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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Wednesday March 22, 2023


Carlos Alcaraz finished his title run at the BNP Paribas Open like a No.1.

Photo Source: BNP Paribas

Indian Wells is in the rearview and the Miami Open is kicking off in style – Andreescu vs. Raducanu live at the moment. Before we close the books on the 2023 BNP Paribas Open, here are 10 things we learned from the first half of the Sunshine Double.

Rybakina’s ascent adds to the intrigue at the top of the women’s game

When the 2023 season started we wondered if anybody on the women’s side could close the yawning gap between Iga Swiatek and the rest of the pack at the top of the rankings. Now we know two names who can: Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka.

Rybakina has defeated Swiatek twice this season by scores of 6-4, 6-4 at the Aussie Open and 6-2, 6-2 at Indian Wells. The 2022 Wimbledon champ, who just so happens to be an absolute powerhouse, reached the final of both events and came away with her second biggest title on Sunday in the California desert. Look out for Rybakina in 2023: she’s a force to be reckoned with and a player that has shown she can match up well with the World No.1.

Sabalenka, meanwhile, also reached the final at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, winning the former. Though she experienced a serving setback in Sunday’s final against Rybakina, she’s closed the gap between herself and Swiatek at the top of the rankings and is looking like one of the three best players in the women’s game at the moment.

That’s where we are for the moment. Swiatek, Rybakina and Sabalenka have emerged as the three best players at the big events this year, and others, such as Jessica Pegula, Ons Jabeur and Caroline Garcia, have to push a bit more to continue cracking through.

Things can change in a heartbeat, especially with Swiatek out of Miami, so stay tuned.

Alcaraz is hitting an even higher level

Sunday’s BNP Paribas Open men’s singles final was a stunning coup de grace for Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz. It’s a loud-and-clear message sent from the teenager, a salvo across the bow of the rest of the tour.

He didn’t just become the youngest man to win Indian Wells since Boris Becker in 1987, and the youngest player to have won both legs of the Sunshine Double – he did it with a jaw-dropping performance, without dropping a set.

Alcaraz hit his early season peak in Sunday’s final at Indian Wells, doling out a dominant thumping of Daniil Medvedev as he demonstrated a breathtaking juxtaposition of finesse and power. Alcaraz executed his gameplan to a tee against the Russian – it scary good, and beautiful to watch.

On a medium-slow hard court, it’s going to be hard to contend with Alcaraz, which is why he’s the heavy favorite to complete the Sunshine Double in Miami.

Looking ahead, we’re all excited to see what a 2023 version of Alcaraz v Djokovic looks like, and we should get our answer at some point in the clay season – and hopefully more than once!

Iga’s invincibility meter takes a hit

She’s a tour de force. She’s the best in the women’s game. She is the one to beat. That’s Iga Swiatek we’re talking about, of course, but the Pole’s aura of invincibility has taken a hit on a few fronts this year. First, she’s suffered four losses in 2023, all in straight sets. Second, she’s picked up a rib injury and for the first time since 2019, she’s dealing with some adversity in that regard.

Iga’s likely to continue her domination on the clay, but step-up performances by Sabalenka, Rybakina and Krejcikova this season lead us to believe that she may not run the table on the clay like she did in 2022.

Medvedev’s good and bad

The good: Daniil Medvedev fought through an ankle injury and a “severe allergy” to the slow-playing hard courts at Indian Wells. We’ve seen him struggle in the past on slow surfaces and would not have been surprised if the Russian lost to Zverev or Davidovich Fokina at the BNP Paribas. But he didn’t, he battled through his issues and reached the final.

The bad: That’s a very tough loss to take against Alcaraz, in that it is an indication of how wide the gap is between the two on slower surfaces. Will be curious to see if Medvedev can make any improvements in the matchup when the pair meet next.

For someone with No.1 aspirations, matching up against Alcaraz is going to be key. As the Spaniard said last week: If you want to be the best you have to beat the best.

