The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells is upon us, and this year’s event might look a little different thanks to the absence of some of the sport’s most tenured stars. On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic (vaccination status) and Rafael Nadal (leg injury) will not participate. In the women’s draw, Serena Williams (retired), Venus Williams (hamstring injury) and Naomi Osaka (pregnant)–each of whom has a checkered history with the event–will be absent.
But even with some established star power missing, the rise of a new generation of men’s and women’s stars promises to make for a compelling week and a half of head-to-head match-ups. Main draw singles play is already underway at Indian Wells, but things will really heat up once all the seeded players kick off their tournament in the second round.
With that in mind, here are some potential match-ups–from the second round through to the quarterfinals–we’re looking forward to over the course of the event:
Taylor Fritz, USA (4) vs Ben Shelton, USA / Fabio Fognini, ITA
Regardless of who emerges from Thursday’s first round encounter between Ben Shelton and Fabio Fognini, No. 4 seed Taylor Fritz will have an intriguing opponent as he begins his defense of the 2022 BNP Paribas Open championship. Shelton would offer a first-time all-American match-up between the current No. 1 US player and a highly-touted 20-year-old just two months removed from a fairy tale run to the Australian Open quarterfinals. Meanwhile, a match with Fognini would mean trying to stay focused against the charismatic and unpredictable Italian veteran.
Magda Linette, POL (20) vs Emma Raducanu, GBR
If Emma Raducanu is healthy and recovered from a recent bout of tonsillitis (and that’s a big “if”), then a second-round encounter with Poland’s Magda Linette would make for a fascinating showdown. Linette is still riding high from reaching her first career Grand Slam semifinal at this year’s Australian Open, while fans continue to wait for Raducanu to return to the heights of her 2021 US Open title win.
Other Second Round Possibilities: Pablo Carreno Busta (15) vs Andy Murray, Elena Rybakina (10) vs Sloane Stephens / Sofia Kenin
Hubert Hurkacz, POL (9) vs Tommy Paul, USA (17)
Few players on Tour are off to a better 2023 than Tommy Paul, who reached the final four at the Australian Open and is fresh off a run to the final in Acapulco. And yet, Hubert Hurkacz can claim one significant 2023 achievement that Paul cannot: a title. Hurkacz earned his sixth career championship in Marseille last month, whereas Paul continues to look to follow up his triumph at the 2021 Stockholm Open. The two men, born just three months apart, are closely aligned in the ATP Rankings and would be poised for a tight, close battle.
Iga Swiatek, POL (1) vs Bianca Andreescu, CAN (32)
Bianca Andreescu is healthy and active, but consistent results still elude the 2019 US Open champion. If she can outlast one of either American Peyton Stearns or Spain’s Rebeka Masarova in the second round, she will likely challenge the model of consistency in the women’s game: world No. 1 Iga Swiatek. Four years after a breakthrough performance here, Andreescu could go a long way in announcing that she’s back with a strong showing against Swiatek.
Other Third Round Possibilities: Andrey Rublev (6) vs Denis Shapovalov (25), Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs Donna Vekic (29)
Daniil Medvedev, RUS (5) vs Alexander Zverev, GER (12)
As you might expect from two long, talented ball strikers accustomed to venturing deep into tournaments, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev are already rather familiar with one another. The two have already played 12 Tour-level matches, with each winning six apiece. If they should both last through to the fourth round, they would meet for the first time since Zverev triumphed to claim the 2021 ATP Finals.
Ons Jabeur, TUN (4) vs Victoria Azarenka, BLR (14)
At 33 years of age, more than a decade since first reaching the No. 1 ranking and seven years into motherhood, Victoria Azarenka continues to play at a high level. The former two-time champion returns to Indian Wells riding high after reaching the Aussie Open semifinals, but would be in tough against the heavy-hitting Ons Jabeur. Jabeur isn’t off to the fastest start to 2023, but she also isn’t far removed from reaching consecutive Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open last year.
Other Fourth Round Possibilities: Andrey Rublev (6) vs Cameron Norrie (10), Coco Gauff (6) vs Belinda Bencic (9)
Carlos Alcaraz, ESP (1) vs Felix Auger-Aliassime, CAN (8)
A head-to-head battle between two of the game’s best all-court players and top young stars would be a dream match, although it has happened before. Interestingly, Felix Auger-Aliassime owns an unbeaten 3-0 career record against the top-seeded Carlos Alcaraz. You would imagine something has to give and Alcaraz will ultimately get one over on the speedy Canadian, but a match between the two should make for great tennis regardless.
Jessica Pegula, USA (3) vs Maria Sakkari, GRE (7)
It goes without saying that a match between the steady Jessica Pegula and the athletic, hard-hitting Maria Sakkari would be worth watching. Adding another layer of intrigue, however, is the fact that both women have opened themselves up to fans of late, albeit in very different ways. Pegula wrote a candid Player’s Tribune piece early last month on her mom’s cardiac arrest, while Sakkari has been one of the biggest stars in the Netflix docu-series, Break Point.
Other Quarterfinal Possibilities: Casper Ruud (3) vs Daniil Medvedev (5), Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs Coco Gauff (6)
Main Photo Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports