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Indian Wells: US champs Raducanu and Medvedev back in action

  • Matt Trollope

Indian Wells this week returns to the tennis calendar after an absence of more than two-and-a-half years.

The popular tournament, despite some high-profile withdrawals, has nevertheless attracted a star-studded playing field. 

We take a look at what could unfold over the next fortnight in the Californian desert.

Biggest storylines

Raducanu back in action: The US Open champion will play for the first time since her breakthrough at Flushing Meadows. But this time, the British teenager will have a far bigger spotlight on her than when she began her US Open campaign as a 150th-ranked qualifier. The 17th seed enters Indian Wells riding a wave of momentum as a winner of 18 of her past 20 matches, and, after a first-round bye, opens against either Maria Camila Osorio Serrano or Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

"Little Three" headline men's draw: In the absence of world No.1 Novak Djokovic, and with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal still sidelined with injury, Indian Wells is missing the ATP's "Big Three". It is the tour's unofficial "Little Three" of Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev who are the top three seeds, and all are in excellent form. Medvedev arrives as the reigning US Open champion on a seven-match winning streak while Olympic champion Zverev has won 16 of his past 17 matches. Tsitsipas, a Roland Garros finalist this year, has won a tour-leading 50 matches in 2021.

DRAW: Indian Wells men's singles

Andreescu returns to site of breakthrough: It was at Indian Wells in 2019 where Bianca Andreescu announced herself as a future superstar when she beat a slew of impressive opponents to win the title as a wildcard ranked No.60. Later that year she won the Toronto and US Open titles, results that helped her crack the top five. The defending champion, who since that stellar 2019 season has suffered a litany of injuries, is back in the desert as the 16th seed.

Murray, Clijsters score wildcards: Adding star power to the draws are multiple major champions Andy Murray and Kim Clijsters. Murray, appearing finally healthy again after years of physical battles, is searching for momentum after winning back-to-back matches just twice at tour level this season; he faces France's Adrian Mannarino for a shot at No.30 seed Carlos Alcaraz. Clijsters, meanwhile, is seeking her first match win since returning to tennis in February 2020, losing her lone outing of 2021 just last week in Chicago to Hsieh Su-Wei. She has drawn tricky Czech Katerina Siniakova in round one.

DRAW: Indian Wells women's singles

Race for the Finals: With the WTA and ATP Finals just over a month away, strong performances at Indian Wells could help determine who qualifies for the eight-player fields. Ash Barty, Aryna Sabalenka, Barbora Krejcikova and Karolina Pliskova have already qualified for the WTA season-ender, with Maria Sakkari, Garbine Muguruza and Iga Swiatek next in line. But with just 700 points separating 8th from 20th in the race, there will be plenty of competition for spots in Guadalajara. Only Djokovic, Medvedev and Tsitsipas have secured their places at the ATP finale, with Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini and Casper Ruud on the cusp of joining them in Turin. Hurbert Hurkacz, Jannik Sinner and Felix Auger-Aliassime also remain in contention.

Background brief 

Widely considered the "fifth major", Indian Wells is one of the sport's most prestigious events.

It spans almost two weeks and features 96-player men's and women's singles draws, with the 32 seeds all receiving first-round byes. The event also attracts the largest crowds outside of the Grand Slam tournaments, with more than 475,000 fans attending in 2019.

It is typically played in March each year, but in 2020 it became the first tennis tournament to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year was rescheduled to October for the same reason.

As a result, it has been 932 days since professional tennis featured at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. 

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Early-round clashes we could see

2R: [10] Angelique Kerber v [WC] Kim Clijsters
Clijsters is 0-4 since her comeback last year, losing her three matches in 2020 and last week in Chicago to Hsieh. Should she get past Siniakova, three-time major champion Kerber awaits in what would be a battle of WTA superstars. 

2R: [30] Carlos Alcaraz v [WC] Andy Murray
Spanish 18-year-old Alcaraz finds himself seeded thanks to his recent quarterfinal run at the US Open, and has risen more than 100 ranking places this year after winning almost 40 matches. Should he play Murray, who must first beat Mannarino, Alcaraz would be facing a player almost twice his age. 

2R: [7] Felix Auger-Aliassime v Lorenzo Musetti
This would be a stylish match-up between US Open semifinalist Auger-Aliassime and Musetti, who dazzled fans with his shot-making en route to the fourth round at Roland Garros, where he led Djokovic by two sets to love before fading. Musetti opens against Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

3R: [16] Bianca Andreescu v [18] Anett Kontaveit
It's a tough path for defending champion Andreescu; should she successfully navigate her second-round match against either Alison Riske or a qualifier, she could meet the surging Kontaveit, a winner of recent titles in Cleveland and Ostrava and 13 of her last 14 matches.

3R: [9] Denis Shapovalov v [19] Aslan Karatsev
This would mark a big-hitting battle between the Wimbledon and Australian Open semifinalists, who both have an outside chance of qualifying for Turin given they are 15th and 12th respectively in the race standings. 

3R: [7] Petra Kvitova v [27] Victoria Azarenka
Ten years ago this match-up was a Wimbledon semifinal and WTA Championships final in Istanbul, and it remains a blockbuster clash on the women's tour given both are two-time major champions. Azarenka will be wary of her second-round opponent; it is either Rebecca Peterson or Magda Linette, both players in impressive form. 

3R: [11] Simona Halep v [17] Emma Raducanu 
In the same segment of the draw as the potential Kvitova-Azarenka clash is this one between Halep and Raducanu. Raducanu, a wildcard entry despite her high ranking, has never before faced a top-10 player, and while Halep just recently slipped outside this elite group, the two-time major winner would be the highest-calibre opponent the young Brit has ever faced.

4R: [5] Matteo Berrettini v [10] Jannik Sinner
Lots of results have to play out before this match-up eventuates, but it would be a treat to see the top two Italians clash. Should the seedings hold, Wimbledon finalist Berrettini would have to get past 31st seed Taylor Fritz in round three while Sinner, last week's Sofia champion who has won three titles in 2021, would need to work his way past 20th seed John Isner at the same stage.

Projected quarterfinals

[1] Karolina Pliskova v [6] Maria Sakkari
[3] Barbora Krejcikova v [5] Garbine Muguruza
[7] Petra Kvitova v [4] Elina Svitolina
[8] Belinda Bencic v [2] Iga Świątek

[1] Daniil Medvedev v [8] Hubert Hurkacz
[4] Andrey Rublev v [6] Casper Ruud
[5] Matteo Berrettini v [3] Alexander Zverev
[7] Felix Auger-Aliassime v [2] Stefanos Tsitsipas