Over the next two days, 48 players will battle for 12 main draw spots in the 2023 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. It’s going to be as competitive and brutal as it gets. Who are some of the players that are either expected to do very well or are interesting because of the storylines they’re part of?
Players to Watch in Indian Wells Qualifying
Young American talents
One of the most promising up-and-comers of the past few weeks has been Alex Michelsen, who finished runner-up at a Challenger in Rome, before reaching the semifinals in Waco. The 18-year-old is committed to play for the University of Georgia in the fall, but if he keeps developing at this rapid pace, he’ll have some tough decisions to make in the few months. In his last two events, the only players who managed to take him out (Jordan Thompson and Alexandre Muller) were able to expose his rally tolerance and grind him down. The 2022 Wimbledon boys’ doubles champion can potentially face Muller in round two here again.
Learner Tien found himself in one of the weaker sections, but it remains to be seen if the 17-year-old is already at a stage where he would be capable of getting a big result in an event like that. The youngster finished runner-up at the Australian Open juniors earlier this year and took a set off Miomir Kecmanovic at the US Open. He’s a great prospect and it’s going to be exciting to see if players like Cristian Garin or Joao Sousa/Filip Misolic are already in his range. Watch out for Zachary Svajda too as the 20-year-old is now becoming a more consistent factor in ATP Challenger Tour events.
On the verge of top 100 debuts
Multiple players could potentially break the Top 100 after Indian Wells if they managed to qualify and win a few rounds in the main draw. Christopher Eubanks has been extremely close for a while now, but he’s defending a second-round appearance from last year and will have to top that achievement to have a shot. His section looks pretty open and seeing as he’s done well at this event in the past, he should have a great chance to make it to the main draw again. Francesco Passaro and Matteo Arnaldi played that phenomenal five-setter at the NextGen Finals in 2022 and while they’re both more dangerous on clay, they’re slowly starting to amass hard-court results as well.
Yosuke Watanuki is 10/3 for the year and simply looks like an ATP Tour player at the moment. The Japanese is a phenomenal ball striker who takes the ball so early and puts plenty of pressure on the opponent. He was placed in a heavily Asian section with out-of-form Zhizhen Zhang and Juncheng Shang coming back from an injury. If he manages to convert, this could even be his breakout tournament. A bit further down in the rankings is the 21-year-old Swiss Leandro Riedi, who has only played one event since the Australian Open (took a set off eventual champion Hubert Hurkacz in Marseille). Not unlike Watanuki, the youngster never really gives his opposition any breathing space.
Despite getting crushed by Holger Rune in Acapulco, Nuno Borges must be feeling good about himself after capturing a Challenger title in Monterrey. As luck would have it, the Portuguese could play his final opponent from that event, Borna Gojo, in the deciding match here. Borges beat his big-serving rival in altitude conditions and would probably be a bit more likely to do it on a rather high-bouncing slower hard court.
Christopher O’Connell looked phenomenal in Doha and Dubai, going down to just Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev. Still, over the course of the Russian’s 14-match win streak, he was the one who came closest to taking out the former World No. 1 (lost 5-7 in the third). If O’Connell had enough time to drop the jet lag after flying over to the States, he should be a real threat in this event as well. His section looks quite soft, although he could face the California native Steve Johnson or the aforementioned Svajda in the final round.
It seems like this year, Thanasi Kokkinakis will actually translate his form Down Under to other locations. The Australian picked up a Challenger 125 title in Manama a few weeks ago, before losing in three tight sets to Borna Coric in the second round at Dubai. No one needs to be convinced about the sort of danger that the 26-year-old presents when he’s healthy over an extended period of time. But first, Kokkinakis has to take revenge over Yuichi Sugita (who beat him at the US Open two years ago) and fend off what could be a rough challenge from Arnaldi or the resurgent Lloyd Harris.
Main Photo Credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports