WTA’s expectations in Indian Wells After Serena Williams’ Withdrawal

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As I’m writing this article, the very first matches of Indian Well’s main draw are underway.
The beginning of Indian Wells, to me, is an amazing time of the year: it means that spring is finally coming, that days are getting longer, and that big tennis is back on stage, and is likely going to stay until at least the US Open–meaning that I’ll waste a lot of time watching matches instead of fulfilling my responsibilities, but that’s is another story…

What’s more, as an Italian tennis fan, Indian Wells will always have a piece of my heart, since I will never forget that gorgeous backhand down-the-line hit by Flavia Pennetta on match point against Li Na, to secure her spot in the final–which she eventually won–back in 2014!

This year, while on the men’s side entertainment is at its best, with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin Del Potro all in the same half of the draw, the women’s entry list is missing most of the best players.

Maria Sharapova is still banned; fortunately, little time is left until her comeback, which is going to happen in Stuttgart in less than two months.

Moreover, Victoria Azarenka, after her pregnancy, is yet to make her comeback on tour. Her last match was in Roland Garros last year against Italian Karin Knapp, a match that ended up with the Belarusian retiring in the decider. Though fans are getting used to Azarenka’s long absences from the tour, it’s still going to be a massive loss not to have the reigning champion playing and fighting on court. Last year, Azarenka displayed an amazing shape, managing to win Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back, confirming herself as the realest rival of Serena Williams, if not the very best player on tour.

Furthermore, Petra Kvitova isn’t going to be there, too. After the terrible accident she suffered at the end of last year, it’s still uncertain when her comeback is going to happen. Various rumors haave circulated about it, but no official statement has been released. Despite her usual ups and downs, the Czech is often a joy to watch–particularly, she displayed wonderful skills at the end of last season, winning Wuhan and Zhuhai, and expectations for this year were very high. The terrible aggression she suffered, however, showed life’s unpredictability at its best and its sadness. Every tennis fan is certainly looking forward to hear her “pojd” again!

Though sad, all of these three absences were predictable, and nobody was expecting any of these three ladies to compete in California.

The most unexpected and shocking one, then, is going to be Serena Williams’. Yesterday, i.e. one day before the beginning of the tournament, the American reigning Australian Open champion withdrew from the tournament, citing an ankle injury that is going to keep her far from Miami, too.

Without Serena Williams the field is open more than ever. Hopefully, by the end of the year we’ll be rewarded with a tournament with all these four players competing, something that’s been missing since last year’s Australian Open–which is one year and almost three months ago. As for now, is anybody else’s time to shine. The question, therefore, is whose time is it?

The first to be considered, obviously, is Angelique Kerber–at least for the fact that, after Serena’s withdrawal, she is going to claim the #1 spot again, after losing it to the American after the Australian Open. However, the beginning of her season has been nothing but disappointing, collecting early losses against players like Elina Svitolina, Daria Kasatkina, Coco Vandeweghe, surely tricky players but all whom Kerber should manage to overcome. However, with the field as open as I mentioned, Indian Wells could be the German’s chance to prove she is the still the same player able to win two Grand Slams in 2016, and that top ranking is fully deserved.

Karolina Pliskova’s 2017 has been, up to now, phenomenal. Triumphing in Sydney and Doha, the Czech has become one of the most challenging opponents one could face, displaying her usual power but also athleticism and good mental strength, both skills she recently improved with hard work.

Moreover, Caroline Wozniacki is definitely worth being mentioned. I’ve praised her unexpected resurgence after last year’s US Open several times, and this year’s results so far have been not bad at all. Ousted by Johanna Konta–another player you all should watch out for!–in Melbourne, she reached back-to-back finals in Doha and Dubai, where she eventually lost to Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina, respectively. Her game is there; her killer instinct, I think, is still a work in progress. It’s going to be entertaining to see if this big stage will stimulate her. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Caroline has already won this tournament, back in 2011, and reached the final on two other occasions.

Along with these three, several players do own a chance to perform well in the hot California desert. Garbine Muguruza, who struggled with consistency after her masterclass victory at Roland Garros last year; Agniezska Radwanska, whose recent performances haven’t been those expected from her; Simona Halep, back on court after her first round loss at the Australian Open; and Singapore’s champion Dominika Cibulkova, to mention the highest-ranked ones.

What’s more, there’s still the super in shape Elina Svitolina, who recently triumphed in Duabi, gifting, along with Lesia Tsurenko’s title in Acapulco, two heartwarming weeks for Ukrainian fans! Indian Wells, then, is going to be the stage for Madison Keys’ first appearance in 2017, and Venus Williams, despite her age, is still the finalist of this year’s Australian Open, and one couldn’t help having high expectations about her performance!

The point, therefore, is that with no Serena, no Kvitova, no Sharapova, no Azarenka, almost everyone has a big chance to make a great win and to claim the title. More entertaining? A big mess made of inconsistency? I do not now the answer.
As for now, have fun in following the tournament!

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