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Women's Draw - Indian Wells

A few years ago, fans of women’s tennis had gotten used to the limited schedule of Serena Williams. But having seen the American dominate the tour and everyone else over the last 12 months, it’s just not the same when Serena is not entered into one of the major events. (For the record, Serena has not played in Indian Wells since 2001, when fans booed her and her family after older sister Venus pulled out of a highly anticipated sister showdown in the semi-finals). But like life, the tennis tour must go on, and here’s our breakdown of the women’s draw at the BNP Paribas Open.

First Quarter

Victoria Azarenka has proved that in the absence of Serena Williams, she is the best player in the game right now. And if she can pull off another win or two over the American like she did in Doha, things could get very interesting on the WTA Tour. With all 32 seeds receiving a bye, Azarenka could get former World No. 5 Daniela Hantuchova as her second round opponent and the resurgent Kirsten Flipkens in round three. Hantuchova actually owns a 2-1 record against Azarenka, but her ranking of No. 73 is a more realistic description of where her game is at currently. Azarenka’s first big test could come in round four, where she is drawn to meet the 19 year old American Sloane Stephens. Stephens has self-admittedly struggled with expectations since her stunning run to the semi-finals in Australia, which included a win over Serena Williams. And the spotlight will be on her in her first event on home soil since then.

Azarenka’s projected quarter-final opponent is No. 8 seed Caroline Wozniacki. The former World No. 1 showed some life by reaching the semi-finals in Dubai, but then had a startling loss to the World No. 186 in the first round in Kuala Lampur. With reports emerging that her romance with golfer Rory McIlroy has gone bust, the Dane could be primed for an early exit in Indian Wells. Wozniacki could face trouble in the form of 29th seed Elena Vesnina in round three and the veteran Russian Madia Petrova in round four.

Also, in this section of the draw are British teenager Laura Robson, Japanese veteran Kimiki Date-Krumm, and American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who just reached the finals in Kuala Lampur.

Prediction – Azarenka to beat Petrova in the quarters.

Second Quarter

The top seed in this section is fourth seeded Angelique Kerber. But the German has been struggling mightily in 2013. Maybe the sophomore slump is finally beginning to kick in. Kerber comes into Indian Wells on the back of a three-match losing streak, with first round losses in Doha and Dubai. Young British woman Heather Watson could take advantage of a diffident Kerber in round two, and either 16th seed Lucie Safarova or 17th seed Ekaterina Makarova loom large as fourth round opponents – both with a reputation for knocking some big names out.

Samantha Stosur is the other top seed in this part of the draw. The Australian has also been struggling this year with a poor 5-7 record so far, and she won’t fancy facing the rising 17 year old American, Madison Keys, in the second round. Former World No. 1 Ana Ivanovic is a possible fourth round opponent, but that’s if the Serb can get past the 24th seeded German Mona Barthel, who has been playing some good ball in recent weeks.

Others to watch out for in this section are German teenager Annika Beck and 16 year old American wild card Taylor Townsend, who was the top-ranked junior in the world in 2012.

Prediction – Ekaterina Makarova to beat Mona Barthel in the quarters

Third Quarter

At No. 3, Agnieszka Radwanska is the favourite in this section. The Pole will be happy not to be in the same half as nemesis Azarenka, who has beaten her seven times in the last 15 months. Radwanska won back-to-back titles in January and is 17-3 for the year. She shouldn’t have too much trouble getting past No. 27 seed Sorana Cirstea in the third round or 13th seed Maria Kirilenko in the fourth.

But sitting on the opposite side of this section is fifth seed Petra Kvitova. The Czech woman had a slow start to the year, but turned it around in the Middle East – almost beating Serena in Doha and then going on to win the title in Dubai, where she also beat Radwanska on the way (Kvitova leads their head-to-head 4-1). Kvitova has traditionally struggled on the North American outdoor hardcourts due to her asthma condition, but last summer she won a couple of titles in the lead-up to the US Open. If Kvitova can adjust to the conditions, she should have no trouble getting past 31st seed Yaroslava Shvedova in round three and 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova in round four.

Other noteworthy players in this section include American teen Lauren Davis and former World No. 11 Shahar Peer, who needed a wild card to play after winning only one match in her last 10 events in the tour.

Prediction – Kvitova to beat Radwanska in the quarters.

Fourth Quarter

Serena’s absence puts Maria Sharapova back in the spotlight. The Russian was a few wins away from getting to No. 1 at the end of the 2012 season, but has stepped back a bit since. In her only two events this year, she lost to Li Na in the semis in Melbourne and to Serena in the semis in Doha. Sharapova likes playing on hardcourts, and a good run this fortnight will help keep her within striking distance of Azarenka & Serena in the rankings. But the Russian has a tough draw. A second round against either Francesca Schiavone or Flavia Pennetta is not the ideal way to start her campaign. If Sharapova gets past the Italian, she should be able to beat Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro, seeded no. 25, in round three and 14th seeded Roberta Vinci in round four.

At No. 6, Sara Errani is Sharapova’s scheduled quarter-final opponent. The Italian has proved her detractors wrong by holding steady in the top 10. In recent weeks, she reached the finals in Dubai on hardcourts and won in Acapulco on clay. Errani could have a tough battle in the fourth round, where she is slated to meet the No. 9 seed, Marion Bartoli. But Bartoli will need to get past former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic or two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in round three to keep her appointment with Errani.

Also in this section of the draw are Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, seeded No. 26, and rising French teenager Kristina Mladenovic.

Prediction – Sharapova to beat Errani in the quarters.

Semi-Final Predictions – Azarenka to beat Makarova; Sharapova to beat Kvitova.

Final Prediction – Sharapova to beat Azarenka.

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