Tennis returned to the California desert with a bang as play got underway at probably the biggest tournament away from the Majors and the Tour Finals. The Indian Wells Masters is played at one of the most impressive sites in the tennis world and boasts the biggest court after Arthur Ashe at the US Open. And the tennis has been to match so far this year, with thrilling matches, huge upsets and big name clashes. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
Tiebreak Taylor does it again
Taylor Fritz, the 20-year-old California native, hasn’t been on Tour long. Indeed, he only turned professional in 2015 and has just 34 match wins to his name. But in spite of that he’s already put together one of the most impressive records on Tour in a very specific area, one that a number of players will be envious of. That record is in deciding set tiebreaks where Fritz seems to absolutely come alive. Indeed, he’s played 12 in his career, and won 11.
He was at it again on Monday in his match against Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco had made the better start in their match, winning the first set 6-4 but Fritz fought back to level the match in the second. The decider was a tight affair, although it was Fritz who came closest to sealing it in ‘regulation time’ holding two match points in the tenth game. Verdasco saved them both and the match went to a tiebreak. There Fritz was dominant, winning it 7-1 to make the fourth round in Indian Wells for the first time in his career.
That tiebreak against Verdasco was the third he had played in as many rounds, and the third he won this week. In the second set he won a tiebreak eight points to six against the giant Reilly Opelka to stay alive in the tournament before winning another in the second set to close out the win against Andrey Rublev. He goes on to face Borna Coric in a battle of the young guns. And if it comes to a tiebreak, Fritz will certainly be feeling confident.
There were some big names making their returns to tennis in Indian Wells. In the women’s draw, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka were both playing their first tournaments in some months after absences from the game due to becoming mothers. It was perhaps a particularly sweet moment for Azarenka who has been embroiled in a custody dispute that has kept her away from the Tour in spite of her being fit to compete.
Novak Djokovic was the big name to return in the men’s side. Few had expected him be to competing in Indian Wells after having minor surgery on his right elbow just weeks before, an injury that has been troubling him for around two years. But his rehab process went better than he had expected and he found himself ready to compete in the desert. Or at least healthy enough to compete as his game still had a way to go and he crashed out in his first match at the hands of Taro Daniel.
It went better for Williams and Azarenka, though both have now also exited the tournament. The Belarussian won her first match, defeating Britain’s Heather Watson in straight sets. But reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens had too much for her in the second round, winning 6-1 7-5. Williams made it the furthest, defeating Zarina Diyas and Kiki Bertens, the 29th seed, to reach the round of 16, but her sister, eighth seeded Venus Williams was too strong for her, winning 6-3 6-4. Still there were positives to be taken for all three, chief amongst them, just being back on court.
14 and 0 for Roger but challengers are coming
Federer’s imperious start to the season has continued in Indian Wells. He wasn’t at his best in his first match against Federico Delbonis, but had more than enough to get the win 6-3 7-6. He then destroyed Filip Krajinovic for the loss of just three games and is unsurprisingly the red hot favourite for the title. But, there could be some challenges building for the great man. Kevin Anderson brings fine form and real power into the tournament.
Juan Martin del Potro, who recently won his first ATP 500 since 2013 in Acapulco, is also a danger man, though he will have to negotiate a difficult half of the draw to set up a potential final with Federer. But on the slower hard courts of Indian Wells, his power could be devastatingly effective and he has fought his way through to the final in the desert before. Indeed, that year both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic fell victim to his power, and it took the very best of Nadal to stop him in the final. Federer’s still the favourite, but it may not be a foregone conclusion.
What were your biggest takeaway from the early rounds? Lets us know in the comments below!