Women’s tennis does tend to be known for its unpredictability but will this be the case at Indian Wells?
Two months into the season and there has already been a string of fascinating stories ranging from Aryna Sabalenka winning her first Grand Slam title to Iga Swiatek storming to the Doha title by dropping five games in three matches played.
So what should tennis fans expect in Indian Wells? Here are five topics you should keep a close eye on.
1) Swiatek eyes title defence
In 2022 Iga Swiatek surged to the title by dropping only three sets in six matches played. Her triumph occurred in the middle of her 37-match winning streak. Since then, the Pole has added to her title tally by winning another seven tournaments, including the French Open for a second time and the US Open.
This year has been another solid start to the season for Swiatek who has won nine out of 11 matches played in WTA events (excluding the United Cup). Her only defeats were to Elena Rybakina in the fourth round of the Australian Open and to Barbora Krejcikova in the final of the Dubai Tennis Championships. She won the Qatar Open last month.
Should Swiatek prevail in Indian Wells once again she would become the first female player in over 30 years to successfully defend her title. The only person to have ever done so was Martina Navratilova who won the title in 1990 and 1991.
2) The return of Ons Jabeur
Ons Jabeur will be returning to action in the Californian desert but what form is she currently in?
The Tunisian hasn’t played since her second round exit at the Australian Open after opting to miss the Middle East swing of the Tour to have minor surgery. She is yet to publicly comment on the procedure and it is still unclear as to why she needed to have it.
After suffering a second round exit in Indian Wells last year, Jabeur has a golden opportunity to pick up some ranking points as she bids to one day fulfil her dream of becoming world No.1. As it currently stands, she is ranked fourth in the world and is more than 500 points behind Jessica Pegula who is above her.
Jabeur is in the second section of the draw and will open up her campaign against either Lauren Davis or Maryna Zanevska. She could then play Marie Bouzkova in the third round followed by former champion Victoria Azarenka.
3) Pegula, Gauff carrying home hopes
Over the past two decades, there have been plenty of American players who have impressed on the WTA Tour. However, the last time a home player won Indian Wells was 22 years ago when Serena Williams claimed the 2001 title.
World No.3 Pegula is the highest-ranked American in the draw and the last player from her country to win a WTA 1000 event which was the Guadalajara Open back in November. Remarkably it was 11 years ago when she made her main draw debut in Indian Wells after receiving a wild card into the qualifying draw where she won two matches. Since then, her best run at the tournament was to the quarter-finals in 2021.
French Open finalist Coco Gauff will be making her third appearance in the draw after reaching the last 32 on her two previous attempts. Gauff has already won one title this year which was at the ASB Classic and was also runner-up to Swiatek in Dubai last month.
There are two other American players seeded in the draw which are Madison Keys (19) and Amanda Anisimova (31).
4) All eyes are on Sabalenka
This time last year Sabalenka was struggling with her problematic serve and was frustrated with a lack of consistency in her tennis. However, she has turned a new leaf this season. After working with her coach and a data analytics expert on her serve, the Belarusian is one of the most consistent players on the Tour after winning 13 out of her past 14 matches. The only player to beat her was Krejcikova in Dubai.
The question is can she keep her run in fine form going? Sabalenka is yet to go beyond the fourth round of the tournament and lost her opening match to Jasmine Paolini last year. Although on the flip side, she could gain a hefty amount of points if she goes deep in the draw.
In Sabalenka’s section, she will take on either Alize Cornet or Evgeniya Rodina in her opening match. Then it is possible that she could face last week’s Monterrey Open champion Donna Vekic followed by a rematch with Krejcikova.
5) Caroline Garcia’s recent frustrations
The last time Caroline Garcia played a tournament in America she won the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals last November. Since then, the Frenchwoman has experienced a somewhat frustrating journey on the Tour.
She has reached the quarter-final stage or better at four out of her past six tournaments, as well as reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open. Twice she has come close to claiming silverware. In Lyon, she was defeated in the final by Alicia Parks who many are tipping to be the next big thing in American tennis. More recently, in Monterrey, she narrowly missed out on the trophy after losing to Vekic in three sets. In the decider, Garcia had eight break point chances but didn’t convert any.
