her opening matches. Youngster, Zarina Diyas will await in round three, but that shouldn’t be a problem for Williams, who should over-power the Kazakh with ease.
Serena’s draw gets interesting in round four, where Angelique Kerber or Svetlana Kuznetsova should be awaiting her. Both players are in need of wins after failing to really set the world alight in 2015. At this point they should both have a win under their belt to give them somewhat of a confidence boost heading into their third round clash. Interestingly, the head to head is tied at 3-3, but Kerber has a win this year on the hard courts of Dubai. The German overcame Kuznetsova in straight sets on that occasion, and I can see the same happening here.
Kerber has beaten Serena on American soil before three years ago in Cincinnati, but apart from that straight sets win, she has failed to take a set off the world number one. Serena’s record here speaks for itself, so I’ll be shocked if she doesn’t make it to the quarter finals.
Serena’s return might dominate the headlines, but on the court, the fight for the right to face the world number one might just be the show-stealer. This section features two in-form players, who right now are at their career high ranking. Lucie Safarova is just shy of the top 10 following her triumph in Doha. The Czech is dangerous and in excellent form. I wouldn’t want to draw her at Indian Wells.
Timea Bacsinszky is coming off a double title salvo in Mexico, making her perhaps the most in-form player heading into the tournament. The Swiss is at a career high ranking of 26, and is 11th in the race, such is her good form this year. Bacsinszky has in an interesting round three prospect against the eighth seeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova. Bacsinszky leads the head to head 2-1, including a straight sets win in Wuhan last year. However, Makarova brings her best on the big occasion, and that makes her extremely dangerous. The Swiss’ good form will make a lot of people lean towards her, and I understand why, but Makarova is still overall the better player and I favour her in this match-up despite the stats saying otherwise.
The Makarova vs Safarova match will decide who faces Serena in the quarter finals. The battle of the lefties should be close, with both Safarova and Makarova currently in the form of their careers. The Czech should be full of confidence after her exploits in Doha, where she beat Makarova in the round of 16 in three sets. With the head to head and form book in the favour of the world number 11, I will back Lucie to be Serena’s opponent in the quarter finals.
The world number three doesn’t have it easy in Indian Wells, with some dangerous seeded players being drawn into her section. Halep was forced to withdraw from Doha with a rib injury, so her fitness might be in question. There isn’t any news heading into the tournament about tis injury, so I presume she’ll be healed up enough to make a good go of this.
The Romanian’s first test will come in the form of Vavara Lepchenko in the third round. The American has suffered from an illness this season, but she’s very dangerous with her powerful ground strokes being her main weapon. The home crowd could inspire Lepchenko, but the chances are Halep will be too consistent for the American.
The third round clash between Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza is mouth-watering, with the winner facing Halep for a quarter final place. Both Plsikova and Muguruza have been tipped to be the future of the WTA, making this a match-up we could be seeing a whole lot more of in the future. The Czech has been in awesome form this year, climbing towards the top 10 in the rankings with some big wins along the way. Muguruza has played well too, earning some big wins of her own. These two have met twice before, and on both occasions they have been tight three setters. Expect more of the same here, with some huge hitting from both sides of the court. I have a feeling Muguruza will be the victor this time around. She was close in Dubai without playing well and looking tired, so I believe The Spaniard will edge out the Czech on this occasion.
With The Spaniard likely going long with Plsikova, look for Halep to take advantage of a tired Muguruza. The world number three has been prone to being blown off the court by the likes of Garbine, but on this occasion she’ll weather the storm. Muguruza will come out flying, but eventually will slow down as fatigued starts to kick in allowing Halep to complete a three set win.
Seventh seed Agnieszka Radwanska isn’t in the best of form at the moment and could find herself facing an early exit. Camila Giorgi is projected to meet in round three, and with the Italian’s power, The Pole could find herself being blown away. The Italian however is vastly inconsistent, especially with the serve, and could easily fall in the second round to Goerges or Watson. Radwanska might not be in the best form, but she was a finalist here last year, so she has proven she can play well here. I will predict the world number eight to make round four.
