Indian Wells: The Fifth Slam

Such is the popularity and prestige of this fortnight’s big tournament that it is often dubbed “The Fifth Slam” by tennis fans. The BNP Paribas Open – more casually known as Indian Wells after its location in the Californian desert town – boasts some impressive stats to justify this nickname.  The Indian Wells Tennis Garden includes the second largest tennis-specific stadium in the world, which, along with the complex’s 19 other hard courts, allow more than 300,000 spectators to watch 96 of the world’s best players under the California sun.

As an ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier Mandatory tournament, Indian Wells is a compulsory part of the season for uninjured top-ranked players (despite the controversial boycott of the Williams sisters since 2001) so it’s guaranteed to be a good one.  But what’s been happening so far at this year’s event?  Here’s a quick round-up.

THE HOT SHOTS

As it is a mandatory tournament, Indian Wells sees all of the biggest players battling for the title, provided they are well and not named Williams. 

All of the top 10 men are in action, headed by #1 seed Rafael Nadal playing in his first ATP tournament since the Australian Open.  He looks in good shape to claim his third title here, though here are plenty of challengers in his way.  Aside from the usual threat of Federer, Djokovic and Soderling, the resurgent Juan Martin Del Potro has already dispatched last year’s surprise champion Ivan Ljubicic, while a self-assured Andy Roddick might fancy another American victory after his triumph in Memphis last month.

Of the women, top seed Caroline Wozniacki will want to go one better than last year and win Indian Wells for the first time, having got off to a flying start.  Also confident will be 2009 champion Vera Zvonareva, who beat Wozniacki in Doha last month, and the ever-formidable Kim Clijsters.  However, given the year she’s had so far, it’s pretty unlikely that Jelena Jankovic will become the first female to win the tournament two years in a row since Martina Navratilova.

THE LONG SHOTS

While Indian Wells is a premier tournament, the surrounding pressure is still less than at a Slam, meaning some wildcards might take more confidence into their matches.

With no less than 11 entrants in the men’s draw, the Americans will be hoping that home advantage instils some fighting spirit into some of their younger players.  So far so good, with only two having lost so far, and Ryan Sweeting, Sam Querrey and Donald Young all progressing to round three.  But in truth, the two wildcards to watch are the non-Americans; Canada’s Milos Raonic and Australia’s Bernard Tomic, who are both more than capable of causing upsets.

Carrying the torch for the women’s wildcards is New Jersey’s Christina McHale, who is in fact the only wildcard – and indeed the only American woman – left in the draw.  Other surprise packages could come from Urszula Radwanska, who could face ninth-seeded big sister Agnieszka in the fourth round, and former world #1 Dinara Safina, whose apparent new-found confidence is almost as surprising as her monumental collapse over the past two years.

THE DROP SHOTS

It wouldn’t be tennis without an upset or two, and even in the first few days Indian Wells has not been short of shocks.

The biggest of all, perhaps not surprisingly, came on Saturday when hapless Andy Murray was bundled out by American upstart Donald Young 7-6(4) 6-3.  The world #5 has still not won a singles match since he lost the Australian Open final and appears to be repeating last year’s spring slump.  Perhaps more surprising was David Ferrer’s exit to the same scoreline at the hands of Ivo Karlovic.

Not to be outdone, the women’s Australian Open runner-up also bowed out early at Indian Wells, as China’s Li Na succumbed in three sets to compatriot Peng Shuai in the second round.  Also sent packing early on was serial bungler Svetlana Kuznetsova, the two-time Grand Slam champ losing to wildcard Christina McHale; and prospect Petra Kvitova who, now that she is expected to win is, ironically, losing.

With both singles finals scheduled for next Sunday, come back next week for a review of The Fifth Slam in full! 

Martin McGale

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