The first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2014 begins on Wednesday with a strong field that as usual, is lacking the Williams sisters. The draw looks wide open with Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska the top two seeds. Note that the 32 seeds all have byes into the second round and will begin their campaigns on Friday and Saturday. Please do vote in the poll below for who you think will win Indian Wells!
On Monday, the tennis journalist, Matt Cronin announced he was taking a break from the tour to have surgery on a brain tumour. Matt is one of the best tennis tweeters and I am sure I am not alone in wishing him all the best and a very speedy recovery.
FIRST QUARTER: Li Na (1) v P.Kvitova (8)
The Australian Open champion, Li Na sits pretty at the top of the 2014 Indian Wells draw. Since winning her second Grand Slam down under in Melbourne, Li has made just one appearance on the WTA tour reaching the 3rd round in Doha, falling in three sets to Petra Cetkovska. Li will open her campaign against fellow countrywoman, Zheng Jie or Paula Ormaechea. There are some dangerous players within this section but on the whole, Li has a favourable draw. Perhaps the most dangerous of all could come in the form of Klara Zakopalova in the third round. Since Australia, the Czech player has competed in an exhausting 17 singles matches on a variety of surfaces over different continents. This included winning a title in Florianopolis, a first since 2005, which has seen her jump up to number 9 in the Road to Singapore. Zakopalova is in-form, but also likely to be shattered from her recent exploits.
Petra Kvitova hasn’t begun 2014 with the same optimism that came from a positive off-season working on her fitness and movement. An early exit in Melbourne and illnesses along the way have stunted her progress, and this Indian Wells-Miami double is never normally her most profitable time on tour. Ideally, Kvitova should make at least the 16. Svetlana Kuznetsova could await in round three, but her season has been affected by injury and she is the type of player, who often struggles after several weeks off tour. Australian Open finalist, Dominika Cibulkova will fancy her chances of going deep in the draw with confidence and spirits buoyed after winning Acapulco last week. Her path could cross Ekaterina Makarova in the third round, another player who has been playing well in 2014. However Makarova has never made it past the second round of Indian Wells and is 0-2 against Cibulkova.
1st Round Predictions: Zheng to beat Ormaechea in 2 tight sets, Garcia to beat Mattek-Sands in 3 sets, Wozniak to beat U.Radwanska in 3 sets and Niculescu to beat Erakovic in 2 sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Li v Cibulkova
SECOND QUARTER: M.Sharapova (4) v A.Kerber (5)
Maria Sharapova returns to the desert as the defending champion after defeating Caroline Wozniacki in last year’s final. Her start to 2014 hasn’t been anything special although there seem to be no ill effects on the right shoulder that forced her out for several months at the end of 2013. Her first match of the tournament will be against Jana Cepelova or Julia Goerges. The seeds awaiting in her section are Sorana Cirstea, Flavia Pennetta and Sam Stosur. Pennetta is a name to keep an eye on; her form has fluctuated wildly this year, but there has been plenty of promise with wins over Angelique Kerber (Melbourne, R4) and Agnieszka Radwanska (Dubai, R1). Opening against Karin Knapp or wildcard, Taylor Townsend, the rising Italian should prevail and move on to at least the last 16 where she could meet Sharapova, a player she has beaten twice before.
Angelique Kerber has been one of the most consistent players so far in 2014 reaching two Premier finals in Sydney and Doha. However it is the losses that have characterised her season and she has a 1-4 W-L record in three set matches in 2014. Her draw in Indian Wells looks on the face of it, to be rather tricky. Garbine Muguruza is a potential third round opponent and that could ring alarm bells. Muguruza reached the final of Florianopolis last week, but suffered a curious collapse as she lost 11 straight games having served for the title. Kerber defeated Muguruza in two tight sets in Indian Wells and although Muguruza’s progress has been undeniable, Kerber would be the favourite if the pair met. Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanovic are projected to host the other third round match-up; Sloane’s form and attitude have been severely lacking this year. Ivanovic has had some huge wins this year over Serena and Kerber (who she could meet in the last 16) but her consistency remains a concern.
