If this is the near-equivalent of a tennis Grand Slam event, a victory at the 2019 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells will undoubtedly require the same kind of intensity and fortitude found in those who hoist championship trophies at the US Open and the rest of the big four. Nearly all of the big names are here – Federer, Williams, Nadal, Osaka, Djokovic, and Halep among them – and the next 10 days in the desert are sure to captivate the tennis world.
THE MEN’S DRAW
Well this is unfair.
#TeamSoCal favorites Steve Johnson and Taylor Fritz – the top ranked SoCal players on tour and two of the top four Americans – are on a collision course. The two locals are slated to meet each other in the first round of singles… and doubles! Johnson (Redondo Beach) and Fritz (Rancho Palos Verdes) have split two meetings in their respective careers, with Fritz winning on hard court in 2016 and Johnson on clay last year. Both are floating around the Top 50 and a strong finish at The BNP could lead to a big jump in ATP Tour position.
In doubles, the two will face off as Johnson pairs with Dominic Thiem, while the mild-mannered Fritz has joined forces with volatile Aussie Nick Kyrgios, the Acapulco champion a week ago. Indian Wells onlookers will be curious to see the yin/yan chemistry between Fritz and Kyrgios.
Sam Querrey, the current World #51, made a hasty exit in Melbourne to start the year but rebounded at the New York Open by reaching the semifinals. He is 5-4 on the year, undoubtedly disappointing by his own standards, but home cooking and a pro-Sam crowd may be exactly what the tennis gods ordered. He meets Italy’s Matteo Berrettini Thursday on Stadium 1.
World #90 Bradley Klahn (Poway) hopes to continue his ascent on the ATP circuit when he meets Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri in the opening round. Klahn stepped in and out of the Top 100 in 2018, after peaking at #62 back in 2014. His first round exit at the Aussie was not without promise – he took two sets from World #25 Hyeon Chung before the South Korean rebounded in a five set marathon.
Wild card Jared Donaldson (Irvine) has struggled with a slow start in 2019 after reaching a career high ranking at this time last year. Hobbled by knee tendinitis, Donaldson saw his stock drop as the season wore on, and his first round match against qualifier Tatsuma Ito (Japan) will be an early test. Ito defeated #TeamSoCal’s JC Aragone yesterday to advance to the Main Draw. The winner between Donaldson and Ito meets Rafael Nadal next.
UCLA will have all eyes on its young alumni in the desert this week, with two former NCAA singles champions looking to entertain Bruin faithful at Indian Wells.
Mackenzie McDonald (Piedmont) is perched at his career high ATP #62 and is arguably enjoying the most successful 2019 campaign of any top ranked American. Aside from a quick exit in New York, “Mackie” has notched at least one win in every tournament he’s played this year. He reached the final of a Dallas Challenger event, made Marin Cilic nervous in R64 at the Australian Open, reached the semis in Delray Beach and the quarters in Acapulco last week. He’s got Joao Sousa of Portugal in round one, an opponent who started his 2019 campaign with an upset of Denis Shapovalov in Auckland.
And don’t forget qualifier Marcos Giron, who entertained the locals on Wednesday with a thrilling tiebreak victory. He’s in the mix on Thursday, facing Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.
THE DOUBLES OUTLOOK
Bob and Mike are back together! The perennial favorite Bryan Brothers (Camarillo) won their first ATP title way back in 2001, and first reached World #1 in ‘03. They are back at that pinnacle a whopping 16 years later, and in the winner’s circle yet again following a triumph in Delray Beach. Bob Bryan has returned from an injury that left him on the sideline while his brother Mike gathered titles at Wimbledon and the US Open alongside Jack Sock. Ironically, Sock is out with injury this week, and the Bryan Brothers are once again in the hunt for an Indian Wells title. They are the #4 seeds and meet Russians Khachanov/Medvedev in the first round.
Also on the doubles schedule, look for McDonald and his teammate Reilly Opekla, and a potentially powerful tandem of Querrey and John Isner, the top ranked American singles player.
THE WOMEN’S DRAW
If the qualifier is any indication, the women of #TeamSoCal may be saving their best for the US Open. We’re fine with that, of course, as we consider the big picture. But this week in Indian Wells, the hopes of locals have been dashed at nearly every turn.
With Coco Vandeweghe sidelined by injury and Kayla Day out of the mix, weight fell on the shoulders of names like Nicole Gibbs (Santa Monica) and Danielle Lao (Arcadia). Gibbs notched an early win before elimination, and Lao – along with Claire Liu and Ashley Kratzer – were met with early exits.
That doesn’t mean #TeamSoCal does not have its favorites. Both Venus and Serena Williams are back at Indian Wells again this year. While Serena enjoys a first round bye as the #10 seed (she meets Victoria Azarenka in round two), Venus has an opening round challenge at hand when she faces Andrea Petkovic on Thursday afternoon. The two have played high level tennis against each other in four career meetings, splitting the results (in fairness, Williams succumbed after only one game in their first career meeting at Melbourne in 2011). Venus, by the way, is one win away from a milestone 50th WTA title.
Serena Williams will seek another WTA title at The BNP, and if she is the last woman standing on St. Patrick’s Day next Sunday, she’ll have earned it in a bracket that includes names like Bertens, Muguruza, Azarenka, and Sloane Stephens.
Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion, is an adopted #TeamSoCal icon. The #4 seed has an opening round bye and meets Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland in the second round. It’s a chance for Stephens to show the maturing of her mettle – Voegele has won 3 of 4 meetings between the two, including Acapulco in 2018.
Asia Muhammad (Long Beach) and Kaitlyn Christian (Orange) got a jump start on the competition Wednesday, notching an opening round win for the duo over an accomplished #7 seed. The combination of Muhammad’s experience and Christian’s youthful exuberance will be put to the test by strong teams from Spain and Japan, among others. A three time WTA doubles champion who exemplifies perseverance, Muhammad notably competed in US Open main draw singles in 2018, a full decade after her previous appearance in 2008.
Sabrina Santamaria & Desirae Krawczyk had high hopes entering the doubles draw, but the dream was dashed by sisters Lyudmyla & Nadiia Kichenok, who knocked off the young #TeamSoCal upstarts. Santamaria (Los Angeles), former partner of Christian and fellow USC alum, reached #56 on the WTA doubles list last year, and will look to rebound as the year rolls on. Krawczyk, a Palm Desert native, continues to impress after reaching a career high #54 in January.
Sloane Stephens, alongside Eugenie Bouchard, was also eliminated in first round action.
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