Indian Wells tennis predictions & betting tips

Hannah Wilks:

The BNP Paribas Open, better known as Indian Wells, brings the world’s best tennis players together again in the Californian desert from 11-22 March 2020: Will Dominic Thiem and Bianca Andreescu be able to defend their titles?

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Indian Wells cancellation

The BNP Paribas Open has now been cancelled due to public health concerns after a confirmed case of coronavirus in the Coachella Valley. You can read about that in more detail here.

Organisers hope the tournament has merely been postponed but there is no information about when it might be able to be played, with the tennis calendar notoriously crowded.

Indian Wells 2020 predictions

The first Masters 1000 Series of the season for the men and the first Premier Mandatory of the year for the women, Indian Wells is one of the biggest tournaments on the tennis calendar. Bankrolled by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, the BNP Paribas Open transforms the unlikely surroundings of the resort town in the Californian desert into the beating heart of the tennis world for a fortnight in early March.

Featuring 128-player singles draws with first-round byes for the 32 seeds, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden has the second-biggest permanent tennis stadium in the world and is the best-attended tennis event outside of the four Grand Slams, earning it the informal designation of the ‘fifth Slam’.

While five-time champion Roger Federer won’t be playing, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka have all triumphed at the BNP Paribas Open in the past, with Dominic Thiem and Bianca Andreescu taking the titles in 2019. Who will triumph at Indian Wells in 2020?

Indian Wells predictions: Will Djokovic recapture the men’s title?

A significant shift has taken place over the past few years in men’s tennis. While the Grand Slams remain firmly in the hands of the ‘Big Three’, with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic winning 56 of the past 67 majors, things look quite different at Masters 1000 Series level.
Beating the Big Three in best-of-five matches at majors is still largely beyond the younger generation attempting to unseat the titans, but in best-of-three matches it’s much more manageable, particularly with the ageing greats reducing their playing commitments. In the past four seasons, the Big Three plus Andy Murray have won 23 of 36 Masters 1000 Series events, but a total of ten new men’s players have broken through to become Masters 1000 Series champions, including Juan Martin del Potro at Indian Wells in 2018 and Thiem at the same tournament in 2019 (both beating Federer in the final).

Dominic Thiem is the defending champion at the 2020 Indian Wells Masters (PA Images)

 

This makes the field much more open than it might have been in the past, and opens up a bigger number of realistic contenders for the men’s title at Indian Wells in 2020.

Djokovic and Federer remain the most successful Indian Wells champions, with five titles each. Federer has been in the Indian Wells final five of the past six years, and his defeats to del Potro and Thiem in the 2018-19 finals were extremely narrow; but the Swiss star has announced that he has been forced to withdraw from Indian Wells 2020 after undergoing right knee surgery.

His absence leaves Djokovic as unquestionably the overwhelming favourite – but there are also some question marks around recent performances of his in the Californian desert.

Now back to world no. 1 after capturing his 17th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, Djokovic ruled the ‘Sunshine Double’ of Indian Wells and Miami in 2014-16, but his performance at Indian Wells has dropped off in the past three years: He is 3-3 since 2016, and while losing to Nick Kyrgios in 2017 is understandable, as is defeat to Taro Daniel in 2018 when he was still on the way back after elbow surgery, a 4-6, 4-6 loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber in 2019 was puzzling. Djokovic simply hasn’t seemed to be prioritizing this part of the season as much as he has done in the past, preferring to focus on clay and his constant quest to unseat Nadal at Roland Garros.

The Serb said after early defeats in Indian Wells and Miami in 2019 that he would have to change his approach for 2020 – and he has, adding the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to his schedule. Djokovic improved to 18-0 in 2020 as he won his fifth ATP Dubai title, and it’s not as if he didn’t face stiff competition – he had to save three match points against Gael Monfils, and faced Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. The Serb is now on a 21-match winning streak, and it looks very much like he has everything he needs to reclaim his Indian Wells crown in 2020.

Three-time winner Nadal is the other multiple champion in the field, but he hasn’t made the Indian Wells final since 2013. Nadal’s body does break down on hard courts – he gave a walkover to Federer in the Indian Wells semi-finals in 2019 and did not play at all in 2018 – and you are essentially betting on his fitness if you back him for champion, which is unlikely to be a winning proposition. On the other hand, he did warm up for Indian Wells by winning Acapulco without dropping a set, beating Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals and Taylor Fritz in the final.

Injuries, especially to his troublesome knees, have been a significant problem for Nadal in hard-court events (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

 

Outside the Big Three, who are the leading contenders for the Indian Wells title? Defending champion Thiem has to be at the top of the list. Considered a clay-court specialist for most of his career, Thiem came into his own as a hard-court player with the addition of Nicolas Massu to his coaching team in 2019 and crowned his ascension by beating Federer to claim his maiden Masters 1000 Series title at Indian Wells 12 months ago. The Austrian has only gone on to impress further on hard courts, winning 500-level titles in Beijing and Vienna and making the final of the Nitto ATP Finals in 2019, before cementing his status as the best active player yet to win a major by reaching the final of the Australian Open.