Don’t close your books on Andreescu, Raducanu

Really strong performances from this pair of former champions have us seeing their massive upside, when their current rankings are considered.

Andreescu played brilliantly at times against Swiatek, and just needs to hold that form more consistently to continue back up the rankings from her current perch at 31.

Same for Raducanu, who notched her two biggest wins by ranking since the 2021 US Open (you remember the one, correct?). The Brit says she hasn’t even begun to tap her potential, and believes that the time lost due to injuries has impacted her development and fitness over the last year.

She’s eager to get back in a groove, and we are eager to see if she can start winning more consistency. She’ll need to start winning more regularly to get from her current ranking, at No.72, back inside the Top 50 or higher.

Holger Rune has some catching up to do

After Holger Rune’s biggest breakout of 2022 in Paris, where the Danish teen ran through five Top 10 players (including Novak Djokovic) to take his maiden Masters 1000 title, we wondered if he might be on a path similar to Alcaraz? It sure seems, at times, like Rune is destined for the very top of the game, but at Indian Wells he demonstrated why he may not be ready – yet – to fly so high.

Rune came out very flat and uninspired against Stan Wawrinka in the third round, and while he recovered and turned the contest into a heated three-set battle, he showed his maturity when he pushed to start an altercation with Wawrinka during their post-match handshake.

We like that he’s hard-nosed and taking his losses hard, but there are different ways to express it than going after bad blood with a legend and fan favorite. We’d like to see Rune rein in those emotions and keep it positive. That’s how he plays the game, after all.

Gauff vs. the elite is a question mark

Coco Gauff has no problem consistently getting past lower-ranked players – she has won the last 28 times she has faced a player ranked outside the Top 50. It’s the elite players that are really ruffling her feathers of late, however.

She’s 3-13 against the Top 10 since the start of 2022. She’s only 19, but nevertheless it’s a disturbing trend and something that we’ll be keeping an eye on.

Same goes with her forehand, her well-known liability, which has been too hit and miss against the top tier.

Tiebreak Tens - a great way to start

14 players who were or had been ranked inside the Top 10, all on Stadium 2 to play mixed doubles for the first time at the BNP Paribas Open? What an excellent way to start a marquee tournament. I happened to be sitting courtside for much of the Eisenhower Cup at this year’s BNP Paribas Open and can say that it was a true thrill to watch the likes or Iga Swiatek and Hubert Hurkacz and Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas compete side-by-side in a winner-take-all mixed competition.

It was short, sweet, memorable and set the tone for a fun-filled week of tennis in the California desert – we can’t wait to do it again next year.

American men knocking on that door

There was no successful title defense for Taylor Fritz at the BNP Paribas Open – he fell in three sets to Jannik Sinner – but he certainly didn’t go down without a fight. Same could be said for Ben Shelton, who thrilled, but eventually fell to Fritz in three sets in the second round.

Frances Tiafoe outperformed his peers in SoCal, reaching his first Masters 1000 semifinal before falling to Daniil Medvedev, and Tommy Paul was strong as well, even if he had his heart broken when he failed to convert six match points against Felix Auger-Aliassime in the round of 16.

With 13 players in the Top 100, American men are going to be impactful almost every week on tour, and the experience gained will only help them achieve more milestone moments in the long run.

5 players that we haven’t mentioned yet, but who also made big strides

Alejandro Davidovich Fokina – Spaniard thrilled with his creativity and energy en route to his first quarterfinal at Indian Wells.

Karolina Muchova – Three words: So. Much. Talent. She rises 21 spots in the rankings thanks to her quarterfinal run.

Andy Murray – The ultimate warrior keeps soldiering on.

Stan Wawrinka – Speaking of ultimate warriors, Wawrinka has his ranking up to 87 after a round of 16 performance.

Maria Sakkari – She was the comeback queen at Indian Wells, until Aryna Sabalenka proved to be too much in the semis.


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