March has always been one of the standout months in both tennis calendars with back to back events at Indian Wells and Miami. The WTA side of the draw has taken a hit before the event has started with both of the top two seeds – Ashleigh Barty and Barbora Krejcikova – not taking part over the next two weeks.
With Krejcikova’s withdrawal coming after the draw, that does open up the first quarter of the draw for a number of players. Karolina Pliskova would look to be the favourite from this section but her 2021 performance left a lot to be desired with the Czech losing in straight sets to Beatriz Haddad Maia early on. The early rounds don’t look too troubling although the big hitting Ludmila Samsonova could cause trouble. The Russian has surged up the rankings in the past few years and now has a seeding to her name. Dayana Yastremska could be the one to watch though in this section if she is not emotionally drained for obvious reasons. She returned to form in Lyon, making her first final for 2 years. A retirement in her last match and a failure to build on her US Open title makes Emma Raducanu an obvious pick for early seeded exit. The Brit plays the winner of Yastremska and Caroline Garcia in her first match.
It would feel like the perfect spot for the 2015 champion Simona Halep to return to form. The Romanian is outside the top 20 at the moment but has a new coaching setup as well as having spent time at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy recently. It won’t be straight forward for her with Coco Gauff and Ekaterina Alexandrova possible foes early on, with the latter having defeated Halep on a few occasions. Halep could also get a spot of revenge in round four if Alize Cornet makes it there. The Frenchwoman had an unlikely run to the quarter finals in Melbourne, defeating Halep along the way. Cornet is the beneficiary of Krejcikova’s late withdrawal, slotting into her position as the 33rd seed.
In comparison, the second quarter of the draw looks stacked on paper. Heading it up is Iga Swiatek, who is hot off success in Doha. She swept aside three top 10 players on her way to winning the title, dropping a combined 14 games across wins against Maria Sakkari, Aryna Sabalenka and Anett Kontaveit. She will have been disappointed to have lost a very winnable Australian Open semi final back in January but is putting herself in a good position to challenge for her second slam in the near future. Clara Tauson can be a troubling opponent but still suffers from youthful inconsistency. Angelique Kerber does still have the experience to take advantage of any slipups in the draw but you would not fancy the German to repeat her quarter final of last year with Swiatek expected to be in the way in round four.
The 2022 of Madison Keys so far sums up the American’s career to date. She was superb in Australia, winning a title and making it to the last four in Melbourne. Since then, she has lost two opening matches in Mexico with one to Harmony Tan being a massive lowlight. If that version of her turns up at Indian Wells, another early exit could be on the cards. Garbine Muguruza‘s year has been far from stellar too, failing to push on from her WTA Finals title at the end of last year. Elina Svitolina‘s mind is understandably elsewhere and she may continue to struggle here. Losses to the likes of Camila Osorio and Tereza Martincova leave a lot to be desired and Ana Konjuh may be sniffing an upset in round two. Belinda Bencic’s ranking has only gone one way since the pandemic and she will be hoping to reverse the slide that sees her currently outside the top 20.
2021 champion Paula Badosa achieved a career high last month, making it to No.4 thanks in large part to this event, Sydney and the WTA Finals. Her foray in the Middle East didn’t go too well with one win and two losses but she will be happy to return to the location of a recent success. It should be a fairly routine few matches on her way to the fourth round but she will likely face a tough test at this stage. Leylah Fernandez is fresh off winning a second straight Monterrey while Jelena Ostapenko is on a hot streak at the moment. She beat four slam champs on her way to the Dubai title and also made the semi final in Doha last time out, falling to Anett Kontaveit for the second time in a month.
With Ashleigh Barty never being one to overschedule, Anett Kontaveit might legitimately have hopes of the No.1 without a slam. A title run here or close to it is probably going to put her No.2 in the rankings. Her latest trophy haul came in St Petersburg and that was followed by a final in Doha. She looks a cert to make the fourth round but the interest will lie in what stage Naomi Osaka is at. The four-time slam winner is low on matches and now finds herself at No.78 in the rankings but when fit and firing, there are few hard court players better.
The effective top seed at this tournament will now be Aryna Sabalenka, who slots into the bottom of the draw as the No.2 for now. She missed the event last year so has good opportunity to make up some ground on Ashleigh Barty but will need to improve on her previous performances in 2022. She was outplayed by Iga Swiatek in their Doha match, finding herself broken on seven separate occasions – something that is unacceptable for a player of her standard even if she can break back at will. It could be a fourth round clash between the two “neutral” representatives with Victoria Azarenka also in this section of the draw. The “Sunshine Double” has always served the former No.1 well with multiple titles in both events prior to giving birth but additionally, she was a finalist here last time out.
Wrapping up the draw is the section led by Ons Jabeur. The Tunisian was one of the most improved players of 2021 and her strong all-round helped her make the top 10 for the first time late last year, where she has remained since. She made the semi finals here last year and now consistently performs to her seeding level, making the quarter final in each of her three tournaments this year. Elise Mertens and Petra Kvitova will be hoping to spring shocks on the higher ranked seeds in their sections but Jabeur and Maria Sakkari should maintain a far higher level consistently to see off the threat. Sakkari will need a strong run here but could well make the Top 5 for the first time if she goes deep.
Prediction – Iga Swiatek defeats Anett Kontaveit