Indian Wells Is Back In March For First Time In Three Years

Alison Riske (photo: WTA Tour video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, March 10, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

The BNP Paribas Open women’s singles draw got underway in “Tennis Paradise” at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in the Southern California palm desert Wednesday. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 event was cancelled and last year’s tournament was pushed out from March to October because of rising coronavirus levels.

As Day One unfolded, if it seemed like a homecoming for the year’s first WTA/ATP combined 1000 event, that’s because it truly was one in Tennis Paradise – and the fans came out in good numbers, too. With sunny, 72-degree weather, the conditions seemed very welcoming.

BNP Paribas Open tournament director Tommy Haas, for one, welcomed a sense of normalcy returning to the event, with the tournament being held in its usual slot in the tennis calendar in early March.

“We belong in March, springtime tennis,” said Haas, during an interview with Tennis Channel, about an hour before the first match began on Stadium 1. “There’s no better place to be than right here, right now in Indian Wells. Walking around the last couple of days, during the qualifying, everybody is excited and enthusiastic to be back. It’s great to get [the tournament] going.”

World No. 7 Paula Badosa of Spain, the defending women’s singles champion, received a first-round bye and will face either Heather Watson of Great Britain or Tereza Martincova of  the Czech Republic in her first match. She looks to become the second player to defend her title at Indian Wells after Martina Navratilova in 1990-91. Last year, Badosa became the first Spanish woman to lift the Indian Wells singles title.

Although there were no seeded players seeing action in the 16 women’s upper half first-round matches on Wednesday, there was plenty of excitement and intrigue – and throughout, plenty of Americans showcased, too. For instance, the featured match on Opening Night in Stadium 1 paired 103rd-ranked Ukrainian wild card Dayana Yastremska, who three days ago was a finalist in Lyon after fleeing her war-torn homeland, against No. 66 Caroline Garcia of France, who was a semifinalist in the same tournament held in the capital city in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region last week.

Yastremska, who had never lost to Garcia in two previous head-to-head matches, saved two match points during an 18-point second set tie-break to force a third set and saved a third match point in the 12th game. However, Garcia’s never-say-die attitude served her well and she closed out the victory on her fourth try with a backhand winner to triumph 6-4, 6-7 (8), 7-5 after two hours and 27 minutes.

Garcia overcame 52 unforced errors with 24 winners and saved eight of 10 break points she faced. She outpointed Yastremska 115-110. Next, Garcia will face No. 11 seed Emma Raducanu, while Yastremska remains alive in the doubles draw with her younger sister Ivanna.

“I’m very pleased with the way I fought today. I stayed positive every game,” Garcia said in her on-court interview after the victory. “Dayana is an amazing fighter. Every time she’s behind, she plays her best tennis. So, I was really fighting for one point at a time. I was shaking a little bit at the end. I was tired, but I’m very happy.”

The evening’s other featured match on Stadium 1 showcased Monterrey semifinalist Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, ranked 61st, going up against 130th-ranked American wild card Sofia Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open champion who was largely absent from the Tour last due to a variety of illnesses and injuries and dropped out of the Top 20 after this year’s Melbourne major following a 2-5 start to the season.

Haddad Maia won 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 46 minutes, outpointing Kenin 85-70. Next, she will face No. 29 seed Clara Tauson.

Day One highlights

• Play on the main Stadium 1 began with 17-year-old American wild card Robin Montgomery, one of 18 U.S. women in the draw as well as the youngest, looking for her first Top 100 win against 63rd-ranked Grand Slam slayer Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. It wouldn’t happen on this day, although Montgomery handled herself nicely and will learn from the experience.

The 36-year-old Estonian, who is the oldest player in the women’s Top 100, tamed the 361st-ranked Montgomery, 6-3, 6-3, in an hour and 11 minutes. Kanepi benefited from four service breaks in the opening set and amassed six overall. Montgomery finished 33 unforced errors.

“I expected a tough match,” Kanepi said. “I knew she would hit hard and I had to be ready for that. Overall, my game was quite good for a first-round match except, sometimes, my second serve. I think day after tomorrow it’s going to be OK.”

Kanepi overcame 10 double faults and 21 unforced errors by hitting 14 winners and outpointing Montgomery 64-45. Next, she will face No. 22 seed Belinda Bencic in Friday’s second round.

Caty McNally of the United States, ranked 172nd, who needed two hours and 23 minutes to complete a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 win over Belgian veteran Kirsten Flipkens during Tuesday’s final round of qualifying, was back on court Wednesday afternoon against her friend and fellow American Alison Riske, ranked 53rd. The 20-year-old Cincinnati native, who was seeking her first main-draw win since Cleveland last August, came up short against the older, more experienced Riske. The 31-year-old from Pittsburgh won 6-0, 6-3 in one hour and 21 minutes. She hit 17 winners, converted five of 10 break points and outpointed McNally 69-46.

During her on-court interview, Riske spoke about the challenge of playing against an opponent who is such good friend. “I’m a big supporter of Caty. Not only is she a good tennis player and she’s a great person, I love the way she carries herself on the court. There’s only good things to come for her,” she said.

