What we learned at Indian Wells — and what it means for the Miami Open

Sports

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz are each halfway to achieving the 2024 Sunshine Double.

On Sunday, in front of a star-studded crowd that included Zendaya, Tom Holland and Charlize Theron, Swiatek defeated Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-0 in just 68 minutes to claim her second Indian Wells title. Shortly after, Alcaraz successfully defended his Indian Wells crown with a comeback victory over Daniil Medvedev 7-6 (5), 6-1, for his first title since winning Wimbledon in July.

It was an impressive showing in the California desert for both players, who continue to be two of the brightest young superstars in the sport.

Swiatek, 22, leads the WTA Tour with a 20-2 record on the season, and lost just 21 total games during her six matches at Indian Wells. The win furthered her hold on the world No. 1 ranking. And because she was unable to play in Miami last year due to a rib injury, she has no points to defend in Miami, and will likely only extend that lead more over the next two weeks. Swiatek won the Sunshine Double in 2022 — and seems more than capable of repeating the feat.

Alcaraz, 20, had a challenging start to his season, losing in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and then suffering an ankle injury in Rio last month. But after falling into a 3-0 deficit against Medvedev on Sunday, Alcaraz fought back and became the first man to defend his title in Indian Wells since Novak Djokovic in 2016. Alcaraz remains world No. 2 and brings a new surge of momentum with him to Miami, where he reached the semifinals in 2023.

The 1000-level Miami Open gets underway on Tuesday at Hard Rock Stadium — home of the Miami Dolphins — with 96 players in each of the singles draws and 32 doubles teams. Petra Kvitova, who is pregnant and sidelined from competition, and Medvedev are the defending champions. The tournament began on a sad note due to the death of Aryna Sabalenka’s boyfriend, Konstantin Koltsov, on Monday. Sabalenka is still expected to play.

Here’s what we learned from Indian Wells — and what it all means for Miami.


Back to the drawing board for Djokovic

There was a lot of attention on Djokovic entering Indian Wells. He was playing there for the first time in five years, and in his first tournament since losing to Jannik Sinner in the Australian Open semifinals. While Djokovic seemed to have some fun while on site, and at a multiple Los Angeles Lakers games, it’s safe to say the trip didn’t exactly live up to his, or anyone’s, expectations.

The 24-time major champion — and five-time victor at Indian Wells — lost in the third round 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to Luca Nardi, a 20-year-old lucky loser. Nardi, ranked No. 123 in the world, became the lowest-ranked player to ever beat Djokovic at a Masters 1000-level event.

Djokovic praised Nardi after the match, but also criticized his own “really, really bad” level of play and seemed somewhat stunned by the results of his season so far.

“I could have done everything different,” Djokovic told reporters after the loss. “I mean, as I said, very poor performance from my side. Yeah, no titles this year. That’s not something I’m used to. I was starting the season most of my career with a Grand Slam win or, you know, Dubai win, or any or tournament.

“It’s fine. You know, it’s part of the sport. You just have to accept it. Some you win; some you lose. Hopefully I’ll win some more and still keep going. I guess every trophy that eventually comes my way is going to be great (smiling), obviously to break the kind of negative cycle a little bit I’m having in the last three, four tournaments where I haven’t really been close to my best.”

Djokovic was uncertain at the time if he would play Miami and said he needed a few days to think about it as he was still “hot-headed” following the defeat. Ultimately he decided to withdraw, citing a need to balance his “private and professional schedule.” He will now have several weeks to prepare for the upcoming clay season and his French Open defense mission. Perhaps the new surface will be what gets his season back on track.

Rafael Nadal, who had been slated to make his return to competition at Indian Wells before withdrawing, will also miss Miami. Like Djokovic, he is expected to return for the clay season.


Building momentum

Medvedev arrives in Miami as the defending champion, but he has lost his last five finals, including on Sunday at Indian Wells. Still, he told reporters he was satisfied with his performance throughout the tournament and was optimistic about his game.

“I’m really, really happy with [these] two weeks,” Medvedev said. “Today, the first thing I asked myself in the locker room — not myself, my coach — I was like, ‘I don’t feel I have any regrets. Do you have any regrets?’ He said, ‘Yeah, we can talk about one shot here and there, but in general the match was not bad. He’s playing good.'”

Medvedev lost to Alcaraz in the 2023 Indian Wells final, and he then went on to win in Miami, so he must be hoping history repeats itself.

Sakkari, the other finalist from the weekend, will be looking to build off of her best result of the season. After splitting with her longtime coach and (temporarily) falling out of the top 10 earlier this year, Sakkari joined forces with David Witt, the former coach of Venus Williams and Jessica Pegula, and reached the final in their first tournament together. Sakkari said she was “already thinking about Miami” during her postmatch news conference on Sunday.

“You never want to lose and leave the tournament as a loser, but at the same time, there are so many good things that happened the last two weeks that I cannot just ignore,” Sakkari said.

Sakkari, who is now ranked No. 9, reached the semifinals in Miami in 2021 but has lost in the second round in both of her appearances since.


The comeback kids

Indian Wells proved to be an impressive tournament for many of the sport’s recently returned big names. Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who came back in August after more than three years away and after giving birth to two children, had the best result of her comeback by reaching the quarterfinals. She had to retire from her match against Swiatek 6-4, 1-0 due to a toe injury, but it still proved to be a successful event and her ranking rose from No. 204 to No. 129.

Three-time major champion Angelique Kerber, who returned from maternity leave at the start of the season, also recorded her strongest showing so far with a trip to the Round of 16. She lost to Wozniacki, but her ranking also rose dramatically from No. 607 to No. 342. Fellow new mom Naomi Osaka, the four-time major winner who also came back in January, reached the third round.

Wozniacki, Kerber and Osaka will all be back in action this week in Miami and looking to build on their recent momentum.

But they won’t be the only players on the comeback trail in South Florida. Simona Halep, the 2018 French Open and 2019 Wimbledon champion, makes her eagerly awaited return as a wild card following the reduction of her doping suspension earlier this month. Halep, 32, has not competed since the 2022 US Open and will take on Paula Badosa in the opening round.

Halep, who is a two-time semifinalist in Miami, posted practice footage from the tournament last week on her Instagram story and wrote simply: “Feels like I never left.”

Will that feeling remain during her first match in 18 months? Stay tuned.

Former world No. 4 and 2014 US Open finalist Kei Nishikori is also slated to make his return this week as a wild card. The 34-year-old has played sparingly over the past two seasons due to hip surgery and injuries, and last played at the Atlanta Open in July.


It has been a monumental year for 22-year-old American Emma Navarro. The 2021 NCAA singles champion won her first WTA title in Hobart to open the season, reached the third round at a major for the first time at the Australian Open, then advanced to her first 1000-level quarterfinals at Indian Wells behind upset victories over Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka.

Navarro lost to Sakkari in three sets, but is now ranked a new career-high of No. 2 and is the fourth-ranked American woman — and her Indian Wells run made quite the impression.

“No doubt she’s going to be on top for a while,” Sabalenka said after their match. “Her potential is really great. I think she’s already in the top. Yeah, I think she have the potential to be in [the] top 10.”

With a first-round bye, Navarro will open her Miami Open against Martina Trevisan or a qualifier and will look to continue her star-making 2024.


Other Americans to watch

There are countless tennis players who live and train in Florida, but perhaps no one will get a bigger reception from the crowd at the Miami Open than Delray Beach native Coco Gauff. The 2023 US Open champion reached the semifinals at Indian Wells for the first time last week — and celebrated her 20th birthday at the tournament — and will be looking to win her second title of 2024. Gauff, the world No. 3, will play either American Ashlyn Krueger or a qualifier in her opening match.

Gauff and Pegula are the defending doubles champions, and will try to repeat for their first title together of the season.

Tommy Paul reached the semifinals in the desert for the first time, and recorded statement wins over Casper Ruud and Ugo Humbert. Now ranked No. 14, Paul is the second-highest ranked American man, behind only Taylor Fritz. Paul will look to stake his claim for the top spot in Miami, as well as win his first Masters 1000-level title. The 26-year-old, who is originally from New Jersey but lives in Boca Raton, opens plays against Zhizhen Zhang or Martin Damm

And, of course, there’s Venus Williams, 43, who received a wild card to play. Williams made her season debut at Indian Wells, where she lost to Nao Hibino 2-6, 6-3, 6-0. Williams is a three-time champion in Miami and is playing the event for the first time since 2021. Currently ranked No. 457 and having played a limited schedule in recent years, Williams — who has spent the past several decades residing in South Florida — will take on Diana Shnaider in the first round.

Articles You May Like

What missiles could Israel use in an attack – and would Iran be able to defend itself?
Review ordered into another Post Office IT system amid claims of more wrongful convictions
Taylor Swift fans ‘could have lost £1m due to Eras ticket scams’
‘Revenge will end with a bigger war’: Lebanon at a crossroads as it awaits Israel’s response to Iran
‘It’s demeaning’: Sharon Osbourne hits back at Amanda Holden in row over Simon Cowell