The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells is underway and the top seeds are awaiting to take the court on Friday and Saturday. Leading up to their first matches in the WTA 1000 event, women’s tennis stars have held press conferences and gotten used to the desert sun and high-flying balls again.
Iga Swiatek: “In tennis, anything can happen.”
Top seed Iga Swiatek is in contention to be the first woman to defend the Indian Wells title since Martina Navratilova did it over thirty years ago. The world No.1 has a positive perspective that not every point she won last year needs to be defended. Ahead of the tournament, the Pole explained to media that she’s more focused on the race rankings and thinking in those terms takes her out of focusing on last year’s results.
Right now, Swiatek says, “I’m just trying to take every tournament step by step and not really think about what happened last year. In tennis, anything can happen. It’s pretty unpredictable.”
Swiatek’s title defense begins with a Saturday match against American Claire Liu.
Ons Jabeur is ready after a minor surgery
The mental shift toward the race rankings has not made Swiatek any less of a perfectionist. Asked about the Polish player, current world No.4 Ons Jabeur told the media that she admires Swiatek’s mentality: “I read her post after Dubai and Doha. She won Doha and made the final in Dubai. She wrote something like ‘you guys, I’m just human.'” Jabeur laughed and said “Iga! It’s okay to lose a final.”
Ons, who has not played since the Australian Open, feels ready to get back on court following recovery from minor surgery. The Tunisian told media, “Hopefully, I’m making the right decision, but I feel ready and excited to play here.” As an athlete who loves to compete, she said it was hard to stay away from the courts, especially during the Middle East swing.
Aryna Sabalenka: “I feel more belief in myself.”
The current race leader and world No.2 Aryna Sabelenka is looking to win her first Indian Wells title but rejected a media inquiry about her confidence going into the tournament. She said to call herself confident would make her sound cocky, “I feel more belief in myself, but not confidence.”
The slow hard courts at Indian Wells do not favor the Belarusian’s aggressive style, but she has been addressing this on the practice courts. Wednesday, she hit with Daria Kasatkina and explained the choice to media later saying that the Russian “likes to play long rallies.” Sabalenka added: “Especially on the courts, it’s really important to stay in the point a little bit longer, so I really like to practice with someone who makes me work more during the points.”
Sabalenka’s first match will be against Evgeniya Rodina, whom she beat in their only meeting in 2017.
Maria Sakkari: “I don’t want to be fake.”
Maria Sakkari, last year’s runner-up, is in a good position to be a crowd favorite in Indian Wells. The Netflix Break Point episode about the tournament centered her story. Asked about the vulnerability she showed, the world No. 7 said, “I just felt like that if I do it, I want to do it the right way. I don’t want to hide anything. I don’t want to be fake. I want to show my real personality.”
That personality resonated with the local tennis fans that came out to watch her practice. The Greek took away learning experiences from last year’s defeats and is motivated as she steps back onto the courts here: “You can always learn, you can always get more mature, you can always develop. Last year was a very tough year for me, but I feel like now I’m ready to face that again in a different way.”
After a first-round bye, Sakkari will face American Shelby Rogers, who has won all three of their previous encounters, including at the Silicon Valley Classic in 2022.
The second round kicks off Friday at 11 a.m. Los Angeles time.