After decades of global warming, the mountains surrounding Indian Wells had been perilously close to becoming no-capped. But a recent cold spell in California, and in the Coachella Valley, has restored them to properly snow-capped – a welcome sight for all.
That beauty of the local topography was far from Rebecca Marino’s mind when she faced Marketa Vondrousova in a first-round match on Thursday in Stadium 4. The No. 75-ranked Marino had an 8-7 record for 2023 coming into the BNP Paribas Open and could easily have faced a lot of players less capable than the often-injured No. 105 Vondrousova, the 2019 Roland Garros finalist.
The match began with an odd symmetry – Vondrousova winning the first and third points with drop-shots and Marino responding each time with aces on the second and fourth points.
But the back-and-forth responses ended two points later when Marino dropped serve, hitting long with a forehand approach.
Things continued in a similar vein, with the 23-year-old Czech breaking again in the third game to lead 3-0, and eventually taking a 4-0 lead on her way to winning the opening set 6-2 in 35 minutes.
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Marino held to start the second set but then lost her serve to trail 2-1 and never really recovered. The final score was 6-2, 6-2.
Vondrousova is not a big-hitter but she is a lefty who places the ball well and also possesses an effective backhand slice. The slice on her serve to the ad court is deadly and the stats sheet shows that Marino, a redoubtable server herself, was not having it her way on this day. Vondrousova ended up with four aces to her two – as well as winning 86 per cent of first serve points to her 61 per cent.
Full credit to Vondrousova for a solid effort but Marino had an off-day, particularly with her usually potent forehand, and will now attempt to regroup before the Miami Open begins in two weeks.
In an evening first-round doubles match in front of a full-house in Stadium 4, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov proved too good for the scratch pairing of American Ben Shelton and Holger Rune of Denmark, winning 6-1, 6-3.
The Canadians broke serve in the fourth and sixth games of the opening set and generally played with more precision on the return as well as at the net. The second set was more of the same as the Canadian duo broke to 4-3, held serve and broke again to close out the match.
There was one dicey moment for the Davis Cup champions in the fourth game of the second set when Shapovalov double-faulted twice but managed to battle back from love-40 (four break points) to win the no-ad scoring game.
Shelton, a fast-rising 19-year-old, struggled throughout, missing volleys and fatefully letting a Shapovalov forehand go through the middle on break point at 3-all – only to watch as the ball landed in by three or four feet.
In the second round Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov will play Austrian Lucas Miedler and Cam Norrie of Great Britain.
After Thursday’s match Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime signed autographs and posed for selfies for courtside fans. Shapovalov left the court first while Auger-Aliassime hung around doing selfies and signed for another 10 minutes. That included getting surrounded (below) as he finally exited the court area and began to head down an exit path on his way to the Stadium 1 locker room.
In a women’s doubles first-round match, Leylah Fernandez combined with American Taylor Townend for a 6-4, 7-6(5) victory over the Taiwanese pairing of Chan Latisha and Chan Hao-Ching.
The Canadian-American duo had the vociferous backing of the Stadium 6 crowd and rebounded from a 5-4 deficit to close out the second-set tiebreak with Townsend scoring the final two points – a timely poach at the net and then an overhead put-away.
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“It was really fun,” said Townsend, who ranks No. 20 in doubles and No. 123 in singles, about the match. “It’s always tough sometimes when you have your first match and you’ve never played with each other. Everyone was pretty confident that we would play well and I think that it showed. They (Chan and Chan) are a really great team. We’re looking forward to Saturday.”
About the combination with Fernandez, the 26-year-old Townsend said, “I think our games complement each other.” With a little laugh, she added, “we’re both lefties. You don’t see that often, so I think it’s a huge advantage for us.”
In the second round, Fernandez and Townsend will likely face top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.
On Friday, No. 25-seeded Shapovalov will make his singles debut, playing against No. 77-ranked Ugo Humbert. They will be third match in Stadium 4 following an 11 p.m. start (2 p.m. ET Canada) with Shapovalov, 23, leading the head-to-head with the 24-year-old Frenchman 3-1. His three wins have come on clay – Madrid 2022, Rome 2020 and Lyon 2019. Humbert prevailed in their only hard-court match-up, in Auckland in 2020.