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2018 BNP Paribas Open • Major Champs Face Major Challenges in Indian Wells Draw

Photo by @BNPPARIBASOPEN via Twitter



By Richard Pagliaro


INDIAN WELLS—Full bloom is the BNP Paribas Open tagline.


Grand Slam champions must bring full boom to blossom in the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.


The Indian Wells women’s draw was conducted today and the first week presents several stiff tests for major champions, including a potential third-round clash between Venus Williams and sisters Serena Williams.


Photo by @BNPPARIBASOPEN via Twitter

Unseeded Serena will play her first Tour-level match since giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr. in September.


The 23-time Grand Slam champion opens against Zarina Diyas in her first tournament match since she defeated Venus in the Australian Open final 13 months ago.


Nineteen years after she defeated Steffi Graf in the Indian Wells final, Serena would face 29th-seeded Kiki Bertens if she reaches the second round followed by a possible third-round showdown with Venus—if the No. 8-seeded Venus wins her opener against either Sorana Cirstea or a qualifier.


Victoria Azarenka makes her 2018 debut against Heather Watson. Azarenka, who defeated Serena in the 2016 final, could face reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens in a second-round showdown of Slam champions.


The 13th-seeded Stephens, who joined Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport and reigning champion Elena Vesnina helping host Andrew Krasny conduct the draw today, is coming off the Acapulco quarterfinals—the first time she’s won back-to-back matches since capturing the 2017 US Open.


Stephens purposely declined to glance at the draw as it unfolded on the big board behind, but knows full well the danger Azarenka represents.


The 28-year-old Azarenka has swept all six sets she’s played vs. Stephens, including a 6-1, 6-4 victory in the 2013 Australian Open semifinals.


The winner of the Azarenka-Stephens match could take on 20th-seeded Daria Kasatkina, whom Serena has called her favorite young player to watch, in round three.


In a potential blockbuster opener, Maria Sharapova faces explosive Naomi Osaka in a clash pitting one of the game’s premier servers in Osaka against the powerful return game of two-time former champion Sharapova.


The winner’s reward?


A second-round date with 31st-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2014 runner-up.


Since reaching the Shenzhen semifinals in January, Sharapova has won just two matches, but should be pumped to rebound in Indian Wells where she’s contested the final three times.


Top-seeded Simona Halep has a first-round bye and will face either left-hander Kristyna Pliskova or a qualifier in her opener. Halep, the 2015 champion, is defending just 65 ranking points in the desert, and could face former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the third round.


Photo by @BNPPARIBASOPEN via Twitter

Second-ranked Caroline Wozniacki attended the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party last night and will need to bring shine from the start in Indian Wells.


The Australian Open champ will play either two-time Acapulco champion Lesia Tsurenko or a qualifier in her opening match.


Wozniacki resides in the congested bottom quarter that features Grand Slam champions Angelique Kerber, Azarenka, Stephens as well as defending champion Vesnina, who could play talented 18-year-old Californian CiCi Bellis in round two.


Playing savvy combinations, Bellis defused defending Doha champion Karolina Pliskova, 7-6 (4), 6-3, to earn her first Top 5 victory and reach the Doha quarterfinals last month.


Another intriguing opener pits Belinda Bencic vs. Timea Babos. They’ve split two career meetings, both are comfortable on hard courts and the winner till get a shot at slumping Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko.


Keep an eye on red-hot Petra Kvitova.


Though she hasn’t produced her best tennis in Palm Springs, the two-time Wimbledon winner rides a 13-match winning streak into Indian Wells, which includes tournament titles in St. Petersburg and Doha.


The left-handed Czech, who celebrates her 28th birthday on Thursday, has reeled of six victories over Top 10 opponents during her 13-match winning streak.


The ninth-seeded Kvitova could face Fed Cup teammate Karolina Pliskova in the fourth round. Pliskova was an Indian Wells semifinalist last year.


The tournament also marks the return of two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, runner-up to Vesnina last year.


The 19th-seeded Russian has a first-round bye 10 years after she reached her first Indian Wells final falling to Ana Ivanovic.


Projected Quarterfinals

(1) Simona Halep vs. (11) Johanna Konta

(3) Garbiñe Muguruza vs. (9) Petra Kvitova

(4) Elina Svitolina vs. Serena Williams

(10) Angelique Kerber vs. (WC) Victoria Azarenka


Women’s Singles Draw: click here

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