Will Daniil Medvedev win Indian Wells as world No.1? Will Rafael Nadal set more records? Will Naomi Osaka challenge? Will Novak Djokovic play? Will Cameron Norrie defend his title? One of the biggest tournaments of the tennis season gets started on March 9 with most of the top players in action. We look at the standout storylines, players to watch and the schedule for the event in California.
It’s time for Indian Wells.
The unofficial ‘fifth Grand Slam’ of the tennis season is back in its March spot for the first time since 2019 after it was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and then pushed back to October last year.
Cameron Norrie and Paula Badosa will be the defending champions in the desert while women’s world No.1 Ashleigh Barty is not playing and there is still no confirmation on the status of men’s world No.2 Novak Djokovic.
We take a look at some of the top storylines to look out for over the next 10 days and the players to keep an eye on…
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH DJOKOVIC?
As so often this year it seems the only place to start is with Djokovic.
It had been widely expected that the 20-time Grand Slam champion would not play Indian Wells or the Miami Open as he is not vaccinated and so could not enter the United States. Djokovic is even on the ‘We Miss You’ wall at Indian Wells along with the likes of Barty, Juan Martin del Potro and Roger Federer.
But Djokovic is still in the draw.
Indian Wells organisers wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “Novak Djokovic is on the tournament entry list, and therefore is placed into the draw today. We are currently in communication with his team.
“However, it has not been determined if he will participate in the event by getting CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) approval to enter the country.”
The CDC website as of March 3 says non-US citizens who are not immigrants must show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 to travel by air to the US.
Speaking in Dubai last month, Djokovic said: “As of today, no, I can’t go, I can’t enter the United States…I’m not able to play. But let’s see what happens. I mean, maybe things change in the next few weeks.”
If Djokovic is withdrawn before his first match is scheduled then his spot in the draw will be taken by Grigor Dimitrov; if his match if already scheduled then he will be replaced by a lucky loser.
Or he might end up playing, which would be a huge shock and a potential game-changer for the rest of the ATP season.
CAN MEDVEDEV WIN AS NO.1?
Even if Djokovic does play Indian Wells he would not be the top seed. His run as world No.1 came to an end in February as Daniil Medvedev took over at the top of the rankings.
It hasn’t been the coronation the Russian might have hoped for, with confirmation of his rise to No.1 coming on the same day his country invaded Ukraine. He admitted that he had “mixed emotions” on the day that he was officially confirmed as the first non-Big Four No.1 since Andy Roddick in 2004.
Medvedev has removed the Russian flag from his Instagram profile and will compete as a neutral athlete in Indian Wells, along with all other Russian and Belarussian players.
“I hope that this measure will be temporary,” Medvedev told RIA Novosti this week. “I am waiting for the moment when we will be able to carry the flag again next to our names, of the Russian athletes.”
Medvedev’s only two losses this season have both been against Rafael Nadal, in the Australian Open final and the semi-finals of the Mexican Open. On both occasions he had chances to change the outcome – in Melbourne he was two sets to love up and in Acapulco he failed to convert any of 11 break points – and his form looks encouraging heading to the first Masters event of the season.
His historical form at Indian Wells is not great, though. He has only once made it past the third round of the tournament (fourth round in 2021) and in terms of winning percentage it is by far his least successful hard-court Masters tournament at just 56 per cent.
If Medvedev does win he will be the eighth world No.1 to do so after Jimmy Connors in 1976, Jim Courier in 1993, Pete Sampras in 1994-95, Lleyton Hewitt in 2002-03, Roger Federer in 2004-06, Rafael Nadal in 2009, Novak Djokovic in 2015-16.
NADAL SETS SIGHTS ON RECORDS
The start to the year could not have gone any better for Nadal.
Having been a doubt to even play in Australia after testing positive for Covid-19 he’s now 15-0, has won three titles, and is up to No.4 in the world rankings. He’s enjoying his best-ever start to a season and with a good run at Indian Wells would move up to third in the best-ever starts to a season in the Open era.
It’s tough to see who can stop him right now.
Nadal has won Indian Wells in 2007, 2009 and 2013, and has an 84 per cent winning record at the tournament, which is better than he has produced at any other hard-court Masters event.
Another meeting with Medvedev would be fascinating, but it will be equally intriguing to see if any of the other top players like Alexander Zverev or Stefanos Tsitsipas can have a say in ending Nadal’s perfect record and stopping him potentially moving above them in the rankings.
Zverev will play the tournament after only being given a suspended ban for hitting his racquet against the umpire’s chair in Acapulco and getting disqualified from the tournament.
OSAKA A DANGER IN THE DRAW
Will history repeat itself?