However, concerns might be raised by Thiem’s poor performance at the Rio Open, where the Austrian struggled through three-set wins over the world no. 341 and world no. 99 before losing in straight sets in the quarterfinals to world no. 128 Gianluca Mager. The match against Mager was interrupted by rain and a difficult one, but Thiem seemed considerably less than fully fit, perhaps bothered by a forearm injury. If he does not come into Indian Wells in good shape, one of the significant threats to Djokovic and Nadal will be removed.

Close behind Thiem comes the two best players of the younger generation, the only two to have made a Masters 1000 breakthrough in the past few years and backed it up by winning multiple titles. Alexander Zverev has three Masters’ titles to his credit and after a woeful start to the year, revived in brilliant style in Melbourne to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final; but he has a poor history at Indian Wells, where the windy conditions could certainly play havoc with his game in various ways, and a 5-5 win-loss record does not inspire.

Daniil Medvedev also does not have a great history at the BNP Paribas Open, but is nevertheless a more promising contender. The Russian’s defensive game, a blend of junkballing and raw power, should be well suited to the tricky, swirling winds which tend to prevail at Indian Wells; and although his breakthrough 2019 season came to a tame end, he has started 2020 brightly, playing well at the ATP Cup and unlucky in some regards to be edged out of the Australian Open in the round of 16 by Stan Wawrinka.

ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas had a poor start to the season, but he is a two-time Masters 1000 Series finalist and recently defended his Open 13 Provence title in Marseille before reaching the final in Dubai, although he was underwhelming in a straight-sets defeat to Djokovic.

There is also Montpellier and Rotterdam champion Gael Monfils, who has twice reached the quarterfinals at Indian Wells; Monfils is 16-3 in 2020 so far and held three match points against Djokovic in the semifinals in Dubai, although he was unable to get his first win in 17 attempts against the Serb.

But the most likely contenders for the Indian Wells title right now look like Djokovic, Nadal and perhaps Tsitsipas or Medvedev.

Indian Wells predictions: Will we see another surprise women’s champion in 2020?

While the men’s game is all about the Big Three versus the field, the women’s game is much less predictable and the greater depth makes it concomitantly less predictable, even when it comes to a Premier Mandatory event like the BNP Paribas Open.

This means there is huge value available if you can correctly pick out the right surprise champion, but it is an extremely tricky proposition to do so. While the past decade has seen victories for Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka (twice), Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep at the BNP Paribas Open, it has also seen one-off wins for Flavia Pennetta and Elena Vesnina. And the past two editions of WTA Indian Wells have seen unseeded players – Naomi Osaka in 2018 and Bianca Andreescu in 2019, ranked world no. 40 and world no. 60 respectively – tear through the draw to claim the title. (Both of course went on to win the US Open the same year, so it might be worth immediately backing whoever does win Indian Wells 2020 to lift the trophy in New York in September!)

Bianca Andreescu was a surprise Indian Wells champion in 2019 (©Mal Taam/TennisClix/(Photo by Mal Taam/CSM/Sipa USA)

 

It’s really difficult to talk about Andreescu’s chances of defending her title, because we simply haven’t seen the Canadian so far in 2020 – she has been out of commission with a left knee injury since last October’s Shenzhen finals. With most players, this would render their chances of winning the title moot – but Andreescu has form in this respect: She played just one match between Miami in March 2019 and the Rogers Cup in August 2019, but nevertheless claimed that title and went on to win the US Open. Not, in other words, a rhythm player who needs a lot of matches. Still, this is going to be her first experience defending a title and tremendous rust will not help.

As for her forerunner as surprise champion, Naomi Osaka has not started the season very well; she was limp in defeat to Coco Gauff in the third round of the Australian Open, and was in tears on court during her 3-6, 4-6 loss to Sara Sorribes Tormo in Fed Cup (admittedly it was on clay, a surface she is still extremely inexperienced on, but it’s still not a sign of a player who’s in a great place psychologically). Nevertheless, it’s worth bearing in mind that Osaka is the only player to have won more than one Premier Mandatory over the past three years.

Where other former champions are concerned, Maria Sharapova has just retired; Kim Clijsters has just un-retired after seven years on the sidelines. Two-time winner Azarenka plays tremendous tennis at Indian Wells, but has not played so far in 2020 and remains mired in off-court issues, specifically the custody battle over her son.

Simona Halep, who won the title in 2015, made a bright start to the season when she reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open and has a good 23-8 record at Indian Wells: She is always at risk of being blown off the court by a more explosive player, but depending on the draw, you could do a lot worse than back the Romanian to win her quarter, if not the title. Her gritty performances at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, defeating Aryna Sabalenka and the red-hot Elena Rybakina among others to claim her first title of 2020, will only have bolstered her chances, although she did seem to be suffering with a lower back issue at times – a perennial problem area for Halep.

