There’s no grander tournament on the yearly tennis schedule – outside of the four Grand Slams – than this week’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.
Last year’s event attracted 438,000 spectators and there’s a good chance that record will be broken in 2017 if the crowd (above) which gathered for Tuesday’s men’s draw ceremony is any example.
The tournament’s stature is helped in no small measure these days by the largesse of its owner, billionaire Larry Ellison, the executive chairman of Oracle Corporation.
Staged on 54 acres of beautifully landscaped greenery, the BNP Paribas Open is almost always bathed in the sunshine of the Coachella Valley in the so-called California Desert. An example of just how every single detail is taken care of are the 19,000 square feet of shade structures provided for fans for protection from UV rays and the very occasional rainfall.
Every effort is made to cater to the players, with the most obvious example being the Hawk-Eye electronic review technology. Indian Wells is the only tournament worldwide where it is used on all the competition courts for both main-draw and qualifying matches.
This year, the tournament is run by Tommy Haas, who probably has the best career ranking – No. 2 in 2002 – of anybody who has been tournament director of a major event.
But Haas’s debut tournament suffered a major blow on Tuesday when top women’s seed Serena Williams pulled out with a knee injury. Taking her place in the top spot is transplanted No. 9 seed Madison Keys who is playing her first tournament since left wrist surgery last December. She is in the same half with No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber and No. 4 Simona Halep, which seems a little discombobulated.
But that’s nothing compared to the men’s draw which offers up some early-round bombshell match-ups the likes of which may never have been seen before.
How’s this for a potential round-of-16 collision – No. 6 seed Rafael Nadal vs. No. 9 Roger Federer. As a result, one of the two greatest players of their generation – and the finalists from the 2017 Australian Open – is going to have a short stay in the desert.
Not quite as startling but one round earlier in the third round, there could be a Novak Djokovic – Juan Martin del Potro head-to-head, which would follow on their match-ups in the first round of the Rio Olympics (won by del Potro) and the second round in Acapulco last week won by Djokovic.
In the qualifying event, Vasek Pospisil reached the second round with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over American wild card No. 193-ranked Mitchell Krueger on Tuesday. He will now play the winner of the all-American match-up of No. 93 Jared Donaldson vs. No. 179 Rajeev Ram.
Peter Polansky, who qualified in 2016 and then lost 7-6(4), 6-3 to Fernando Verdasco, played his opening round qualifying match later on Tuesday against Swede Elias Ymer. The promising 20-year-old Swede ranks No. 158.
NO MILOS IN 2017
One of the first things players and other credentialed workers see when arriving at this year’s tournament is the above wall just outside the grounds with Milos Raonic front and centre.
The current world No. 4 is not playing this year, withdrawing on Monday with the right hamstring injury that forced him to default the final of the Delray Beach tournament two weeks ago.
A year ago Raonic reached the final and lost to Novak Djokovic, earning him 600 ranking points. His absence this year means his current No. 4 spot will drop to No. 5 with Kei Nishikori overtaking him. Raonic could fall to No. 6, but only if current No. 6, Rafael Nadal, reaches the final.
FOR ROGER & GENIE FANS
There was consternation among supporters of Roger Federer and Genie Bouchard last week when both suffered surprising defeats – Federer lost 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(5) to No. 116-ranked Evgeny Donskoy in the second round in Dubai while Bouchard exited the Acapulco event 7-6(4), 6-1 in the first round to Ajla Tomljanovic, who had no ranking after 13 months off the tour with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
The Federer loss was particularly unusual because he had three match points in the second set after leading the tiebreak 6-4 and then lost six points in a row in the third-set tiebreak after being ahead 5-1. “I had my chances,” he said later. “I should somehow close it out. Don’t know how it got away but he did very well. Yeah, it’s a rough one for sure.”
Before his loyal followers press the panic button, the great Swiss losing after reaching match point is not without precedent. In 2010, remarkably, he lost four matches after holding match point or points:
Indian Wells R32: Lost to Marcos Baghdatis 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(4) – 3 MPs.
