The BNP Paribas Open is back in its traditional March slot in the calendar for the first time since 2019, and the first round kicks off with a slate of intriguing clashes. Here are six matches to circle on the schedule:
[WC] Dayana Yastremska (UKR) vs. Caroline Garcia (FRA)
Two players fresh from making waves in Lyon will clash in California. Yastremska's run to her first final since January of 2020 was truly remarkable in the context of what the 21-year-old had been through. Days before the tournament, she spent two nights sheltering in an underground carpark and fled the war in Ukraine by boat, accompanied by her 15-year-old sister, Ivanna. Dayana Yastremska did not know when she would see her parents, her home country again or where she would go next. Her inspired and emotional performances in Lyon, during which she emphasised that she was fighting for her country as well as for herself, were brave on multiple levels.
Fittingly, Yastremska has been rewarded with an Indian Wells wildcard, and her first-round opponent will be Garcia, who made the semifinals of her hometown tournament for the first time in Lyon. The Frenchwoman upset No.1 seed Camila Giorgi in the first round, and her run to a first semifinal since Lausanne last July showed further signs of resurgence for the former World No.4, who also scored an upset over Simona Halep in Doha. For both, the only question mark could be fatigue from a gruelling week on a different surface and continent.
The winner will face US Open champion and No.11 seed Emma Raducanu in the second round.
Head-to-head: Yastremska leads 2-0, both in 2019. She saved championship point to beat Garcia 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(3) in the Strasbourg final on clay, and triumphed 6-1, 6-1 in the Beijing first round on hard courts.
Beatriz Haddad Maia (BRA) vs. [WC] Sofia Kenin (USA)
Exactly one year ago, Kenin was sitting at a career-high of No.4. This week, she has fallen to No.130, her first stint outside the Top 100 since March of 2018. It's a consequence of the American's six-month hiatus after Wimbledon last year due to injury and illness, plus the loss of her early 2020 points haul now that the Covid-19 rankings freeze has ended.
The 2020 Australian Open champion's form is a question mark. On the one hand, Kenin is on a five-match losing streak dating back to the quarterfinals of Sydney, her comeback tournament. On the other, she ran into some tough first-round draws, including eventual semifinalist Madison Keys at the Australian Open and eventual champion Jelena Ostapenko in Dubai.
Kenin's opener in Indian Wells, where she has yet to go past the second round, is not quite as brutal, but it's certainly far from easy. Big-hitting left-hander Haddad Maia was ranked No.358 one year ago but has risen to No.61 - three places off her career-high - after reaching the Monterrey semifinals last week.
The winner faces 19-year-old Clara Tauson, the rising No.29 seed.
Head-to-head: Haddad Maia leads 2-0. Both matches took place when Kenin was a teenager, with Haddad Maia winning 6-2, 6-2 in the Captiva Island ITF W50 qualifying in 2014 and then 6-3, 6-4 in Mallorca 2017 qualifying.
Zheng Qinwen (CHN) vs. Vera Zvonareva
Zheng's rise over the past 19 months has been meteoric. Ranked No.630 in August of 2020, she has racked up titles, knocked off milestones and rocketed through tournament levels with seeming ease. The Chinese 19-year-old is now at a career-high of No.74 after an impressive Monterrey performance, where she took eventual champion Leylah Fernandez to a third-set tiebreak in the second round.
A journey that started with 22-hour road trips around Europe in 2020 has brought Zheng to her WTA 1000 debut and a rematch of a high-quality contest from January. Zheng's 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Zvonareva at Melbourne Summer Set 1, during which she showed off not just her formidable power but her improved rally tolerance was a key step toward her first WTA semifinal.
Zvonareva, 37, was the 2009 champion in Indian Wells, and the oldest of the six former winners in this year's main draw. However, the loss to Zheng in Melbourne was the start of an ongoing six-match losing streak for her, and she has fallen to World No.114 this week.
The winner will face former World No.1 and 2019 Indian Wells finalist Angelique Kerber, the No.15 seed.
Head-to-head: Zheng leads 1-0.
[WC] Robin Montgomery (USA) vs. Kaia Kanepi (EST)
It's youth against experience as the reigning US Open girls' champion takes on the oldest player in the Top 100. Montgomery, 17, reached No.2 in the junior rankings after that triumph and already has one ITF W25 title under her belt. She has risen to No.361 on the WTA rankings. Montgomery previously received wildcards at the 2020 US Open and Miami last year and will be seeking her first WTA main-draw win.
Montgomery, who has yet to beat a Top 100 opponent in six previous meetings, faces a formidable task against 36-year-old Kanepi. Like Cornet, the Estonian struck a blow for veterans at the Australian Open, upsetting Aryna Sabalenka to reach her first quarterfinal there - and completing her career set of Grand Slam last-eight showings. No.63-ranked Kanepi, who plays a reduced schedule these days, will be in action for the first time since Australia.
The winner takes on No.22 seed Belinda Bencic in the second round.
Clara Burel (FRA) vs. Anhelina Kalinina (UKR)
The post-Wimbledon clay 250s often fly under the radar for the mainstream tennis media, though a quick look at their various historic honour rolls reveals plenty of future top players who used them as a launching pad. Last year, both Burel and Kalinina reached their maiden WTA finals in Lausanne and Budapest respectively, and have since been consolidating their Top 100 breakthroughs.
Despite their low-key rises, Burel and Kalinina were both top juniors whose establishment as tour mainstays should come as no surprise. Kalinina, 25, was the 2014 US Open girls' runner-up and the Australian Open girls' doubles champion in the same year; injuries slowed her progress, but her heavy baseline game has garnered her wins over Angelique Kerber and Daria Kasatkina in the past year.
Burel, 20, was junior World No.1 in 2018 after reaching the Australian and US Open finals, and has already scored defeats over established compatriots Caroline Garcia and Alizé Cornet.
Head-to-head: Burel leads 1-0, a 6-0, 6-4 win in the second round of the 2020 Saint-Malo ITF W60.
Alison Riske (USA) vs. [Q] Caty McNally (USA)
The arc of McNally's career will be an interesting one to follow in 2022. The 20-year-old American reached her singles career-high of No.105 in Sep. 2019, but since then her doubles success has outstripped her solo performances. McNally is half of the exciting "McCoco" duo alongside Coco Gauff, with whom she reached the US Open final last year, but she has proved how instrumental she is on the doubles court by winning five WTA titles with three different partners.
McNally's doubles ranking has risen to No.15, but in singles she has fallen back to No.172. When watching McNally in either discipline, her natural talent is evident - but her serve-and-volley tactics and slice-heavy strategy are still being honed in singles. She's too young to become a doubles specialist, but at the same time will face choices this year over which to prioritise when scheduling. Not that this necessarily a long-term barrier; indeed, McNally's position is reminiscent of Barbora Krejcikova's circa 2018, when the Czech became a top doubles player before her singles ranking had caught up.
For now, a pair of battling three-set wins over Anna-Lena Friedsam and Sara Errani have seen McNally into the main draw. Compatriot Riske's aggressive flat hitting should make for a compelling stylistic contrast in the first round. Riske has generally been on the upswing over the past seven months, winning the Linz title and reaching finals in Portoroz and Adelaide, but the 31-year-old is also on a three-match losing streak dating back to the Australian Open.
Head-to-head: Riske leads 1-0, a 6-0, 6-4 win in the 2019 Surbiton ITF W100 semifinals on grass.
Click here to view the full order of play for Day 1 of the 2022 BNP Paribas Open.