Musing aloud with a familiar uncontained enthusiasm, Martina Navratilova is listing possible champions of the upcoming BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
“Last year's champion Badosa likes these courts,” she says from her Miami Beach home, “Muguruza can be a threat, Swiatek also has the game.”
And then there is a pause.
“Oops, sorry, Lulu. I just accidentally kicked my dog.”
That would be Lulu Navratilova, an 11-year-old Miniature Dachshund. Lulu, it turns out, likes to be in the middle of things. She stole the show on Jan. 17, drawing the attention of “Good Morning Britain” hosts, commandeering a live television interview.
“She’s got a cataract in her right eye, can’t see,” Navratilova said. “Going to have surgery on it when I’m not traveling in April. The operation isn’t that bad, but the aftercare can be tricky.”
Later, the barking intensifies.
“Ooooh!” Navratilova says. “Sorry, my dogs are trying to steal my chicken soup.”
Somehow, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion managed to break down Indian Wells, a Hologic WTA Tour 1000 event, which begins this week.
How do you rate No.4-ranked Iga Swiatek’s chances after her win in Doha?
I mean, when she wins, she wins big. She doesn’t putz around. She ran through the  French without losing a set, she dominated in Doha … when she’s on, she’s on. I think the conditions in Indian Wells are going to be similar to Doha. Slow conditions, even though the ball flies at altitude. Heavy conditions, so you have to hit through the court with a lot of power. She’s got a ton of topspin on the forehand, which paid off in Doha – and should pay off in Indian Wells as well.
Iga can win on any surface, including grass because she can get down low, she’s got a decent slice and that topspin works well, particularly on those slow, bitey courts like Indian Wells.
Garbiñe Muguruza won the year-end WTA Finals, but had a disappointing two months to start 2022 … what does she need to do to get going again?
She needs to pretend she’s back in Guadalajara!
Her game translates better to the faster courts, like Miami, like grass and even the French – Roland Garros is playing faster than some hard courts. She seems to be a bit of a confidence player. She found it somehow in Guadalajara, almost talked herself into it. It’s a pattern we’ve seen when she wins a major and then it sort of slips away. She’s probably got a better shot in Miami, but it could happen in Indian Wells, too.
Indian Wells can be tricky. Slow, but it could be really windy, really cold at night. You have to be able to really adjust, and she did a great job with that in Guadalajara. Could be a great opportunity for her, we know the game is there, it’s just a question if she can put it together or not.
Of the resurgent Americans who have already won titles this year – Madison Keys, Amanda Anisimova and Sloane Stephens – who looks poised to do the most damage at IW?
Madison’s started playing better, had a great Aussie Open. Seems to be playing with that old fearless abandon, controlling her power. She’s not scared, she’s not nervous, she’s just going for her shots.
Anisimova is maturing as a player. She’s stepping into that – she’s been through so much, personally and with injuries. I think the upside for her is huge, I just don’t know if she’s ready just yet. I certainly wouldn’t want to see her on the other side of the net as an unseeded player. She’s a dark horse anywhere right now.
Simona Halep and Jelena Ostapenko, two former French Open champions, have started well this year … what are your impressions of their play?
As consistent as Halep should be, she’s not. She should love it at both Indian Wells and Miami; I think she can defend better at Indian Wells with the slower courts. Her game has lacked some consistency. Her game is there, but she keeps struggling with how to be more aggressive. She still kind of second-guessing herself when she manages to get to the net. She overreacts when she gets aggressive and goes back to her default mode, which is playing defense.
Ostapenko, she still struggles with her serve. Most serves are just one-two – her serve is one-two-three-four. She has not been able to fix her serve and that still gets in the way. When the serve goes down, it bleeds down into the rest of your game. When she’s on, though, my goodness. She takes the ball early, she’s fearless, she misses and she just hits the ball harder the next time. If she misses that one, she hits it harder yet. She takes people out of their rhythm. I think she’ll be better off on the faster courts in Miami.
Maybe the biggest burning question: Naomi Osaka has played only six matches this year. What can we expect from the WTA’s No.80-ranked player?
What’s her record for the last 12 months? [13-7 since winning the 2021 Australian Open]. That leaves you not match-tested. She needs to enter more tournaments for that.
Match play – I think it’s the only thing preventing her from playing more and becoming No.1. Get the confidence, get the reps and work on the transition game where she’s more comfortable moving forward and finishing points at the net. She does that and she’ll be good.
Lot of eyes will be watching the teenagers in the desert … how do you think Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez, Coco Gauff and Clara Tauson will fare?
Coco is a big unknown at this point. Maybe she felt pressure with Raducanu winning the US Open last year – that maybe she’d be the first teenager to win a Grand Slam from this group. But now, I hope she’s concentrating on her own thing.
Raducanu, talk about a big unknown. She needs to get her body healthy, get that straightened out.
How do you see the chances for Paula Badosa – the Indian Wells defending champion from back in the fall – and a Sydney 2022 winner, but uneven since?
Look, I love everything about her. I love her attitude, her mindset. She’s a complete player, maybe 95 percent complete. She can improve transition, getting to the net. She’ll be pumped to get back there so early – you usually don’t get to defend your title five months later. She’ll be brimming with confidence.
She knows the court at Indian Wells and she backed it up with her showing at [the WTA Finals] in Guadalajara.
What impact will world No.1 Ashleigh Barty’s withdrawal have on this BNP Paribas Open?
There’s always an effect when the No.1 doesn’t play, of course. She’s the two-time defending champion in Miami and plays well this time of year. As far as what it does for the rest of the field? It’s been pretty wide open lately. She’s been No.1 but other players have showed dominance on the court as well.
So, it does open it up a little bit. There are probably 10 players who think they have a chance to win the tournament, with or without her. It’s possible. Most tournaments have been pretty wide open, so at the end of the day, I don’t think it changes that much overall.
Finally, who wins this thing?
Hey, don’t forget Aryna Sabalenka. She’s got a lot to prove. The serve takes a while to fix. I need to be convinced that she’s fixed that. I think Badosa has a good shot to defend her title and I think you have to look at the Americans. Keys, Anisimova have an excellent shot. No pressure on them – everything would be a bonus – and as big hitters, the court will suit them. And the crowd should be helpful as well.