High Season for the ATP and WTA Tours: Indian Wells and Miami

sharnadThe Indian Wells Masters in California is one of the most prominent events in the tennis calendar for both the men and the women’s tours. Several tournaments throughout the year lay claim to the title ‘Fifth Slam’; suggesting that, after the four Grand Slams – the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open – it is they who come next in importance and prestige. The two season-closing tournaments – the ATP World Tour Finals for the men, hosted indoors at the O2 Arena in London; and the WTA Tour Championships for the women, for which venues across the world bid for rights extending across several seasons – perhaps receive the ‘Fifth Slam’ tag most frequently, and they warrant it with regard to ranking points, the winners of these tournaments receiving up to 1,500 points, the most on offer outside of the four Majors.

Yet the Indian Wells Masters also possesses a strong argument in its favour: one of nine Masters 1000 events in the men’s ATP tour, and one of only four ‘Premier Mandatory’ events in the WTA tour, and offering 1,000 ranking points to its two victors, Indian Wells is is the best attended event outside of the four Slams, with approximately 370,000 visitors making an appearance during the one-and-a-half weeks of the tournament’s duration. Certainly, if ‘The West’ must have a Grand Slam equivalent, then Indian Wells is it.

Subsequent to a couple of qualifying rounds, the women’s tournament began on Wednesday, 6 March, the men’s on the following day, with all seeded players receiving a bye from the first round of matches. In the early stages of the women’s draw, Svetlana Kuznetsova – ranked 46th in the world after missing much of last season with a knee-injury – continued something of a comeback, defeating 18th seed Jelena Janković 0-6, 6-2, 7-5 in the second round; before falling in round three to Marion Bartoli. Bartoli proceeded to a defeat in two sets at the hands of Sara Errani; who was in turn dispatched, after a close first set which went to a tie-break, by Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals. In the semi-finals, Sharapova met Maria Kirilenko, seeded thirteen, and entering the semis on the back of an impressive and hard-fought three-set victory over 3rd seed Agnieszka Radwańska. Sharapova beat Kirilenko 6-4, 6-3 to make the final.

The quarter-finals in the other half of the women’s draw were somewhat marred in so far as neither took place. Victoria Azarenka and Sam Stosur both pulled out, the first with an ankle injury, the second with a calf problem; giving their opponents, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber respectively, easy access to a semi-final which Wozniacki ever-so-slightly edged, winning 2-6, 6-4, 7-5. This was to be Wozniacki’s first Premier Mandatory/Premier 5 (the names referring to the top-tier events of the WTA Tour) final since reaching the final at Indian Wells two years ago, and winning the championship with a victory over Marion Bartoli. Sharapova, however, was as imperious yesterday as she had been throughout the rest of the tournament, and was too strong for Wozniacki, taking the title with a 6-2, 6-2 scoreline. Thereby Sharapova lasted the extent of the tournament without dropping a set.

The men’s draw moved along fairly serenely until the quarter-final stage. Second-round upsets saw Fernando Verdasco lose heavily (6-0, 6-1) to Jarkko Nieminen; Phillip Kohlschreiber fall to young Frenchman Benoît Paire; and perhaps most surprisingly, David Ferrer, the 4th seed, lost in three sets to tall South African Kevin Anderson. Andy Murray had suffered opening-match defeats on his last two trips to Indian Wells, and he lost the first set of his opening match this time round to Evgeny Donskoy, but came back to win through 5-7, 6-2, 6-2. Murray made it to the quarter-finals – defeating Carlos Berlocq in the fourth round after complaining during the match about the Argentine’s inconsistent and loud grunting – but fell there to Juan Martín del Potro, improving and on an excellent run of form. Del Potro lost a tight first set in the tie-break, but then swept the next two for a 6-7, 6-3, 6-1 result; and went on to meet Novak Djokovic in the semis. At the end of a gruelling match and with many points endured, Del Potro defeated Djokovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

In the other half of the draw, after narrowly defeating his compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka in a good match in the previous round (6-3, 6-7, 7-5), Roger Federer was beaten comprehensively in the quarter-finals by Rafa Nadal (6-4, 6-2). Nadal was getting stronger as the tournament progressed; after defeating a pretty in-form Tomáš Berdych 6-4, 7-5 in their semi-final, he lost the first set of the final to Del Potro, but eventually triumphed 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Nadal has suffered knee troubles throughout the past year: these saw him miss last year’s US Open and the Australian Open at the start of this, falling, in the process, outside of the top four of the rankings for the first time since 2005. Indian Wells marked Nadal’s first hard-court appearance in a year; his success yesterday was first on a hard-court since October 2010. By virtue of the victory, Nadal becomes the player with the most Masters 1000 titles to his name.

In the doubles finals, the Bryan brothers defeated the partnership of Treat Conrad Huey (none of whose three names require quotations marks) and Jerzy Janowicz; and Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina won over Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik.

Both tours head next to Key Biscayne, Miami, for the Miami Masters, whose first round begins this Wednesday. This is another prestigious event, and another which vies for ‘Fifth Slam’ recognition in the hearts and minds of the public. It is another ATP Masters 1000 event; another of the four WTA ‘Premier Mandatory’ events; expects around 320,000 visitors; and offers 1,000 ranking points and one of the largest pots of prize money. After controversy in 2001, the Williams sisters have boycotted Indian Wells, so Serena Williams is scheduled to return to the tour in Miami. Rafa Nadal, on the other hand, will miss the event, choosing to skip it in order to recover and train for the clay-court season.