1. Serena Williams v Monica Niculescu
In Serena Williams‘s first match at Indian Wells for fourteen years, she will play none other than Monica Niculescu. I was quite surprised researching this match to find that Serena and Monica have never played each other before. The match will be played on Friday night and it will be very interesting to see the response for Serena and how she gets on in Indians Wells. Niculescu breezed through her first match of the week against Aleksandra Krunic, 6-2 6-1 in just 74 minutes. Niculescu’s year has been largely forgettable with just one victory through her first five tournaments. This promises to be a fun watch as Niculescu has proven before that her wacky forehand slice can be a trial for the big hitters. This will be Serena’s first appearance since winning the Australian Open so there is bound to be rust/nerves. I don’t expect Serena to have too many problems, but it will be intriguing nonetheless.
Prediction: S.Williams d. Niculescu in 2 sets
2. Angelique Kerber v Sloane Stephens
In a match between two players struggling for form in 2015, Angelique Kerber and Sloane Stephens will meet for just the second time on the WTA tour. In their only previous match, Kerber came from a set down to beat Stephens at Indian Wells back in 2012, 2-6 7-5 6-4. Stephens won her first match of the tournament against Chanelle Scheepers, 7-5 7-5. The stats are never kind in Indian Wells, but the ones from the first set of Sloane-Chanelle were pretty horrific. It hasn’t been a convincing start to the year from Sloane so a win is a win.
Kerber has lost four of her last five matches so it came as no surprise last week that she announced the news that she had split with her coach, Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh. This came after a disappointing 6-0 6-3 loss to Victoria Azarenka in Doha. For the time being, Kerber is working with former coach, Torben Beltz. Kerber has plenty of untapped potential and in my opinion, she’s a worthy top 10 player. Her serve remains a weakness and most critical right now, is her lack of belief. Kerber’s performances have been lacking an edge this year and it’s something she will need to rediscover soon if she is going to prevent a serious rankings fall. This could be a really high quality match if both were in good form, but I don’t expect that to be the case. I’d fancy a similar kind of match to their last one. Sloane is very capable of winning at least a set, but i’d be surprised if she can keep it up for long enough to prevail.
Prediction: Kerber d. Stephens in 3 sets