Miami R16: Lost to Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-7(3), 7-6(6) – 1 MP.
US Open SF: Lost to Novak Djokovic 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 – 2 MPs.
Paris (Indoor): Lost to Gael Monfils 7-6(7), 6-7(1), 7-6(4) – 5MPs.
So this has happened before and he has survived to go on and have more success.
The only thing that might be a concern for the Federer faithful is that in that fateful 2010, as with 2017, he won the Australian Open. But he then proceeded to not reach the final of any Grand Slam for the rest of the year.
How could Genie Bouchard loses to Tomljanovic when the 23-year-old Croat was returning after such a long absence and using an injury-protected ranking of No. 75 (her career high was No. 47 in 2015)?
It’s difficult to comment without having seen the match but Bouchard did pull out of her subsequent doubles match with an abdominal strain.
That could have been a factor but regardless it’s probably best to remember that it was her first match in 39 days following a third-round 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 loss at the Australian Open to the red-hot Coco Vandeweghe after leading 4-2 in the final set.
It’s worth noting that following Bouchard’s last significant period of inactivity – including only five matches (1-4) from the US Open until the end of the 2016 season – she played in Brisbane in January and lost her first match to No. 59-ranked Shelby Rogers 6-2, 2-6, 6-1. But the following week in Sydney she was a different player and beat No. 23 Zhang Shuai, No. 6 Dominika Cibulkova and No. 27 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova before losing 6-2, 6-2 in the semi-finals to the eventual champion, an in-form No. 10 Johanna Konta.
The loss to Rogers in Brisbane didn’t seem to affect Bouchard less than a week later in Sydney, so the upcoming tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami could well show whether the loss to Tomljanovic has any lasting effect.
At this week’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Bouchard will face No. 61-ranked Annika Beck of Germany in the first round. The 23-year-old German is nine days older than Bouchard (Feb. 16 to Feb. 25) and the two have split previous meetings – Beck winning 6-1, 6-4 in Dubai in 2014 and Bouchard prevailing 6-2, 6-1 last year in New Haven. A possible second-round opponent for Bouchard, now ranked No. 53, would be No. 26 Kristina Mladenovic.
Denis Shapovalov won the fourth ITF Futures event of his young career when he defeated Gleb Sakharov of France 6-2, 6-4 in the final of the $25,000 Gatineau Futures event on Sunday.
The 17-year-old (until April 15th) from Richmond Hill, Ont., is ranked No. 253 but should get a bump up to about No. 230 when the 27 points he earned are included in next week’s ATP rankings.
This week, as he was in Gatineau, Shapovalov is seeded No. 2 seed as he plays the $25,000 Futures tournament in Sherbrooke, Que.
Other Canadians in the field include Félix Auger-Aliassime, Filip Peliwo, Philip Bester and Brayden Schnur.
During a week that featured a 20-18 tiebreak when Andy Murray overcame Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-7(4), 7-6(18), 6-1 at the ATP 500 event in Dubai, Adil Shamasdin of Pickering, Ont., and Andrei Vasilevski of Belarus outdid the world No. 1 singles player with their result in the final of the 85,000 euro ($120,600 Can) Challenger event in Wroclaw, Poland. Seeded No. 4, Shamasdin and Vasilevski beat third-seeded Mikhail Elgin of Russia and Denys Molchanov of Ukraine by the amazing score of 6-3, 3-6, [21-19].
It was a good week for Shamasdin as he and Vasilevski defeated Austrians Julian Knowle (his partner the previous week when he won in the Challenger title in Bergamo, Italy) and Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 5-7, [10-8] in the quarter-finals and Rameez Junaid (also a former partner) of Australia and Luca Margaroli of Switzerland 6-2, 7-6(4) in the semi-finals.
It was the 17th Challenger doubles title for the 34-year-old Shamasdin in a career that dates back to turning pro in 2001.
COMING TO A COURT NEAR YOU
Kudos to Serena Williams for having a little fun and making these guys’ day (night).