Time for ‘Tennis Paradise’ — Who will take the BNP Paribas Open?

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, March 5, 2024

Howdy, y’all, and Happy Tennis Tuesday! The Sunshine Double is officially here with the start of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California! Known as both “Tennis Paradise” and “The Fifth Grand Slam,” the tournament revitalizes the tennis season after the post-Australian Open Swing — in my opinion.

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The draw was released and I’ll get to my predictions soon, but there’s a group of four players that are the heavy favorites to win. I feel like the last few Indian Wells have been pretty straightforward after so many years of shocking results. Looking at the draw, I expect a lot of the (top) seeds to hold up and honestly, possibly a lot of the lower half as well. I just ask that you not laugh if I’m literally 301587135% wrong.

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At the top is World No. 1 Iga Swiatek and I’m going to be honest here, my gut — don’t laugh when you see those predictions — says she won’t go far here even though she’s a former champion. The court surface in Indian Wells tends to be a bit slow and if she’s playing a night match when it’s cold? It can be a big game changer, especially if she faces off against Danielle Collins in the second round. That could be a fun blockbuster like their Melbourne showdown in January. Other than Collins, the only player that I can see taking her out is No. 10 Jelena Ostapenko, who did such at the US Open — even though Swiatek’s Melbourne upsetter, No. 26 Linda Noskova could await in the third round. The Latvian is having a standout year, placing fifth currently in the WTA’s Race rankings. A big hitter will be able to stop Swiatek and is there anyone with a bigger ground game than Ostapenko?

Next is reigning champion Elena Rybakina, who had to give a walkover in Dubai to Jasmine Paolini — someone she could face off in the fourth round. She’s had a solid 2024 campaign already, sitting at No. 2 in the Race with two titles and another runner-up finish. She has a pretty favorable draw to go deep in the second week, save for a potential second round matchup with 2021 champion, wildcard Paula Badosa. Still, Rybakina is among the WTA’s current “Big Three,” and it would take a massive upset to not at least pencil her in quarterfinals, at worst. The fourth eighth of the draw is where I think we’ll see a huge upset. No. 12 Beatriz Haddad Maia could find some form and outgrind a lot of the players in the section, but I just can’t see No. 6 Ons Jabeur holding up her end of the seeding. She was struggling mightily in the Middle East, crying through knee pain and is 10 days enough to get better? I don’t think so. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Marta Kostyuk — Nos. 10 and 11 in the Race, respectively — just had a fantastic tussle in the San Diego semifinals and I’m penciling a rematch in the fourth round.

The third quarter of the draw is highlighted by No. 3 Coco Gauff and Australian Open runner-up, No. 8 Zheng Qinwen. Former champions Victoria Azarenka and Naomi Osaka both find themselves in this section that I wouldn’t be surprised to have seeds get decimated, particularly in Gauff’s portion of the draw. Last year, No. 19 Sorana Cirstea had a great Sunshine Double, while players like Yuan Yue, Wang Xiyu and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova are all coming off of a strong week in Austin. Then there’s players like Sloane Stephens and No. 11 Daria Kasatkina, who can meet again after a fun three-setter Down Under. While Gauff is heavily favored by most to at least make the semi-finals, I’m most curious to see how Naomi Osaka will do. Indian Wells is the place she won her first WTA title in 2018 and began her meteoric rise to superstardom. Sure, her return from maternity leave hasn’t been the most ideal, but her taking wildcards into the Middle East tournaments shows how hungry and dedicated she is.

Lastly, the fourth quarter has Australian Open champion, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka leading the pack. The 2023 runner-up was knocked out in her Dubai opener by Donna Vekic, but she has a draw where she can play into some form if she needs to. She could face two Ukrainians in No. 30 Dayana Yastremska and No. 16 Elina Svitolina back-to-back, but No. 23 Emma Navarro continues to be a silent killer up the rankings and just reached the semi-finals last week in San Diego. This quarter also features No. 5 Jessica Pegula, another San Diego semifinalist and No. 9 Maria Sakkari. Those two could actually meet in the fourth round, which would be quite the matchup as Sakkari has picked up Pegula’s former coach, David Witt. Pegula has a potential second round match with a resurgent wildcard Karolina Pliskova, which could be a big upset in the making, too. Still, Sabalenka is ultimately the won to beat throughout the entire fortnight as she currently stands atop the Race podium.

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So, without further ado, my infamous predictions without qualifiers:

Round of 16
(1) Iga Swiatek def. (18) Madison Keys
(10) Jelena Ostapenko def. (6) Ons Jabeur
(4) Elena Rybakina def. (13) Jasmine Paolini
(22) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova def. (31) Marta Kostyuk
(8) Zheng Qinwen def. Sloane Stephens
(3) Coco Gauff def. Naomi Osaka
(5) Jessica Pegula def. (9) Maria Sakkari
(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (23) Emma Navarro

(1) Iga Swiatek def. (10) Jelena Ostapenko
(4) Elena Rybakina def. (22) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
(3) Coco Gauff def. (8) Zheng Qinwen
(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (5) Jessica Pegula

(4) Elena Rybakina def. (1) Iga Swiatek
(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (3) Coco Gauff

(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (4) Elena Rybakina

Onto links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

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Tweet of the Week

Get to know the legendary Peachy Kellmeyer. Fun fact, there’s a boardroom at the WTA headquarters named in her honor.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon