Indian Wells talking points: What next for Bianca Andreescu and Dominic Thiem?
Two new champions reigned supreme in the Californian desert at the season's first Masters 1000 and Premier Mandatory tournaments
Indian Wells talking points
The first Masters 1000 and Premier Mandatory tournaments of the season arrived at a thrilling climax on Sunday night when two new champions were crowned at Indian Wells.
As the ATP and WTA Tours make their way to Miami for the next 1000-level tournaments, here are a few takeaways from the Californian desert.
What next for the new champions?
We couldn’t possibly start a series of talking points without focusing on the champions, particularly when both winners were – to different degrees – outsiders to win the tournaments.
Bianca Andreescu became the youngest player since a 17-year-old Serena Williams in 1999 to reach the WTA Indian Wells final, beating a series of esteemed opponents en route, including former world No 1 Garbine Muguruza and sixth seed Elina Svitolina. The 18-year-old Canadian’s classy and composed display in the final against eighth seed Angelique Kerber showed a player mature beyond her years.
Andreescu’s success wasn’t entirely out of the blue as she had appeared in a WTA final already this season, reaching the showpiece in Auckland where she claimed wins over top seed Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams.
Her triumph, and subsequent rise to world No 24, have elevated her standing on the WTA Tour and she now must get used to being a contender and not just a plucky challenger. But based on the evidence so far, Andreescu will be taking it all in her stride and will have far greater ambitions than top 20.
After all, the last player to win their first WTA title at Indian Wells was Naomi Osaka 12 months ago, and that has worked out rather well.
On the men’s side, Austria’s Dominic Thiem won his first Masters 1000 title with a fine win over five-time champion Roger Federer in the final. For a player of such talent and consistency – Thiem has not been out of the top 10 since May 2016 – it felt a long time coming.
Thiem is arguably the second-best clay court player in the world, but he is finally making inroads on other surfaces. His past two titles have come on hard courts and he made his first non-clay court Masters semi-final in Paris last year. Thiem, up to world No 4, has the power and variation to excel on all surfaces and his Indian Wells title provides further proof he is no longer a one-surface pony.
Tough time for the old guard
Federer aside, it was a tough tournament for tennis’ traditional elite. In the men’s event, Novak Djokovic – appearing for the first time since blazing his way to the Australian Open title – was soundly beaten in the third round, while Rafael Nadal’s worrying injury troubles returned ahead of the semi-finals and he will miss the upcoming Miami Open.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams withdrew with illness midway through her third round match with Muguruza, while world No 2 Simona Halep suffered a surprise fourth round defeat to Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova.
All of them, barring Nadal, will have a chance to bounce straight back in Miami. It is far too early to suggest a changing of the guard after one tournament, but the murmurs will grow louder if there is a similar scenario plays out in Florida.
Worrying form for Stephens
It’s been a rather underwhelming start to the season for American Sloane Stephens. From four tournaments played, she has won five matches, three of those coming at the Australian Open.
An opening defeat in the second round - after a first-round bye - to world No 109 Stefanie Voegele at Indian Wells extended Stephens’ poor form at the worst possible time. The world No 6 now heads to Miami as the defending champion and unless she produces a complete turnaround her chances of protecting those 1,000 points look slim.
Stephens has previously made a mockery of form and history, winning the 2017 US Open under a protected ranking following a lengthy spell out injured, while she reached the French Open final last season despite no real clay court form to speak of.
Stephens has the ability to defeat any player in the world, but the longer her dip continues the harder it will become to rebound. She should hope that her recent happy memories from Miami will give her the confidence and motivation to begin her revival.
Updated: March 18, 2019 05:53 PM