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By Akshay Kohli
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The BNP Paribas Open is missing two big names this year – Serena Williams (who has been skipping this event since 2001) and this year’s Australian Open finalist Na Li. These two absentees give the rest of the lot a chance to prove their mettle and probably an opportunity to rise up the rankings. With a 14-0 win-loss record and 2 titles in her kitty, Azarenka comes into this tournament in the same situation she was in last year. She can’t overtake Williams to reclaim her No.1 throne but a victory here will help her have a shot at the Numero Uno in Miami.
Let’s have a look at the upper half featuring World No.2 and reigning Australian Open Champion Azarenka along with the lower half comprising of World No.3 Maria Sharapova.
After a first round bye, which every seed is awarded, Azarenka begins her defense campaign against either Daniela Hantuchova or a qualifier. This would be a tricky match for Azarenka as she not usually good in the opening rounds and trails 1-2 to the Slovak, who is a two-time champion here.
With not much competition in the next couple of rounds, Azarenka is seeded to face upcoming tennis star Sloane Stephens. This will be a rematch of their controversial Australian Open semi-final where Azarenka took a medical time-out after failing to cash in on 5 match points on serve and then broke the Stephens’ serve to take the match in straight sets. Whether this highly anticipated clash takes place is solely dependent on Stephens’ form as she has won just one match in the last month.
With a scheduled quarter-final clash between Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki, one must expect an engrossing battle as the two haven’t played each other in the last 2 years. With the Dane leading the Belarusian 4-2 in their head-to-head encounters, it will be enticing to see how this match turns out as Azarenka has escalated to another level with Wozniacki also finding her way up the rankings after failing to impress in the last couple of seasons.
Going into the semis, there are a few players who would be eying that spot. Players like Angelique Kerber and Lucie Safarova along with Ana Ivanovic and Samantha Stosur are the favorites to reach the last 4. Not much can be spoken about the German Kerber as she comes into this tournament after a back injury. Also players like Ana Ivanovic and Samantha Stosur have the ability to lose their way early in the tournament.
The lower half proves to be the more difficult out of the two halves with players like Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Maria Sharapova. With Sharapova leading the way in the lower half, her route to the finals is full of obstacles too! The former champion’s opener is a really tough one as she plays one of two former Top-10 players, Italians Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta. With a tricky fourth round clash against yet another Italian in the form of Roberta Vinci, the Russian is projected to meet Sara Errani in the quarterfinals. With Radwanska and Kvitova in the same quarter, Sharapova would be gunning to lift her 2nd title here.
The biggest question that crops in one’s mind is Kvitova’s form. The Czech has not fared well at Indian Wells and Miami, not progressing past Round 3 of these Premier Events. She recently lifted the Dubai Open title, proving that she finally has found her range on hard courts and is looking to continue her devastating form here too. With the power and accuracy to blast through anyone on her day, Kvitova is one player to look out for along with the every steady Radwanska in the lower half besides Sharapova.
Who will be crowned the Queen of Indian Wells? Well time is the key!
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