Naomi Osaka was unseeded and ranked No. 44 in the world when she won Indian Wells in 2018. She returns to the desert for the first time since 2019 ranked No. 78, after dropping significant points over the last six months.
The difference this time around is that Osaka is short of match practice. She has been hitting with Nick Kyrgios in Los Angeles ahead of Indian Wells but has only played two tournaments – the Australian Open, where she made the third round, and Melbourne Summer Set 1, where she won three matches – since the US Open in September.
Former world No.1 Lindsay Davenport thinks Osaka can still be a danger at the tournament.
“Anytime you’ve won a tournament before, you never want to count that player out,” she told tennis.com.
“I know from her team, she’s very happy again. She’s practicing. She’s very motivated. When you see those kinds of signs from Osaka, you know you’ve got to be ready. There’s always a couple of players that the players who are seeded are like, ‘Please do not be in my little section! And Naomi of course would be pretty high on that list.”
NORRIE LEADS BRITISH CHARGE
Cameron Norrie returns to the scene of his greatest triumph – just five months after lifting the title.
British men’s No.1 Norrie won his maiden Masters 1000 at Indian Wells in October, beating top-25 trio Roberto Bautista Agut, Grigor Dimitrov and Diego Schwartzman on his way to victory.
It looks a very tall ask for him to triumph again, but he has shown some positive form after a disappointing first-round exit at the Australian Open.
Norrie made the quarter-finals in Rotterdam, won the Delray Beach Open and then beat world No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas in Acapulco before losing to Nadal in the final.
Dan Evans and Andy Murray will also be in the men’s draw. World No.29 Evans is 7-4 for the season and is yet to hit his best form on a consistent basis. He hasn’t made it past the last 32 in three previous appearances at Indian Wells.
Murray has got a wild card for the event and will be playing for the first time since announcing that Ivan Lendl will be joining his coaching team for a third spell. Lendl will not be in Indian Wells, where Murray’s best performance was making the final in 2019. However, it will be intriguing to see if there have been any tweaks made in the week or so they have been together.
British women’s No.1 Emma Raducanu is facing a last-minute decision over her participation as she is recovering from a leg injury. Raducanu is scheduled to play either Dayana Yastremska or Caroline Garcia in the second round as she has a first-round bye.
Heather Watson, Harriet Dart and Katie Boulter all came through qualifying to earn a spot in the main draw.
WOMEN’S DRAW WIDE OPEN WITHOUT BARTY
With no Barty in the draw as she continues to recover after her Australian Open triumph, and new world No.2 Barbora Krejcikova also missing due to an elbow injury, the women’s title appears up for grabs.
The surging trio of Iga Swiatek, Anett Kontaveit and Jelena Ostapenko might be the ones to watch.
All three have been in good form over the last month; Swiatek winning the Qatar Open in dominant fashion, Kontaveit winning another indoor title and making the final in Qatar, Ostapenko winning in Dubai.
Defending champion Badosa should also fancy her chances after her impressive victory in October and her run to the WTA Finals in Guadalajara. Two Belarussians, world No.3 Aryna Sabalenka and two-time champion and 2021 finalist Victoria Azarenka, will hope to make runs as they play as neutral athletes.
In terms of home hopefuls, Madison Keys will be hoping she can show the same form that saw her reach the Australian Open semi-finals.
UKRAINE REMAINS A KEY FOCUS
While the likes of Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Sabalenka and Azarenka will be competing without their national flags by their names, Ukraine will be on the mind for many players.
Yastremska, who made the final of the Lyon Open last week, fled her home country when the Russian invasion started along with her 15-year-old sister. World No.15 Elina Svitolina said she was on a “mission” for her country when she was playing in Mexico. Murray has pledged to give the rest of his prize money this year to help children in Ukraine.
The sport’s governing bodies have also come together to donate $700,000 to aid humanitarian relief efforts and to support the Ukraine Tennis Federation.
Expect plenty of players to wear the yellow and blue of Ukraine over the next 10 days.
INDIAN WELLS SCHEDULE
Qualifying: Tuesday 8th – Wednesday 9th March
First round: Thursday 10th – Friday 11th March
Second round: Saturday 12th – Sunday 13th March
Third round: Monday 14th – Tuesday 15th March
Last 16: Wednesday 16th March
Quarter-finals: Thursday 17th – Friday 18th March
Semi-finals: Saturday 19th March
Final: Sunday 20th March
Qualifying: Monday 7th – Tuesday 8th March
First round: Wednesday 9th – Thursday 10th March
Second round: Friday 11th – Saturday 12th March
Third round: Sunday 13th – Monday 14th March
Last 16: Tuesday 15th March
Quarter-finals: Wednesday 16th – Thursday 17th March
Semi-finals: Friday 18th March
Final: Sunday 20th March