Indian Wells 2020: Five storylines to follow in the women’s draw

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Ashleigh Barty leads a typically star-studded field at Indian Wells, as the best players in the world converge on the desert to battle for the first Premier Mandatory title of the season.

BNP Paribas Open is live from Indian Wells from 11-22 March 2020

We look at five storylines to look out for in the women’s draw at Indian Wells.

Serena going for the three-peat

Indian Wells has been notoriously difficult to win over the years, with no woman winning more than two titles in the long history of the tournament. Among active players, only Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka have multiple titles at the Premier Mandatory tournament. (Serena did stay away from Indian Wells for a heavy chunk of her career- 2002 to 2014- as protest for racial abuse she allegedly suffered at the event in 2001).

Serena Williams is bidding for a record-breaking third Indian Wells title (PA Sport)

Despite being the oldest member of the trio, Serena has the most realistic chance of completing the three-peat in 2020. The great American opened her season with a title-run in Auckland, but she suffered a shock second round defeat to Qiang Wang at the Australian Open. The 38-year-old will be keen to make up for that with a strong showing at Indian Wells.

Fellow mums, Clijsters and Azarenka have less realistic chances of winning. Clijsters has only just ended a seven-year retirement, and has lost the two matches she’s played since her comeback, while Azarenka has also just returned to the tour following lengthy break. The former No. 1 ended last season at the US Open, and didn’t begin the new season until last month’s Monterrey Open.

Another surprise champion?

Indian Wells has produced surprise champions in each of the last three seasons, with Elena Vesnina winning in 2017, Naomi Osaka in 2018, and Bianca Andreescu producing a superb title run in 2019.

Naomi Osaka claimed her first WTA title at Indian Wells in 2018 (PA Sport)

Vesnina had not made a Premier Mandatory quarter final before the 2017 BNP Paribas Open, and had won just two previous WTA titles prior to her 2017 Indian Wells success. For Osaka and Andreescu, their respective Indian Wells triumphs were their first WTA titles, and set them on the path to becoming Grand Slam champions later in the year.

Will the trend of surprise champions continue in 2020?

Can Andreescu defend her title? Will she even play?

Bianca Andreescu’s participation at Indian Wells remains very unclear, as the defending champion continues to recover from the knee problem that has kept her away from the tour since last year’s WTA Finals in Shenzhen.

Bianca Andreescu (PA Sport)

While it appears unreasonable to expect her to mount a strong title defence- if she plays- she did show last season that she possesses a remarkable ability to immediately find her best form even after a long injury lay-off.

Andreescu played just one match between April and July last year as she struggled with a shoulder problem, but incredibly, she won 13 straight matches after her comeback, winning the Rogers Cup in Toronto and the US Open! You just cannot count the Canadian out!

How will Australian Open champion, Kenin fare at Indian Wells?

Unsurprisingly, there will be plenty of focus on Sofia Kenin as she competes in her first Premier Mandatory tournament as a Grand Slam champion.

Kenin struggled for results after her stunning Australian Open triumph, losing consecutive opening matches in Dubai and Doha, but as the American explained, she wasn’t necessarily playing too badly, but she ran into some difficult early draws (Elena Rybakina in Dubai and Dayana Yastremska in Doha).

She finally got going again in Lyon, reaching the quarter finals as at the time of writing. She has hardly been convincing in the period between the Australian Open and Indian Wells, but form is a little bit overrated on the WTA Tour- it’s really all about getting it right during the week in question. Kenin has shown that she can put together a big week (or two, as was the case at the Australian Open)- she is definitely capable of doing it again at Indian Wells.

Barty, Halep headline open field

Once again, it’s an extremely open field at Indian Wells, with a host of players presenting solid cases to be classed as title contenders. From Ashleigh Barty to Simona Halep; Karolina Pliskova to Belinda Bencic; Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina, Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza… there are lots of players who can get on a roll and go all the way!

It promises to be a typically intriguing and exciting week and a half at Indian Wells!