“Terribly tired, physically and mentally, leaving to the airport in 6h but I can’t fall asleep, I am “afraid” to go to sleep. My mind is going crazy,” Garcia wrote on her Instagram story after losing to Vekic.
“Every time I switch off the lights and put my head on the pillow, I can rewatch my match – that serve catching the lines on break point or that easy forehand missed or that bad choice …Tennis can drive you crazy a little bit.”
Historically Garcia has reached the fourth round in Indian Wells on three separate occasions. However, overall she has won only nine matches out of 17 played in the main draw of the tournament.
Could this year be her year?
The full women’s draw can be viewed HERE.
Iga Swiatek Criticises WTA’s Reform Of 2024 Calendar
Iga Swiatek has hit out at the WTA by claiming that only a handful of players were made aware of changes being made to the Tour calendar before they came into effect.
In recent weeks there has been an increase in frustration among players on the women’s Tour with letters being sent to the head of the WTA, Steve Simon, about their concerns. Swiatek has also sent her own letter to the governing body. According to The Athletic, some of the concerns that have been raised relates to higher pay on the Tour, adjustments to scheduling to help support players, expanded childcare and calls for a member of the PTPA to be present on the WTA Player’s Council.
The WTA has also been in the firing line concerning their management of the Tour finals which took place in Cancun last month and was won by Switek. Some of those who took part complained about the court conditions and lack of preparation they had. The stadium court wasn’t fully constructed until the same weekend the tournament began.
Although, for the world No.1 her principle criticism concerns the 2024 calendar and the rules in place reagrding playing in mandatory events. Swiatek says some of the decisions have been made following discussions with ‘third parties’ and believes players are not being listened to.
“There is room for improvement,” she said during an interview with newspaper Rzeczpospolita.
“As players, we are dissatisfied with the calendar for next year and the increase in the number of mandatory tournaments and restrictions related to withdrawing from them.’
“We want to change this. We need more balance and time to get back home. Sometimes, however, we beat our heads against the wall. Some decisions seem to be the result of promises made to third parties, federations and tournament organizers.’
“We find out about them after the fact. This causes frustration. Only a handful of players were aware of the calendar reform and the WTA cannot lead to such a situation again, since it considers itself an organization created for tennis players.”
The 22-year-old argues that these changes would give players more time to rest and see their families. Although Swiatek admits that she is in a more fortunate situation than some of her peers from a financial perspective. This season the Pole has earned $9,857,686 in prize money this year which is more than any other female player.
“I hope that we will be able to change something – for example in the rules regarding withdrawing from tournaments,” she continued.
“Fortunately, I am in a situation where I can afford for my family to go on a trip with me, but not everyone can afford it. Many players rather save all their money to pay their coaches.’
“However, there is a difference between taking your family with you and returning home, when you can wash your clothes and spend time in the place where you grew up. I often miss Warsaw.”
Swiatek has won 68 out of 79 matches played this season, claiming six titles on the Tour. In the Grand Slams, she won the French Open, and reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the other two. She currently has a 245-point lead over second-place Aryna Sabalenka in the WTA standings.
‘A Long Way to Go’ – Iga Swiatek Must Improve A Key Element Of Her Game, Says Navratilova
Martina Navratilova has hailed Iga Swiatek’s winning end to her season but believes the Pole needs to continue working on a certain aspect of her game to become a better player.
Swiatek reclaimed the world No.1 ranking during the WTA Finals where she clinched the year-end title in Mexico. She closes out the year on an 11-match winning streak after also winning the China Open before playing at the WTA Finals. Overall, she has reached the semi-finals or better at 12 out of 17 Tour events played and has won 68 out of 79 matches during 2023. In the Grand Slams, she won the French Open, reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the other two.
Now sitting at the top of the WTA rankings with a 245-point lead over second place Aryna Sabalenka, Swiatek has begun her off-season which is the period that players normally use to work on their game.
