What's at stake at Indian Wells 2021?

 - Reem Abulleil

With a new date and a stellar field, there is plenty to play for these next two weeks in the California desert

Overview of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The WTA and ATP tours return to tennis paradise this week, with Indian Wells back on the calendar for the first time in two and a half years, albeit in an autumn time slot instead of its usual March date.

Here’s a look at what’s at stake these next two weeks in California’s Coachella Valley.

Battle for Guadalajara spots to heat up

With four places still up for grabs at next month’s WTA Finals in Guadalajara, and 1,000 valuable points on offer at Indian Wells; the California desert will provide the battleground for some fierce competition between the likes of Garbine Muguruza, Maria Sakkari, Iga Swiatek, Ons Jabeur and Elise Mertens, who remain in contention for the prestigious season finale, along with several other players.

Muguruza boosted her chances of qualifying for a fourth WTA Finals by clinching the title in Chicago on Sunday, which sent her up to No.6 in the Race.

Garbiñe Muguruza in Indian Wells 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The key for Muguruza to have a strong campaign this upcoming fortnight at Indian Wells? “Adaptation,” she told WTA Insider in Chicago. “It's a little different. I feel like I'm coming with good matches. I think the competition is there. I'm just going to have to quickly adapt to the little things. The ball flies, the temperature should be warmer there.”

Jabeur, who fell to Muguruza in the championship match, arrives to Indian Wells at No.9 in the Race, looking to get into that elite top-eight bracket. The Tunisian is chasing history as she bids to become the first Arab player to make it to a season-ending Championships.

“The main goal is to qualify for Guadalajara. It's a dream coming true. It's something big. Knowing that I can be the first Arab to qualify, it's unbelievable,” said Jabeur, whose new career-high ranking of No.14 this week, sees her join Younes El Aynaoui as the highest-ranked Arabs ever in tennis history.  

“It's more stress on me but I really made my peace with it. I'm going to do my best.”

Turin qualification in the balance

While the women will be competing for those highly-coveted tickets to Guadalajara, the men will have a battle of their own for the five remaining slots in Turin’s ATP Finals line-up.

Since Rafael Nadal, currently No.7 in the ATP Race, has already pulled the plug on his season, players in the vicinity like Casper Ruud, Hubert Hurkacz, Jannik Sinner and Felix Auger-Aliassime will be entering Indian Wells with a purpose, looking to take the Spaniard’s place to strengthen their qualification chances.

Ruud is fresh off a title run in San Diego, which helped him leapfrog Hurkacz into the No.8 spot, while Sinner reigned supreme in Sofia to eclipse Auger-Aliassime and rise to No.10 in the Race.

Casper Ruud©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“It's fun because Jannik and Hubert are the closest guys behind me,” Ruud said on Sunday. “Within these two weeks we've all won a tournament so it’s a strong competition now. I think us three are the closest to capturing the last two spots.”

Ruud, who owns a tour-leading five titles this season, will be making his Indian Wells main-draw debut this fortnight.

All eyes on Emma

Newly-minted US Open champion Emma Raducanu will make her first official tournament appearance since she became the first ever qualifier to win a Grand Slam when she steps on court at Indian Wells this week.

The 18-year-old Brit, who was handed a wildcard into the main draw in the desert, has enjoyed a whirlwind few weeks that saw her attend the Met Gala, play tennis with Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, announce a sponsorship deal with Tiffany’s and rise to No.22 in the world rankings.

This time last year, Raducanu was ranked outside the top 300. She has yet to win a main-draw match at a WTA tour-level tournament but enters Indian Wells carrying a 10-match, 20-set winning streak from her stunning run at the US Open.

According to the Daily Mail, Raducanu, who did not renew her two-month coaching contract with Andrew Richardson, will be helped by former British No.1 Jeremy Bates at the BNP Paribas Open.

Opportunity for Medvedev in bid for No.1 ranking

With barely any points to defend from his 2019 Indian Wells outing, Daniil Medvedev can gain some serious ground in his quest to replace Novak Djokovic at the top of the world rankings if he enjoys a strong campaign in California.

With defending champion Dominic Thiem, five-time winner Roger Federer and three-time champion Nadal all out for the rest of the season, and Djokovic opting out of competing at Indian Wells, the tournament is guaranteed a new men’s champion.

As the top seed and owner of four titles this season – including the US Open and Toronto – Medvedev headlines the list of favourites for the Indian Wells crown this fortnight.

Youngsters keen to make an impression

Surprise US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez will be making her Indian Wells main-draw debut, keen to keep up her great form that saw her clinch a maiden WTA title in Monterrey in March, and finish as runner-up in New York last month.

The 19-year-old was ranked 100 in the world this time last year, but is now up to 28 and rising.

On the men’s side, Spanish teenager and US Open quarter-finalist Carlos Alcaraz, American Next Gen stars Sebastian Korda and Jenson Brooksby, and Italian Roland-Garros standout Lorenzo Musetti will all be making their Indian Wells main-draw debuts.  

Andreescu out to defend her title

Canadian Bianca Andreescu was an unexpected champion when she stormed to the Indian Wells title as a 60th-ranked wildcard back in 2019. She went on to win Toronto and the US Open that year, but injuries have slowed her down and her recent results have seen her drop out of the top 20, after peaking at No.4 in the world two years ago.

An early exit for Andreescu in California this fortnight could potentially see the 21-year-old drop outside the top 30.