The likely opponent will be the winner of the interesting Carla Suarez Navarro vs Barbora Zahalova Strycova round three clash. These two players aren’t known for their power, but they show a lot of variety and bring experience to the table. The Spaniard leads the head to head 6-1, but they have never met on a hard court. Despite the lack of hard court meetings it’s difficult not to back Suarez Navarro in this match, with the 12th seed being overall the better player, in better form and leading the head to head.
Suarez Navarro will therefore face Radwanska in round four with a quarter final place at stake. The seventh seed leads the head to head 2-0, but these two haven’t faced each other since the 2012 US Open. In the two and a half years that have passed, Radwanska has somewhat regressed, whilst Suarez Navarro has improved to become a solid top 20 player. The Spaniard heads into the tournament in better form, and therefore I see her overcoming Radwanska in three sets.
The fourth seeded Caroline Wozniacki will be coming into Indian Wells in good spirits after claiming the Kuala Lumpur title last week; her first of 2015. Wozniacki should make round four, but there are some tricky matches along the way. Kaia Kanepi may await in the second round, and the Estonian is always dangerous. Rising star Belinda Bencic is projected to meet the former world number one in the third round, but the teen isn’t in the best of form this year possessing a 2-5 singles record. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Swiss fall in the second round to Jovanovski or Bertens, albeit these two aren’t in the best of form either. Either way, Wozniacki should defeat either of those three players without too much trouble.
Come the fourth round, her possible opponents include Madison Keys, Jelena Jankovic or 2007 winner Daniela Hantuchova. Keys will be the favourite given her exploits in Melbourne, but the big hitting American may struggle under the pressure of the home crowd. Madison is still young, and with the weight of expectation on her shoulders it will be interesting to see how she copes. The first test will likely be in the form of Hantuchova, who since her 2007 triumph is 1-7 at this event. Hantuchova got some decent for under her belt by winning the Patteya open but has since struggled. Jelena Jankovic is a shell of her former self, and has a tough round two against the winner of Davis vs Schmiedlova. Jankovic bowing out early wouldn’t be much of a shock, but the winner of the second round match-up will likely lose to Keys or Hantuchova in round three.
Keys vs Wozniacki should be the fourth round match, setting up an interesting clash of styles. Keys is pure power, swinging hard and hitting powerful strokes off both wings. Wozniacki is one of the best movers and tour, and her retrieving could frustrate the American. The 16th seed has the power to blow the world number five off the court, but on this occasion on a fairly slow court, I expect Wozniacki to pull through. The Dane has a great record here, being a former champion and finalist.
Could we be in for an all blonde showdown in the quarter finals? Sixth seed Eugenie Bouchard will certainly hope so. The Canadian’s first test will come in round three against big serving American Coco Vandeweghe. Bouchard’s form is unknown as she’s only played one match since the Australian Open, losing to Mona Barthel in Antwerp. Given that she’s fully fit, Bouchard’s early ball striking could get Vandeweghe on the move, making the American less effective. If the 30th seed can get the upper-hand in the rallies with her forehand, then Bouchard could be in trouble. It’s still difficult not to back the sixth seed on this occasion, but this one could be tricky.
Bouchard’s fourth round opponent will likely come down to the winner of Andrea Petkovic vs Alize Cornet. Petkovic might have a difficult time getting past Annika Beck in the second round, but realistically it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The German is in better form than Cornet, but the Frenchwoman leads to head to head 3-1, including a victory in Miami last year. Petkovic is now a top 10 player, and therefore should be more confident this time around, and that will be enough to see her past the 20th seed.
Bouchard’s biggest problem is handling the big hitters, and Petkovic doesn’t really fall into the category. However, you have to consider that Bouchard’s fitness and form is unknown. The world number seven has only played one match since Melbourne. Petkovic hasn’t set the world alight since Antwerp, but she’s hardly looked awful. Knowing where the German’s fitness and form is at, I feel she’s the safer bet to make the quarter finals.
