WTA Tour: WTA Premier - BNP Paribas Open Preview

Tennis player stands with racquet in hand

We take a look at the WTA Premier BNP Paribas Open set to take place in California between 7 and 18 March. 

The real news this week is the return of the queen, with 23 time Grand Slam Champion Serena Williams returning for her first competitive match since last year’s Australian Open final. It will be interesting to see what type of shape the unseeded Serena will be in. Added to that is the fact that two other former champions are unseeded this week, with Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka lurking as potentially devastating early encounters. Added to that is the fact that both Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber seem to have turned a corner in their form, and you have a recipe for a wonderful event this year.

Traditionally seen as start of the beating heart of the tennis season, this trip to the hardcourts of Indian Wells sees Simona Halep seeded number one ahead of Aussie Open champion Caroline Wozniacki. With all the aforementioned variables in play, it will be fascinating to see if the Romanian Halep can handle the pressure of leading such a talented draw.

Past Winners
2017: Elena Vesnina
2016: Victoria Azarenka
2015: Simona Halep
2014: Flavia Penneta 
2013: Maria Sharapova

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First Quarter- Top Seeded Players- Simona Halep (1), Jelena Ostapenko (6)

On the face of it, you have to say that Halep has been handed an extremely favourable draw this year. At 14-1 for the year, the Aussie Open finalist is seeded to play Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals. CClearly,here is some emotional baggage there, with Ostapenko famously reducing Halep to tears at last year’s French Open final.

But Ostapenko’s season has yet to click into gear, and everyone knows how well Halep plays on the American hardcourts. The other seeds in the section are Johanna Konta and Kristina Mladenovic, both players battling with consistency this year. Belinda Bencic could be one to watch- provided she gets past Timea Babos, but it looks as if this quarter is Halep’s for the taking.

Player to Progress: Simona Halep 

Second Quarter- Top Seeded Players- Garbine Muguruza (3), Karolina Plisikova (5)

This quarter introduces a far more complex latticework of possibilities. Muguruza had brilliant results in Doha and Dubai and will feel confident under the charge of Conchita Martinez once again.  Karolina Plisikova has had an ignominious few weeks, knocked out early in both Doha and Dubai.

But perhaps the form player here is former two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. Kvitova is on a 13-match winning streak, winning two straight titles. Add to that Coco Vandewegh and the unseeded Eugenie Bouchard, and you have a powder keg of a draw.  And not to mention the fact that former champion Maria Sharapova plays Naomi Osaka in her first match here.  Sharapova has been disappointing in general on the comeback trail and I think Kvitova may see this as another opportunity for a deep run.

Player to Progress: Petra Kvitova

Third Quarter- Top Seeded Players- Elina Svitolina (4), Venus Williams (8)

And here is where Serena as found herself. And ironically enough it seems as if she could be facing her sister in the third round- that is if Serena can overcome both Zarina Diyas and Kiki Bertens in the first two rounds. Elina Svitolina has had a difficult start to the season but will probably be pleased with this draw.

She is getting towards the part of the year that she really started to dominate last season. Venus has played little tennis of late while Madison Keys is also out of form. She lost 6-0 in the final set against Catherine Bellis in Doha. Serena is the type of professional who simply wouldn’t return if she didn’t think herself capable of winning. But perhaps it’s a bridge too far at an event that is perhaps second only to a Grand Slam in terms of quality.

Player to Progress: Elina Svitolina


Fourth Quarter- Top Seeded Players- Caroline Wozniacki (2), Caroline Garcia (7)

The Australian Open Champion perhaps expectedly has experienced a slight dip in form in the wake of that stunning maiden Grand Slam title. The 2011 champion- and 2010 and 2013 runner-up- will be extremely confident in a section that contains the slightly out of form Caroline Garcia.

Former two-time champion Victoria Azarenka also finds her way into this interesting section, with a potentially tricky opening match against Heather Watson. Sloane Stephens has been nowhere this season, and perhaps it is 10th seed Angelique Kerber who represents the greatest challenge to Wozniacki. She is also 15-3 for the year. One to watch in this draw is Daria Kasatkina, who recently reached the Dubai final. She beat Wozniacki in St Petersburg and could be a dark horse in this quarter.

Player to Progress: Caroline Wozniacki

Selected First Round Matches 

Sam Stosur (4/10) vs Lauren Davis (17/10)
Well Sam Stosur has a more impressive resume than Lauren Davis, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a slight surprise here, and it’s perhaps worth the risk at 17/10.

Naomi Osaka (12/10) vs Maria Sharapova (6/10)
Maria Sharapova has had a bumpy ride back from that drugs related ban, but I expect her to win easily here. She is far more beloved in her adopted USA and will feel more comfortable here.

Victoria Azarenka (5/10) vs Heather Watson (14/10)
Vcitoria Azarenka returns following an ugly custody battle and will face British journeywoman Heather Watson.  Watson just looks like decent value against a player who has hardly lifted a racquet in months.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Azarenka wins easily, but 14/10 for Watson could be worse.

Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.net

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