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Azarenka Aims for Repeat at Indian Wells

Once again, Victoria Azarenka finds herself unbeaten heading into Indian Wells. Tennis Now's Erik Gudris previews the BNP Paribas Open Women's Draw.

By Erik Gudris

Victoria Azarenka (March 5th, 2013) -- Top seed Victoria Azarenka may be feeling a sense of deja vu as she prepares to defend her BNP Paribas Open title at Indian Wells. Just like last year, Azarenka finds herself the champion of Melbourne and undefeated this season.

The Belarusian could start her title defense against a former two-time winner of the event in Daniela Hantuchova. But the match everyone is looking forward to is a possible fourth round meeting with No. 15 seed Sloane Stephens in what would be a reprise of their controversial Australian Open semi.

But Stephens, who enters this year as the top seeded American woman, may feel the pressure of living up to all the massive expectations based off of her semi run in Melbourne. And that's why it wouldn't be unexpected at all to see Stephens lose early, perhaps to rising Urzsula Radwanska.

Waiting for Azarenka in the quarters could either be streaky Julia Goerges or another former winner in Caroline Wozniacki. But Azarenka is playing too solid right now and to not see her in the semis would be a surprise.

In what is the most wide open section of the draw, No. 4 seed Angelique Kerber and No. 7 seed Sam Stosur are the projected quarterfinalists. But Kerber is still recovering from several injuries suffered down under and hasn't played that well since, making her ripe for an early upset.

Stosur herself is entering with so-so results and though she reached the semis here a few years ago, she's not a lock either. Stosur will have to watch out for young American Madison Keys who can hit anybody off the court when she's on. Former winner Ana Ivanovic or the always dangerous Mona Barthel could be the ones into the final four and as there's usually at least one surprise semifinalist each year, this section is where she will come from.

Sharapova, Radwanska Headline Bottom Half of Draw

With the recent withdrawal of Li Na due to an ankle injury, that pushed up Petra Kvitova into the No. 5 seed. Kvitova has only reached the third round of Indian Wells and despite her recent title run in Dubai, she has still yet to prove herself at a big event on American hard courts.

No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska should have the guile and shots to advance with ease through the early rounds. Russia's Maria Kirilenko might pose a test for her, but it's the possible quarterfinal meeting with Kvitova that will worry Radwanska the most.

If Kvitova gets her big game going early, she should build on her recent confidence and make her first semi in yet another desert tournament.

Maria Sharapova once again is poised to cruise at least until the semifinals. She knows she will face an Italian first round either in Francesca Schiavone or Flavia Pennetta and then possibly meet Sara Errani in the quarters.

Errani herself has been posting solid results and continues to prove she is not an easy player to dismiss. Svetlana Kuznetsova, who might face Jelena Jankovic early in a classic WTA matchup, could be the one to watch in this section if she can replicate the form she showed in Melbourne.

But this is Sharapova's section to lose and it's unlikely anyone except herself will prevent her from reaching the semis.

Azarenka, even with Kvitova and Sharapova standing in her way, is still the favorite to win and it will take a sublime performance to stop her from streaking her way into Miami with a zero still in her 2013 loss column.

Semis: Azarenka v. Barthel, Kvitova v. Sharapova
Winner: Azarenka over Sharapova


(Photo Credit: Corleve/Mark Peterson)

 

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