INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Against the dramatic background of the snow-covered Santa Rosa Mountains, a Tennis Garden blooms amid the majestic palm trees. The BNP Paribas Open doesn’t officially begin until Wednesday, but there is already elite tennis to be seen all over the grounds.
On Monday, Victoria Azarenka was booting a soccer ball around with her son, Leo, on the pitch set aside for players. The first round of qualifying was underway, a process that would eventually deliver 12 more entrants into the main draw and a substantial (and guaranteed) payday of $18,660. Over on Practice Court No.2, Ons Jabeur and Barbora Krejcikova -- who both rose to the No.2-ranking last year -- were thwacking away before a standing room-only crowd.
A year ago, Jabeur reached the finals of the season’s last two Grand Slams and Krejcikova, the 2021 Roland Garros champion, is herself coming off a marvelous run in Dubai last month. She defeated the Hologic WTA Tour’s three top-ranked players in succession -- Aryna Sabalenka, Jessica Pegula and Iga Swiatek.
Krejcikova is a terrific doubles player (she was cracking off some sharp volleys against Jabeur), but the emphatic victory against Swiatek in the final marked her again as a threat going forward in singles. With the Australian Open going to Sabalenka and the Doha title to Swiatek, Krejcikova is trying to win back-to-back WTA 1000s -- just as Swiatek did a year ago. With a victory, any of those three players can establish themselves as the favorite going into the Miami Open.
While she was ecstatic about her victory over Swiatek -- backing up her win in the Ostrava final last fall -- Krejcikova stopped short of saying she was all the way back.
“We will see,” she told wtatennis.com after Dubai. “It’s a long way. It’s still a long way. This is a really good tournament, a great start of the season, but I have to go step by step. So many players play well. So definitely a huge challenge for me and I’m looking forward to it.
“I have to stay healthy, that is the most important thing. But I believe if I can manage all this well, I can do well and I believe I can play at the highest level that I have.”
It doesn’t seem possible, but only a year ago, Krejcikova was in line to be the top seed here at the BNP Paribas Open. When No.1 Ashleigh Barty said she wasn’t going to play Indian Wells and Miami -- this was before she announced her retirement in Miami -- Krejcikova was at No.2. But an elbow injury sustained in Doha forced her to withdraw ahead of Indian Wells. She didn’t return until three months later, at the French Open. The 27-year-old from the Czech Republic spent the rest of the 2022 season trying to regroup. Taking titles in in Tallinn and Ostrava set her up nicely for 2023.
Krejcikova was ranked No.30 going into Dubai and currently sits at No.16. She gets a bye into the second round and will face the winner of Dayana Yastremska and Anna Bondar. Her potential opponent in the Round of 16 is Sabalenka.
Only a few minutes after Krejcikova and Jabeur finished up, Swiatek stepped onto the court wearing an all-black ensemble. She and Maria Bouzkova had a competitive hit, with Swiatek lashing her trademark forehands into both corners. The 21-year-old is 12-3 this season, but everything that happens this year inevitably will be compared to last.
By now, she was in the midst of a 37-match winning streak, a spectacular span that included six titles, including the Sunshine Double, which of course is still possible this year. In winning the title in Doha, Swiatek dropped only five games in three matches. Her points total is 10,585, some 4,485 more than Sabalenka. But while Swiatek is defending a ton of points from all those titles, she’s said she will spend this season looking forward, not backward.
A lot of this balanced approach comes from her psychologist, Daria Abramowicz.
“At the beginning of the season I felt like my mind was kind of flying away sometimes,” Swiatek said after winning in Doha. “But here, the work we have put in with [coach Tomasz Wiktorowski] on court and with Daria off the court, for sure, it just paid off, and I felt like everything is clicking.”
Swiatek meets the winner of Alison Van Uytvanck and Claire Liu in a second-round match.
Will Swiatek, Sabalenka and Krejcikova -- all playing at a high level -- come away with the title at Indian Wells? Or will it be a surprise? The past three winners here before Swiatek were Naomi Osaka (at the age of 20), Bianca Andreescu (18) and Paula Badosa.
As Krejcikova said, “We will see.”