Indian Wells: There’s No Place Like Tennis Paradise

Indian Wells Tennis Garden (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, October 6, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s been two and one-half years since the last BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in the southern California palm desert took place. On Wednesday, the women’s main draw singles play begins in the 12-day event (Oct. 6-17) at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden – dubbed Tennis Paradise. It’s a welcome sight.

While there’s some familiar faces missing in action this time, there’s plenty of star power assembled – 16 of the current Top 20 – and plenty of prize money and rankings points – more than $1.2 million and 1,000 points for the champion – to make it all worthwhile. And, let’s face it, what’s not to like about seeing outdoor tennis played in October?

Last year, the 2020 BNP Paribas Open was scheduled to start on March 9. The 96-player men’s and women’s draws for the side-by-side ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier Mandatory events included then-World No. 1 players Novak Djokovic and Ashleigh Barty. Then, the day before it was supposed to commence, the Riverside County Public Health Department issued a public health emergency for the Coachella Valley in the early, growing days of the coronavirus pandemic. It had confirmed a case of COVID-19 locally. As a result, the plug was pulled on the BNP Paribas Open. It would not be held. Within a matter of days, both pro tours were shut down and wouldn’t return until August.

Fast forward and by last December, it was deemed not safe to hold Indian Wells during its usual spot on the ATP/WTA calendar in early March. Unlike in 2020, the organizers hoped to move the tournament to later in the tennis year. In May, that became a reality. Conveniently, with the Fall Asian Swing cancelled for the second straight year, early October became a perfect place on the calendar for both the ATP and WTA to fill. Thus, for the first time in the tournament’s history, the BNP Paribas Open has become a fall event.

On Monday evening, the 96-player women’s singles draw was revealed. With no Barty, Naomi Osaka, Sofia Kenin or Serena Williams playing – who have won a combined 30 Grand Slam singles titles – or Aryna Sabalenka, who over the weekend tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving at Indian Wells, the top eight seeds are: 1. Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, 2. Iga Swiatek of Poland, 3. Barbora Krejcikova of Czech Republic, 4. Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, 5. Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, 6. Maria Sakkari of Greece, 7. Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic and 8. Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.

Based on the seeds, the project quarterfinals would pair: Pliskova vs. Sakkari, Krejcikova vs. Muguruza, Kvitova vs. Svitolina, and Bencic vs. Swiatek.

Defending 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada is seeded 16th and was placed in Pliskova’s quarter, in the upper half of the draw. She received a bye into the second round and will play either Alison Riske of the United States or a qualifier in her first match. She is among four former champions in the draw along with No. 27 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus (2012, 2016), No. 11 seed Simona Halep of Romania (2015) and wild card Kim Clijsters of Belgium (2003, 2005)

Among the pleasant – intriguing? – surprises is this: in Kvitova’s quarter of the draw (in the lower half of the overall draw) US Open champion and World No. 22 Emma Raducanu, who is seeded 17th, could play Halep, her childhood idol, in the third round. Also, the Hall of Famer Clijsters received a wild card and will face Krejcikova’s doubles partner, Katerina Siniakova of Czech Republic, in the first round. The winner will get No. 10 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany in the second round. There’s been a different women’s champion and finalist each year going back to 2013. Let’s see if this pattern continues.

Meanwhile, making their Indian Wells main draw debuts this year include: Swiatek, Raducanu, this year’s US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez 0f Canada, and Top 20 hopefuls Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan and Coco Gauff of the United States.

Tuesday’s BNP Paribas Open results

BJK Cup nominations have an Olympics feel 

Monday’s Billie Jean King Cup nominations for next month’s competition in Prague (Nov. 1-6) include all four female Tokyo 2020 Olympics gold medalists.

Singles gold medalist Belinda Bencic (Switzerland), doubles gold medalists Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (Czech Republic) and mixed doubles gold medalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) were nominated to represent their respective nations in the upcoming 12-team championship finals.

The 57-player field includes three current members of the WTA Top 10, three former World No. 1 players and five Grand Slam singles championships. The host Czech Republic has a solid team that in addition to Krejcikova and Siniakova includes Olympic silver medalist Marketa Vondrousova, first-timer Tereza Martincova and former BJK Cup champion Lucie Hradecka.

Electing not to compete are the current WTA Top Three players: Ashleigh Barty of Australia, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and No. 3 Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic.

The four group winners will advance to the semifinals for a chance to reach the championship final on the final day of the competition.

No jab, no play mandate at next year’s AO?

Tennis Australia bosses fear a vaccine mandate by the Victoria government might deter Novak Djokovic from playing in next year’s Australian Open.

British government to invest £22 million into public tennis courts

The British government recently announced it will invest £22 million into public tennis courts. Alongside, the LTA’s investment of £8.5 million, it will transform public courts across Great Britain.

The Way Back Machine / Seoul, 1988

On this date in 1981, the International Olympic Committee voted to reintroduce tennis the Olympic Games after a 64-year absence.

“Quotable …”

“Why couldn’t they just isolate me from other players and let me play? I could keep my distance and stay away from everyone … but I guess it wouldn’t work well because we’d still be touching the same balls, and that could be dangerous.”

– World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Indian Wells and is now in a hotel quarantine. She hosted an Instagram Q & A on Tuesday.


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