Indian Wells Day One Preview, Order of Play
After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, the BNP Paribas Open is back in style on the tennis calendar with a packed list of intriguing first-round tournaments. Here are seven to circle in the Day 1 order of play.
Kaia Kanepi (EST) vs. Madison Keys (United States)
Two of the biggest hitters in the draw face off from the start. Seeing the former Keys world No.7 as an unseeded float is still new: The American’s 2021 record is just 10-14, and last month she left the Top 50 for the first time. since his first entry in July 2013. Keys, currently ranked back at No.50, will be looking to end a six-game losing streak dating back to Wimbledon.
Kanepi, on the other hand, is very used to hiding in the draws. The 36-year-old plays a clean and idiosyncratic schedule these days, often choosing to prepare for Grand Slam and WTA 1000 tournaments by upgrading to ITF level – since Wimbledon, Kanepi has won the ITF W25 tournaments at Parnu and Fort Worth. But she’s still just as capable of turning a big name upside down. This year, the world No. 60 won against Aryna Sabalenka, Sofia Kenin and Yulia Putintseva.
The pair split from two previous encounters, with Kanepi winning 6-4, 6-3 in the Madrid 2015 first round and Keys triumphing 6-3, 6-3 in the 2017 US Open quarter-finals. , Indian Wells is the only North American tournament at the WTA 1000 level or above that Keys has yet to reach the quarter-finals – his career-best performance here was a fourth round in 2017.
Sloane Stephens (United States) vs. Heather Watson (GBR)
The point to note in this match is the one-on-one. Watson has long been a surprising thorn for former world number 3 Stephens: she won the duo’s first four meetings between 2010 and 2015, and leads the overall series 5-2. This includes their four hard court meetings.
However, they haven’t played in more than five years, since the 6-3, 6-0 demolition of Stephens by Watson in the Miami 2016 second round. Much has happened since then, notably Stephens becoming the champion. Grand Slam at the 2017 US Open.
Oddly enough, the meeting will mark the first time since their first professional meeting, at the ITF W50 event in Toronto 2010, that Watson is the higher-ranked of the two, perched at No.57 through No.73 of Stephens. Still, in terms of recent form, the American has the advantage. After losing five of his first six games this year, Stephens’ record since Miami is 17-11. Even some of her recent losses – to Danielle Collins in San Jose, Aryna Sabalenka in Montreal and Angelique Kerber at the US Open – were still notable for the high quality of her show.
In contrast, Watson has had a meager year in 2021, having won just seven WTA Main Draw games so far, and will be looking to end a four-game losing streak.
Andrea Petkovic (GER) v Yulia Putintseva (KAZ)
Another pair of former rivals, Petkovic and Putintseva will face off for the sixth time at the site of their first meeting. In 2013, Petkovic routed an 18-year-old Putintseva 6-0, 6-2 in the first round of qualifying for Indian Wells.
Both regained form in the second half of 2021. Putintseva, whose penchant for marathon matches and epic hot-shot rallies make her one of the Tour’s top players on a weekly basis, a translates this into impressive results lately. A second career title in Budapest in July was followed by a run to the final for Nur-Sultan at home last week.
Meanwhile, Petkovic started the year with a meager 4-11 record until June, and admitted: “I was ready to retire, I almost retired – I started five new jobs! “
A second presentation in Hamburg, where she was the inaugural tournament ambassador, rejuvenated the German year, and she followed with her first title in six years at Cluj-Napoca. In three months, she went from 130th to 74th place in the world.
Putintseva leads the overall standings 3-2, although Petkovic was victorious 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 on clay in Hamburg three months ago. They haven’t played on hard courts since Indian Wells first met eight years ago.
[Q] Mai Hontama (JPN) versus. [LL] Jasmin Paolini (ITA)
This year’s qualifying rounds saw a clash between two very fit players recently. Hontama, 22, had an eye-catching breakthrough last week in Chicago: the Japanese player qualified for her WTA main draw debut, then upset Caroline Garcia and Shelby Rogers en route to the quarter-finals.
During those matches and his ultimate loss to future champion Garbiñe Muguruza, Hontama has always impressed with his ability to take the ball early and turn defense into attack. This week she confirmed that performance with strong qualifying wins against Panna Udvardy and Kristina Kucova.
Paolini had a great time at the US Open, when she wowed the crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium by stretching Victoria Azarenka in a thrilling 6-3, 7-6 (1) loss in the second round. The Italian backed that up by winning her first title at Portoroz last month, although she surprisingly fell to Kateryna Kozlova in the final round of qualifying this week. She beat Hontama 6-2, 6-2 in their only previous encounter, in the first round of the Tokyo ITF W100 2019 event.
Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (COL) v Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR)
Osorio Serrano, 19, was one of the revolutionary young stars of the first half of 2021. The Colombian teenager won her first home title in Bogota, and backed it up with semi-finals in Charleston and Belgrade and a third round showing as a qualification at Wimbledon.
Interview: Osorio Serrano on emotion, Colombian inspiration and never giving up
The all-terrain grain of world No.71 is expected to create a nice stylistic contrast with the flat shot of world No.100 Sasnovich in a rematch of their quarter-final in Belgrade in May, which Osorio Serrano won 6- 4, 6-2. But another reason to pay attention to this clash will be the next step: the winner will secure a second-round fixture with No.17 seed Emma Raducanu, in the British teenager’s first game since winning the World Cup. ‘US Open.
Marta Kostyuk (UKR) vs. Zhang Shuai (CHN)
Just two months ago, Kostyuk was the leader of the generation born in 2002. That was until Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez and Clara Tauson caught up with her in quick succession with star tricks. How will the talented Kostyuk, the first to break into her peer group, react? The Ukrainian world No. 58 fell back after a good start to the year. Since reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros, her main draw record is only 4-6.
However, 18-year-old Kostyuk managed to secure a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over Zhang in Eastbourne qualifying. The Chinese player has rebounded well recently after losing nine of her opening 10 matches of 2021 – although in recent weeks her success has mostly been on the doubles court. Zhang won her second Grand Slam trophy at the US Open with Samantha Stosur, and followed that up by pairing Sania Mirza with the Ostrava title.
[Q] Elena-Gabriela Ruse (ROU) against Alizé Cornet (FRA)
Ruse, the most recent entering the Top 100, has seen an impressive increase over the past three months. The powerful Romanian has been bubbling below Tour level for several years, but put everything in place in July to win her first WTA qualifying title in Hamburg. She didn’t stop there either – in her next tournament, still in qualifying, she finished second in Palermo.
Now ranked No.92, Ruse impressively translated his form in his first North American hard-core tournaments, qualifying for the US Open and reaching Chicago’s third round last week. A clash against wily veteran Cornet should be a showdown.
The winner will also set up a popcorn second-round match against No.23 seed Leylah Fernandez in the Canadian teenager’s first game since the US Open final.
Click here for the full Day 1 play order.