“I’m thrilled to win and to be back [playing] in Indian Wells.”

Meanwhile, following her win against Flipkens, McNally said: “I feel pretty good, honestly. I think with you guys out here pushing me every single game, whether I’m up or down, it’s really helping me.

“The adrenaline is taking over and I think I just keep going.”

As for Riske, she’s through to the second round where she’ll face No. 8 seed Garbiñe Muguruza.

Although she’s been eliminated from the singles draw, McNally, 20, will also be playing doubles with 17-year-old Coco Gauff, as the older half of “McCoco” that is seeded third in the women’s doubles draw.

• Russian Vera Zvonareva, who won Indian Wells in 2009, is one of five former champions in the main draw. The 114th-ranked Zvonareva faced China’s No. 74 Zheng Qinwen, who has compiled 15 wins, reached her first WTA semifinal and risen over 50 places in the WTA rankings. The 19-year-old, who was making her Indian Wells debut, showed she’s the real deal. The big-hitting Zheng defeated Zvonareva, 6-3, 6-2, in an hour and 28 minutes behind 30 winners and saved all nine break points she faced. It was the second time she’s beaten Zvonareva this year. The reward for the winner is a second-round match with World No. 16 Angelique Kerber.

“I’m very happy to get this win,” Zheng said during her on-court interview. “It was very emotional for me. First time in Indian Wells. I’m happy with myself today.”

• No. 39 Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia was pushed to three sets by 119th-ranked American wild card Hailey Baptiste, who was making her tournament debut, and overcame 36 unforced errors and four breaks of her service before prevailing, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, in one hour and 50 minutes. Tomljanovic outpointed Baptiste 80-72 and advanced to play No. 26 seed Sorana Cirstea of Romania in the second round.

Petra Martic of Croatia hit 36 winners and advanced with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 75 Anna Bondar of Hungary in an hour and 55 minutes. The 79th-ranked Martic, who saved all five break point she faced and outpointed Bondar 82-69, will face No. 19 seed Tamara Zidansek.

• No. 1 doubles seeds Veronika Kudermetova of Russia and Belgium’s Elise Mertens, who last month won the Dubai title, were upset in the opening round by Japanese pair Eri Hozumi and Makoto Ninomiya, 6-3, 6-3. The winners converted six of seven break points while Kudermetova and Mertens were successful on only three of 13. They were outpointed 59-50.

Wednesday’s BNP Paribas Open results 

Thursday’s BNP Paribas Open order of play

Djokovic withdraws from Indian Wells, Miami

Although it was not unexpected, World No. 2 Novak Djokovic withdrew from both the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open presented by Itaú on Wednesday afternoon. Djokovic made the announcement via social media.

“While I was automatically listed in the @BNPPARIBASOPEN and @MiamiOpen draw I knew it would be unlikely I’d be able to travel,” Djokovic tweeted. “The CDC has confirmed that regulations won’t be changing so I won’t be able to play in the US. Good luck to those playing in these great tournaments.”

As the next player in the line to be seeded, Grigor Dimitrov moves into Djokovic’s space in the draw as the No. 33 seed and will face either David Goffin or Jordan Thompson in the second round, and a lucky loser from qualifying will move into Dimitrov’s space in the draw and will face Tommy Paul in the first round.

British presence in women’s main draw

Besides World No. 13 Emma Raducanu, three British players came through two rounds of qualifying to be among 12 players who earned main-draw berths. Harriet Dart, Katie Boulter and Heather Watson all came through to give Great Britain four players among the 96 players comprising the main draw.

Anisimova crowned Eisenhower Cup champion

Amanda Anisimova, a late substitution for injured Barbora Krejcikova, won the 2022 Eisenhower Cup held Tuesday night on Stadium 2 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

A formidable octet of elite WTA stars – including Naomi Osaka, Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari, Ons Jabeur, Simona Halep, Paula Badosa, Leylah Fernandez and Anisimova – competed in a Tiebreak Tens format. As it happened, it was Anisimova, the lowest-ranked of the eight at No. 43, who won the competition with a 10-7 win over Sakkari in the final.

“Personally, I don’t like playing very long, so this was perfect for me,” Anisimova said after winning. The 20-year-old American from Florida pledged to donate a portion of her prize money to Ukrainian relief.

“I’ll definitely be donating some of my prize money to a Ukrainian relief fund,” she said. “Every day is extremely sad – we are here and enjoying, but it’s very hard.”

Proceeds from ticket sales benefited local women’s organizations to honor International Women’s Day, which was Tuesday.

“It’s amazing to share this court with all these players,” said Badosa, who won last year’s BNP Paribas Open women’s singles title. “All of them are champions, so it’s super fun.”

Shang is first Chinese ATP player in Indian Wells main draw

Shang Juncheng, a native of Beijing, China who now lives and trains in Bradenton, Fla., has become the first Chinese ATP player to make an Indian Wells main draw in tournament history. At age 17, he’s also the youngest in the BNP Paribas Open men’s draw since American Donald Young in 2006.

Around the Indian Wells Tennis Garden

“Quotable …”