ATP/WTA: Stars ignite Indian Wells showtime

At every turn there is a Box Office battle out in the Californian desert.

Novak Djokovic, Indian Wells 2024©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The 'Sunshine Swing' is officially in full motion.

The American hard court duo of Indian Wells and then Miami are significant stops on the Tour this month. Let's catch up on the key storylines from the Indian Wells Tennis Garden…

400 and counting for Nole

Novak Djokovic is the master of the Masters 1000 series. The world No.1 holds the record with 40 titles at the prestigious tier just below Grand Slams.

In another milestone moment for the 36-year-old, Djokovic posted his 400th Masters 1000 victory with his opener in California.

The five-time Indian Wells champion, back in competitive action for the first time since his Australian Open semi-final loss to Jannik Sinner, overcome Australia's Aleksandar Vukic 6-2, 5-7, 6-3.

Defending champion Carlos Alcaraz has shrugged off an ankle injury sustained last month in Rio to burst into life Stateside. The Spaniard hailed "almost a perfect match for me," following a hotshot laden 6-2, 6-3 scoreline against Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Jannik Sinner has continued his blazing form, extending his winning streak to 17 matches. The Australian Open champion remains unbeaten in 2024 and surged into the Last 16 with a 6-3, 6-4 passage past Jan-Lennard Struff.

How about this for a popcorn clash? World No.3 Sinner takes on No.16 seed Ben Shelton in their third meeting. The exuberant American thrilled in a three-set Shanghai Masters victory last October, before Sinner turned the tables 7-6(2), 7-5 en route to the Vienna silverware. Expect rallies pushing each other to the limit as Shelton succinctly stated, "Let's get it."

Carlos Alcaraz, Indian Wells 2024©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

Sabalenka back from the brink

Backs against the wall, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff have illustrated at Indian Wells why they are major winners.

Australian Open champion Sabalenka erased four match points to fend off American youngster Peyton Stearns 6-7(2), 6-2, 7-6(6) in the second round.  

"This match will definitely go into the book of craziest matches and the best matches of my career," declared the world No.2, who meets 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu on court on Monday.

As for Gauff, the home charge was forced to reel in Frenchwoman Clara Burel from a 0-4 deficit in their deciding set. The 19-year-old eventually prevailed 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) to book a battle with Italy's Lucia Bronzetti.

World No.1 Iga Swiatek avenged her Australian Open defeat at the hands of Czech prodigy Linda Noskova. The 2022 champion was 2-4 and three break points down to Noskova, before finding her ruthless best to accelerate through 10 consecutive games to reach the fourth round for the fourth time.

"I had to kind of change some negative thoughts," said the top seed. "I knew that I'm experienced enough to just hold it together and not really let myself let these negative thoughts win. I think my game clicked a little bit more."

Mum's the word

Four players are thriving and flourishing back in 'business mode' as mothers on Tour.

Two former world No.1s Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber, who have recently returned from maternity leave, will face off in marquee Last 16 tussle.

2011 champion Wozniacki demonstrated her trademark grit and determination to outgun American Katie Volynets 6-2, 4-6, 6-0 to earn a 16th clash with Kerber.

The German, picking up steam with two outstanding Top 20 wins at Indian Wells over Jelena Ostapenko and Veronika Kudermetova, edges their long-standing rivalry at 8-7. Their most recent duel came at Eastbourne 2018, where Wozniacki triumphed from match point down in three sets.

"It's going to be a great match. We know each other extremely well. There's going to be no secrets out there," said Wozniacki. "It's really going to be about who is going to be better on the day. It can go either way."

Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina are two other mother's bringing it to court.

Osaka won her maiden WTA title at Indian Wells back in 2018 and the four-time major winner is incrementally rebuilding back to her best in her fifth tournament since 2023 maternity leave. A 7-5, 6-3 dismissal of No.14 seed Liudmila Samsonova in Saturday's second round indicates Osaka is ahead of schedule to disrupt the upper echelons once again.

Should Osaka navigate past Elise Mertens, there could be a potentially pulsating Last 16 clash with Gauff.

As for Svitolina, the Ukrainian continues to utilise her sensational 2023 comeback and is on track to meet Sabalenka. However, Svitolina must find a way past in-form No.23 seed Emma Navarro.

What else is on the menu?

There's a French flavour to proceedings on Monday at the idyllic Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Four Frenchman and two Frenchwomen will vie to extend their stay in 'tennis paradise.'

The red-hot Ugo Humbert, fresh from lifting the Dubai title, will hope to overturn at 0-2 head-to-head facing American No.17 seed Tommy Paul.

Gael Monfils' renaissance continues to sparkle. The 37-year-old had the crowd in raptures in a highlight reel 6-0, 6-7(5), 6-2 scoreboard with No.8 seed Hubert Hurkacz.

Gael Monfils, Indian Wells 20224©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

Monfils collides with Brit Cameron Norrie in the hope of taking on compatriot Arthur Fils. The French teenager must take down recent Los Cabos runner-up Casper Ruud.

Fellow Frenchman Adrian Mannarino will have his work cut out over the net from the in the groove Grigor Dimitrov. The victor will advance to meet 2023 finalist Daniil Medvedev or the towering Floridian Sebastian Korda. Remember the American has toppled Medvedev in their past two ties in straight sets, including last year at the Australian Open.

There could also be an all-French clash in the women's fourth round. Diane Parry has the chance to book a Last 16 ticket with victory over Jessica Pegula's conqueror Anna Blinkova. No.20 seed Caroline Garcia could take on Parry if she can outmanoeuvre world No.9 Maria Sakkari.