By Nick Carter
I thought it was time to take the plunge and put some tournament predictions on Popcorn. But I didn’t want to be boring and start with a slam. Let’s go with the more unpredictable 1000 events, and where more unpredictable than Indian Wells. Let’s take a look at the recent roll of honour since 2017:
|2017||Roger Federer||Elena Vesnina|
|2018||Juan Martin Del Potro||Naomi Osaka|
|2019||Dominic Thiem||Bianca Andreescu|
|2021||Cameron Norrie||Paula Badosa|
It is fair to say that none of these players (with the possible exception of Federer in 2017) were the title favourites going into the event. They may well have been on the long-list of favourites, but not near the very top.
Now, predicting the ATP is easy. It is probably going to be someone in the top ten, most likely Rafael Nadal or Daniil Medvedev (although I will give you a free hot take and say Felix Auger-Aliassime and Andrey Rublev are the other big favourites). At Popcorn, we don’t do boring and straightforward. So, let’s predict the WTA, which is probably the hardest to call given that they have the most competitive field in the history of either tour. And I’m going to do this before the draw even comes out on Monday.
Genuinely, when I make a long-list of contenders before a major, it usually starts with about 40 names. But you don’t want 40 names. You want one name, the person who is the most likely to win the WTA Indian Wells title. I think that will be a stretch, even for me. So, I’m giving you a top ten of potential winners:
Maria Sakkari somehow reached the top ten in 2021 without winning a title that year, and has only won one in her career to date. This is the perfect time for her to set the record straight, because frankly given how good she is that is a weird stat. The slower hard-courts at Indian Wells will suit her more and the likely craziness will give her a fantastic opportunity to go deep.
Another player I’m surprised hasn’t won more titles in her career and Jabeur is due a big win. Again, she’ll be comfortable with the slower courts. If she can do it, she would be a very popular winner. She’s recovered from a slow start to the year after having to miss Australia, with quarter-final runs in both Dubai and Doha.
You can sense a theme here with these first three players. Vondrousova is overdue a big title and, a bit like Sakkari, has underperformed in finals. She is a tricky player, and is likely to thrive in the California desert. Somehow she always manages a deep run every so often, such as in Dubai a few weeks ago, so winning a 1000 title is not beyond the realms of possibility.
I know you’re here for the really spicy takes so here’s your first one! Teichmann surprised a lot of people by reaching the final in Cincinnati, but you can’t really say it was a complete fluke. She beat Osaka, Bencic and Pliskova, all very strong players. Her topspin forehand is going to be a real weapon, and will work well on the California courts. We’ve seen a glimpse of her potential when she reached the Dubai Quarter-Finals after having to go through qualifying. Don’t underestimate her.
OK, so Sabalenka has won a 1000 event previously, however she hasn’t won a title this year yet. The world number three has been slowly regaining her form after some painful serving struggles in Australia. I can see her making a statement at Indian Wells and re-establishing herself as a leading contender on tour.
Kudermetova has been impressive over the last 12 months. Her solid, powerful shots have been an increasing threat to the top players. She’s already won a WTA 500 and was in the final in Qatar a few weeks ago. I can see her breaking into the elite at Indian Wells.
This is the most out-there name on this list so hear me out. Bouzkova came off a second-round defeat in Australia, but went on a confidence building run in Mexico with a final followed by a very narrow quarter-final defeat. The Czech’s big hitting has already been shown to trouble top players, and don’t forget she has been a semi-finalist on a US hard-court 1000 event previously. In Canada 2019, on her debut at this level in singles, she reached the semi-finals, beating three major champions (Stephens, Ostapenko and Halep) and home favourite Fernandez as well, before taking Serena Williams to three sets. If she wins this, you heard it here first. She’ll have to come through qualifying to do it but it’s very possible on the WTA tour to do this at a big event.
People may roll their eyes at me on this one. However, I have never predicted Gauff as a title contender at a big event before. If Indian Wells is the ultimate breakthrough event, this is the one Gauff needs to win in order to make it clear that she is in the mix for majors right now, not in a few years’ time. Again, I can see the teenage American really taking to the California courts so watch out, Coco is coming.
After a bit of a slow start to the season in Australia, Fernandezhas showed that fighting spirit that got her to the US Open final. At time of writing, she is yet to play her singles final in Monterrey, but regardless of the outcome she has now built up some decent momentum. Fernandez also was playing really well at Indian Wells in 2021 before finally running out of steam (unsurprisingly). She’ll be fresher this time and if she’s still loving desert life then she has to be a real title contender.In fact, if she does win then I’d back her to complete the Sunshine Double in Miami.
I feel like that, weirdly, Ostapenko is the safest bet on this list given her start to the year. After a third round in Australia, which was a solid result, she been to at least the semi-finals in her next three tournaments, including winning the title in Dubai. Right now, Ostapenko is too in-form to be ignored and don’t forget she has never won a 1000 event in her career so holding the trophy would still be a significant moment for her.
Well, I guarantee to you that you won’t have see a top ten list like this before. I should say that when I drew up the initial list, it was about 30 players. If the eventual champion was on the list, I of course will let you know. Am I insane for ignoring Iga Swiatek and Anett Kontaveit? Maybe but they’re almost too predictable. This is the WTA in 2022, anything can happen and usually does. That’s why I love watching it at the moment. Could I have been a bit more out there? Yes. You have no idea how close Dayana Yastremska and Beatriz Haddad Maia came to being on this list, but I will give them an honourable mention. Regardless, if any of these ten that I have listed win, I am going to be very smug. Who do I think is the most likely to win on this list? Probably Sabalenka or Ostapenko. Who does my gut tell me will win? Actually, Gauff or Fernandez. Regardless, we’re in for another wild two weeks of tennis in Indian Wells and I’m looking forward to it.