The future looks bright in Indian Wells

 - Alix Ramsay

So this is what tennis will look like in the not-to-distant future

Daniil Medvedev / Indian Wells 2023©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

As the BNP Paribas Open begins in Indian Wells, there is no sign of the Big Three: Roger Federer is enjoying (we hope) his retirement in Switzerland; Rafael Nadal is still injured and Novak Djokovic is not allowed into the United States.

Instead, in their place, the men who would be king are jostling for position.

Medvedev on a roll

The man to watch is Daniil Medvedev, once the best player on the planet but now ranked No.6 in the world and seeded No.5 in the desert. He is on a 14-match winning run having collected the silverware in Rotterdam (beating Jannik Sinner in the final), Doha (where he beat Andy Murray, of whom more later, in the final) and Dubai where he did for Andrey Rublev to claim the trophy. He is the hottest ticket in and his confidence is sky high.

Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships 2023, trophy©Jorge Ferrari / Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

“I feel great,” he said with a huge smile. “Of course it's a new week in completely the opposite side of the world, so everything is going to be new but the level of confidence is there.

“I felt great last three weeks, of course, getting all the titles, which never happened to me. I never had three back-to-back titles. So feeling great and looking forward to playing here where I actually didn't have such good results usually.”

He will begin his desert journey against Brandon Nakashima on Friday and with Casper Ruud seeded to be his quarter-final opponent and with Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Cam Norrie in his half, it will be a long couple of weeks for the 2021 US Open champ' is he is to achieve his goal of a fourth consecutive title.

Daniil Medvedev / Indian Wells 2023©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

Alcaraz chasing No.1

Carlos Alcaraz, the former world No.1 and the US Open champion is the top seed. Better still, if he were to win the BNP title, he would regain his top ranking.

He arrived not quite as fresh as he would have liked after losing the Rio de Janeiro final to Norrie (the Spaniard was limping by the end of that three set, two-and-a-half-hour marathon). Quite what state that right leg is in remains to be seen – he pulled out of Acapulco last week to give himself a chance to be ready for the coming challenges.

Oldies but goodies

But while the spotlight is falling on the younger men, the 35-year-old Andy Murray is quietly going about his business. Before his right hip gave out in 2017, the Scot was the final cast member in the Big Four who used to rule the roost at the major events.

The last four years, since he had the ailing joint resurfaced and rebuilt, have been hard and frustrating. But despite the setbacks and the disappointments, he has never stopped working to reclaim his place in the pecking order. And now he thinks he is finally getting back to his best.

His heroics in getting to the Doha final (he lost to Medvedev but saved a total of nine match points over the course of the five matches that week) coming on the back of his epic five-setters against Matteo Berrettini and Kokkinakis at the Australian Open proved to him that he could compete again with the best in the business.

“I know that I’m not going to play amazing every single day,” he admitted, “but I have a lot of trust in that work that I’ve done. And I believe that good matches and good results are going to come.”

Andy Murray / Open d'Australie 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Iga is at it again

Iga Swiatek is hoping that good results are going to come, too. It was this time last year that the Pole ignited the afterburners and raced away from the chasing pack to the No.1 ranking. Beginning with the Qatar title, she won 37 consecutive matches to hoover up six titles including Indian Wells and Roland Garros. And now she has to do it all over again if she is to keep her place at the top of the pecking order.

Iga Swiatek / Indian Wells 2022©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

“I want to stick to not coming back to what happened last year because every tournament is a different story,” she said “And I know that even if I’m not going to defend all the points, there is a high chance anyway that if I play well, I’ll be high in the rankings. So I don’t really care about that: I’m just focused on the race ranking and doing my best. It doesn’t matter if I’m defending or not.”

And as everyone in her path discovered in Qatar this year, when she feels free just to play, she is all but unstoppable.

Ons is back

The surprise package in the desert is Ons Jabeur. When she hobbled out of the Australian Open in the second round, hobbled by a knee injury, her immediate future looked bleak. When she then admitted that she needed knee surgery to cure her problems, life looked bleaker than ever.

But this week she is in Indian Wells with her trademark smile much in evidence and she is ready to play. It was a bit touch an go whether she would risk such an early comeback but, in the end, her competitive instincts got the better of her.

“I could have taken more time to, to get ready and give the body more time off,” she said. “But I'm an athlete. I like to compete a lot so I take it as a mental challenge for me to be here and to challenge my body, to challenge my, my brain and to work in a different way. It's always nice to see where it could take me.”