As to what she needs to work on, Navratilova believes a key issue for the four-time Grand Slam champion involves her volleying technique. Speaking to wtatennis.com, Navratilova says there is ‘still a long way to go’ for the former world No.1 but adds that she will become a more formidable player on the Tour if she makes improvements.
“The thing I’d target is getting to the net. I mean, she’s gotten better but there’s still a long way to go on the volley front, particularly that first volley — the transition volley, which is probably the most difficult shot in the game,” said Navratilova.
“I think that’s where she can improve the most. Iga still has a tendency to run back to the baseline when she really should be going forward. And if she gets that going? Watch out. She can still get a few more mph on her serve, too. The groundstrokes are solid as a rock. And the drop shot — I think she had something like two drop shots all year. When she adds that and uses it at the right time — because with her topspin she really pushes people back behind the baseline — she’ll be even more deadly.”
Continuing her analysis, the 67-year-old believes Swiatek can also increase the speed of her serves even more.
“She can still get a few more mph on her serve, too. The groundstrokes are solid as a rock. And the drop shot — I think she had something like two drop shots all year. When she adds that and uses it at the right time — because with her topspin she really pushes people back behind the baseline — she’ll be even more deadly.” She added.
Navratilova has also highlighted areas that she believes other players need to work on. In her view, Sabalenka’s goal should be to work more on her movement during matches. Meanwhile, for US Open champion Coco Gauff, the development of her forehand will play an important part in her game.
Swiatek ends the season with five WTA titles to her name.
Naomi Osaka Eager To Reclaim No.1 Spot, Says Coach
Naomi Osaka is targeting a return to the very top of the women’s game when she begins her comeback, according to a member of her team.
Performance coach Florian Zitzelsberger has told tennis.com that the four-time Grand Slam champion is ‘balanced and happy’ with herself after taking time away from the sport to give birth to her first child, a baby girl called Shai. The 26-year-old hasn’t played a competitive match on the Tour since the 2022 Pan Pacific Open and currently doesn’t have a ranking due to her inactivity. She has already confirmed her intention to resume her tennis career in 2024 but it is still unclear as to what her first tournament will be.
Providing a glimpse into Osaka’s current progress, Zitzelsberger says she is setting her sights on chasing after more Grand Slam titles. Zitzelsberger is the co-founder of Integralis Physiotherapie and has worked with Osaka in the past. He has also collaborated with the likes of Kevin Anderson, Julia Goerges and Petra Kvitova.
“Where she is today is what makes working with her so inspiring,” he said. “She wants to get back to world No. 1, she wants to win Grand Slams. She gives me the impression of someone who is totally balanced and happy with herself. She’s very much grounded, mature and embracing the beauty of motherhood.”
In recent months there has been a growing trend of players returning to the sport after giving birth. Notable examples include Victoria Azarenka, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki.
Zitzelsberger says his recent work with Osaka has been getting her back into shape and then working on certain areas of her game.
“To reach the highest performance, we start by returning stability within the kinetic chain, which is typically lost somewhat during pregnancy and birth. The kinetic chain runs through the core, stomach and belly, and for a long time, her chain wasn’t playing tennis; it was growing a baby!” He explains.
“Once that base is attained, we work on specific movement skills, whether that’s acceleration or deceleration, change of direction. The main objective is always strengthening to make the body strong, in addition to improving conditioning and mobility.”
Part of the training process has been trying to change what type of player Osaka is to adapt to the current level of the women’s Tour. After winning the 2021 Australian Open, she only reached one more Tour final which was the following year in Miami. During this period, she struggled with some injury issues and has been open about her experiences with mental health.
“She’s obviously a great offense player, but I think things have changed in the game over the last half-decade where defense is getting more and more important,” Zitzelsberger commented.
“We’re working to make Naomi into a player who can transition more effectively from defense to offense. That way, even if she’s getting pushed into a defensive position, she can still strike an offensive shot.”
Osaka has won seven WTA titles so far in her career and has earned more than $21M in prize money.
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