Serena Williams last reached the Indian Wells final in 2016 (Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

 

What to make of Serena Williams’s chances? Twice an Indian Wells winner in the early 2000s, Williams ended her lengthy boycott of the event in 2015, making the semi-finals and finishing runner-up to Azarenka in 2016. But since returning from maternity leave, injury has been constantly hampering Williams. It looked like Williams might have made a significant step when she won the ASB Classic in January, but that was followed by a truly shocking loss to Wang Qiang in the third round of the Australian Open. There are simply too many unknowns about Williams’s form or fitness to back her at this stage.

World no. 1 Ashleigh Barty has played well so far in 2020, winning Adelaide and making the semi-finals in Melbourne; Brisbane champion Karolina Pliskova too has looked good, and the big-serving Czech has made the quarterfinals or better at Indian Wells for the past four years, so she would be an excellent pick to win her quarter. Elina Svitolina, on the other hand, was an Indian Wells semi-finalist in 2019 but is struggling so far in 2020; the same goes for Belinda Bencic, who is searching for form and not finding it. Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin has a bit of work to do in adjusting to her new status as a top-10 player. Pliskova, Svitolina, Bencic and Kenin all exited early in Dubai.

Where do we look for possible ‘surprise’ champions? One of the stand-out players of the season so far has been Garbine Muguruza, the two-time Grand Slam champion shaking off her prolonged slump to make the Australian Open final. Muguruza has twice appeared in the Indian Wells quarterfinal over the past three years despite those not being exactly banner years for her, and her serve and forehand seem back to their effective best so far in 2020, so the Spaniard could be a good pick.

The other player who has really shone so far this year is Elena Rybakina, the 20-year-old from Kazakhstan. Rybakina’s rapid surge up the rankings went largely unnoticed in 2019 but she can no longer fly under the radar, not after going 19-4 to start 2020. Rybakina made the finals of Shenzhen and Hobart, then back-to-back Premier finals in St Petersburg and Dubai, scoring wins over top-10 winners Kenin and Pliskova at the latter tournament before falling just short against Halep in a mesmerising final. Young, fearless, unburdened by expectations and possessed of some explosive power – it’s been the winning formula for surprise champions at Indian Wells of late. Will Rybakina be the next?

Indian Wells 2020 tournament information

Name: BNP Paribas Open, also known as the Indian Wells Masters

Location: Indian Wells, California, USA

Venue: Indian Wells Tennis Garden

Category: ATP Masters 1000 Series/WTA Premier Mandatory

Surface: Outdoor hard courts

Draw size: 96 singles/32 doubles

Most titles:
Men – Roger Federer/Novak Djokovic (5)
Women – Martina Navratilova/Mary Joe Fernandez/Steffi Graf/Lindsay Davenport/Serena Williams/Kim Clijsters/Daniela Hantuchova/Maria Sharapova/Victoria Azarenka (2)

Reigning champions:
Men’s singles – Dominic Thiem
Women’s singles – Bianca Andreescu

WTA qualifying at the 2020 BNP Paribas Open begins on 9 March with ATP qualifying beginning on 10 March.

Main-draw play at the BNP Paribas Open begins on Wednesday 11 March for the women and Thursday 12 March for the men. The first seeds will play on Friday 13 March (women) and Saturday 14 March (men).

Both men’s and women’s finals are played on Sunday 22 March.

Indian Wells player performance

Who are the best-performing male players at the Indian Wells Masters?

PlayerYears playedTitlesFinals2019 resultWin-loss
Novak Djokovic145 (2008, 2011, 2014-16)1 (2007)R3250-9
Rafael Nadal133 (2007, 2009, 2013)1 (2011)SF54-10
Dominic Thiem61 (2019)Champion13-5
Stan Wawrinka111 (2017)R3224-11
Milos Raonic81 (2016)SF23-8
John Isner121 (2012)R1623-12
Alexander Zverev4R325-4
Daniil Medvedev5R323-3

Who are the best-performing female players at the BNP Paribas Open?

PlayerYears playedTitlesFinals2019 resultWin-loss
Serena Williams72 (1999, 2001)1 (2016)R3226-5
Victoria Azarenka112 (2012, 2016)R6431-9
Simona Halep91 (2015)R1623-8
Naomi Osaka41 (2018)R1612-3
Bianca Andreescu11 (2019)Champion7-0
Angelique Kerber111 (2019)Runner-up18-11
Daria Kasatkina41 (2018)R649-4
Svetlana Kuznetsova153 (2007-8, 2017)Did not play28-15
Belinda Bencic6SF9-6
Elina Svitolina7SF13-7

Indian Wells betting tips

Check back for the best Indian Wells betting tips when odds are released closer to the tournament, where main-draw play begins on Wednesday 11 March for the WTA and Thursday 12 March for the ATP.