With Azarenka’s injury woes causing the former world number one to fall down the rankings, she was always going to create a tough draw for a top player. This time it’s Maria Sharapova. The pair are scheduled to meet in the third round with Azarenka only just claiming a seeding position due to Kvitova’s withdrawal. Providing nothing gets in their way, this will undoubtedly be the match of the early rounds. Azarenka boasts a 6-1 record on hard courts against the world number two, but their last meeting on this surfaced was over two years ago. Azarenka is slowly building her ranking back up, but she isn’t at the level she displayed in 2012 and 2013 just yet. Maria Sharapova pulled out of Acapulco with illness 2 weeks ago, but that shouldn’t be problem now surely? Expect a tight, (and loud match) with both players wrestling momentum from each other during the match. It will likely come down to mental strength, which is where Sharapova thrives. How many times have we seen the Russian pull through tight matches where she hasn’t played too well? You can’t count them on your fingers that’s for certain. I feel this will be another one of those matches where Sharapova sneaks the win despite being outplayed throughout the majority of the match.
She will then go on to likely face the defending champion Flavia Pennetta. Her victory here last year proved that she likes these courts, and is capable of showing a high level here. Unfortunately for the Italian she won’t reach a high enough level to topple the second seed, and she’ll likely go down in straight sets.
Fifth seed Ana Ivanovic will look to use this tournament to rebuild some confidence after a disappointing defeat to Caroline Garcia last week. These two are on the collision course this week too, with the Serb looking to extract her revenge. Ivanovic will almost certainly make the third round, but Garcia’s participation at this stage isn’t set in stone. Former Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva is the Frenchwoman’s likely second round opponent. The Russian is continuing her comeback from injury, and despite not being at her 2010 level, she’s still a dangerous unseeded player to draw. Garcia reached back to back finals in Mexico, but lost twice to the surging Timea Bacsinszky. It will be interesting to see how the Frenchwoman responds after being only a win away from a title two weeks in a row. These losses can dent your confidence or make you hungry to go that one further. It’s interesting to see which path Garcia will end up going down.
Sara Errani is the projected fourth round opponent of Ivanovic/Garcia/Zvonareva, but the Italian consistency can often leave her prone to being overpowered. Speaking of power, Sabine Lisicki has it in abundance, but the German struggles for consistency outside of Wimbledon, making her an upset target for unseeded players. Jarmila Gajdosova and Roberta Vinci will be looking to take advantage of that, but first they must battle each other in an intriguing round one match. Vinci is experienced, crafty, and a former top 20 player, but you feel her singles form is declining as she reaches her advanced years. The 32 year old seems more focused on doubles nowadays with her partner Sara Errani. Gajdosova has shown some good form this year, and as she closes in on the top 50, I expect her to take advantage of a decent draw and make the fourth round. I don’t feel she can go any further though.
First, let’s review my round of 16 predictions.
Round of 16:
Serena def. Kerber in 2
Safarova def. Makarova in 3
Halep def. Muguruza in 3
Suarez Navarro def. Radwanska in 3
Petkovic def. Bouchard in 3
Wozniacki def. Keys in 3
Ivanovic def. Gajdosova in 2
Sharapova def. Pennetta in 2
Serena def. Safarova in 3
Halep def. Suarez Navarro in 2
Wozniacki def. Petkovic in 2
Sharapova def. Ivanovic in 3
Safarova’s good form will allow her to hand Serena her first set loss in the tournament, but Serena’s power and mental strength will be too much for the Czech to handle. Suarez Navarro will have a good run to the quarter finals, but Halep will prove too consistent, and too good for the Spaniard. Wozniacki loves playing at Indian Wells, and that will show with another deep run here. She shouldn’t have too many problems dispatching Petkovic like most of their previous meetings.
Sharapova vs Ivanovic will be dramatic, and will be very similar to the world number 2’s clash with Azarenka in round two. Sharapova will pull through in another battle of grit and determination. Make sure to check your blood pressure whilst watching this one.
Serena def. Halep in 2
Wozniacki def. Sharapova in 3
Serena had her troubles with Halep at the Tour Championships last year, but I hardly expect a repeat. The world number one will be determined and that will see her through in one tight and one dominant set. Wozniacki vs Sharapova is an interesting match-up. The head to head is close at 5-4 in The Russian’s favour, but the Dane has won their past two meetings, both of hard courts. With that in mind, I am predicting Wozniacki to grind her way through in 3 tight sets.
Serena def. Wozniacki in 2
The battle of best friends will decide the championship at Indian Wells, and as usual Williams will be the victor. The American leads the head to head 10-1, and has a good record at this tournament despite not playing here since 2001. The world number one will cap her return to Indian Wells with another Premier title.