1st Round Predictions: Goerges to beat Cepelova in 3 sets, Knapp to beat Townsend in 2 sets, Barthel to beat Schiavone in 3 sets, Svitolina to beat Puig in 3 sets, Tomljanovic to beat Dominguez Lino in 2 sets and Kleybanova to beat Duval in 2 very tight sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Sharapova v Ivanovic
THIRD QUARTER: S.Halep (6) v V.Azarenka (3)
Simona Halep came alive in Doha as she won her biggest title and laid down the gauntlet with three more top ten wins. For many, she will go in as the favourite for Indian Wells with this tournament offering a prime opportunity to prove herself against the likes of Azarenka and Sharapova. Halep’s first match will be against either a first time WTA winner, Kurumi Nara who won Rio two weeks ago, or Allie Kiick. Her third round opponent will come from a section featuring Sara Errani and Eugenie Bouchard. Genie hasn’t managed to match the heights of her first Grand Slam semi-final in Australia, meanwhile Errani has been consistent, but without any noteable results. Bouchard will play Vera Zvonareva or Peng Shuai in the second round. Her form has been unconvincing and Peng, who should beat a not-yet-fully-fit Zvonareva, is a very consistent player, capable of what would be an upset.
Question marks surround Azarenka having not played since the Australian Open due to a foot injury. She has though, drawn the most straightforward path of all the top eight seeds. The seeds in her section, Daniela Hantuchova, Kirsten Flipkens and Roberta Vinci have all struggled for form in 2014. Vinci is yet to win a match in 2014, going 0-6 and winning just two sets. Her first match against either Madison Keys or Tsvetana Pironkova is one of the toughest propositions for any of the seeded players in this draw. Keys against Pironkova is definitely the most interesting of all the first round matches. Keys has not had a convincing start to the year, but I think this could be a good tournament for her.
1st Round Predictions: Schmiedlova to beat Wickmayer in 3 sets, Peng to beat Zvonareva in 2 sets, Keys to beat Pironkova in 2 tight sets and Dellacqua to beat McHale in 3 sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Halep v Azarenka
FOURTH QUARTER: J.Jankovic (7) v A.Radwanska (2)
It has been a mixed year so far for Agnieszka Radwanska; a spellbinding performance in the Australian Open quarter-finals over Victoria Azarenka remains her highlight of 2014, but there have many disappointments too, which unfortunately have outweighed the good. After reaching the semi-finals in Doha, the Pole lost in Dubai to Flavia Pennetta. This will mean that she comes into the tournament fresher than most. Her first match will be against Heather Watson or the highly promising, Belinda Bencic, who has a wildcard into the main draw. Radwanska shouldn’t face too many problems in reaching the quarter-finals. Her biggest threat is probably Alize Cornet, who pushed her to three sets in a pulsating singles match at this year’s Hopman Cup. Cornet is projected to meet Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round, who she defeated in straight sets in Dubai two weeks ago.
Jelena Jankovic has made a confident start to the year and her draw could see her meet Caroline Wozniacki in the 4th round. Jankovic won their first four matches and Wozniacki has won their last five. Since a last meeting in Stuttgart back in 2012, their careers have swung around with Jankovic showing a resurgence and Wozniacki slipping. This is a critical week for Wozniacki as she is defending finalist points. Based on her form this year, reaching the 4th round of Indian Wells would be a solid effort. Her first match of the week will be against Bojana Jovanovski or Alison Riske; whoever progresses will give Caroline a tough match, as would Kaia Kanepi, who is Wozniacki’s projected third round opponent.
1st Round Predictions: Meusburger to beat Melzer in 3 sets, Cetkovska to beat Rogers in 2 sets, Jovanovski to beat Riske in 3 sets, Zhang to beat Mladenovic in 2 sets, Beck to beat Voegele in 2 sets and Watson to beat Bencic in 3 sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Jankovic v Radwanska
Who will win? Moo’s Analysis
This is a really intriguing tournament because there is no clear favourite in the draw. Azarenka and Sharapova have not been as reliable this year compared to previous years with Sharapova coming back from injuries and Azarenka picking new ones up. I think Sharapova will make at least the last four, but I have definite question marks over Azarenka, who was pictured with her foot in a cast a few weeks back. Many people are tipping Halep to do well and I think if she is fully recovered from the achilles injury that forced her to pull out of Dubai, she’s going to go a long way. I do believe she has the game to beat Azarenka in the quarter-finals. However, my predicted champion this week is Li Na. It is more of a gut instinct than any real reasoning behind it. She has a few matches under her belt from Doha, albeit not that convincing, but she has a favourable draw and one that builds steadily to the latter stages.