Who will step up this yr on the Paribas Open in Indian Wells?

The BNP Paribas Open begins this week simply as skilled tennis hits a crossroads, navigating towards an unsure future with out the nice rivalry among the many “Big Three” of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on the boys’s aspect and with out Serena Williams’ charisma and historic feats to set requirements for the ladies.

Stars emerge, peak, decline. It’s the cycle of athletic life on the court docket, ice, area or pitch. But as main-draw play begins Wednesday on the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the game is dealing with the absence — whether or not everlasting or momentary — of lots of its most recognizable stars from one among its greatest phases.

Tennis urgently wants profitable, magnetic gamers to fill the void as an distinctive technology fades out. Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, final yr’s U.S. Open males’s champion at 19, and Iga Swiatek of Poland, who received the ladies’s titles at Indian Wells and the U.S. Open final yr, lead the next-generation dialog however haven’t proved their longevity. They’d transfer the dialog considerably ahead by successful at Indian Wells, the place every is seeded No. 1.

Williams, preferring “evolve” to “retire,” exited final yr with 23 Grand Slam singles titles. Naomi Osaka, seemingly poised for an incredible profession after successful 4 Slam titles, was slowed by psychological well being points. She’s now taking break day whereas pregnant. Ash Barty retired final yr after successful her third Slam singles championship, in her native Australia.

The males’s panorama is also dramatically totally different. Federer retired final yr with 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal, suffering from frequent accidents, has a leg downside that may preserve him out of hardcourt occasions at Indian Wells and Miami. He will fall out of the highest 10 after Indian Wells for the primary time since April 2005.

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Djokovic, who just lately broke Steffi Graff’s document for many weeks ranked No. 1 when he hit 378, withdrew from Indian Wells after he wasn’t granted a waiver from authorities laws that require noncitizens to be vaccinated towards COVID-19 earlier than they enter the U.S. That rule possible might be rescinded earlier than the U.S. Open, the place he may break his tie with Nadal at 22 Slam singles titles every, however his absence this week will amplify the nice loss tennis has absorbed because the Big Three turned the Big Two. And, at Indian Wells, a giant zero.

“Our biggest curse and also our biggest blessing has been the dominance of these three great players. These guys are legends,” mentioned Paul Annacone, a former tour participant who does commentary for Tennis Channel and helps coach defending Indian Wells champion Taylor Fritz.

“What we’re used to right now has never been seen in the history of the game. You have three guys that have, between them, over 60 major titles. That’s the most ridiculous thing in the history of tennis,” Annacone added. “We’re accustomed to that. It feels normal because we’ve seen that for the last decade and a half or two decades.”

Welcome to a brand new regular. Which received’t be a completely dangerous factor if gamers seize the paths opening to them in Slams and tournaments like Indian Wells, which is broadly considered the fifth main. There’s room on the high for brand new faces.

Taylor Fritz hits a forehand to Denis Shapovalov throughout a Mexican Open tennis match match in Acapulco, Mexico, on March 1.

(Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)

Some are properly alongside in that journey — amongst them Swiatek, seeded No. 1 and favored to defend her title. No. 3 Jessica Pegula is the top-seeded American girl. Coco Gauff, seeded No. 6, is in the identical backside quarter of the draw as No. 2 seed and up to date Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka. Somewhere out there may be somebody who will finish a Grand Slam singles drought amongst American males that stretches again to Andy Roddick’s 2003 U.S. Open victory.

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Nostalgia is okay, however anticipation is highly effective too. “It’s also now conversely really exciting to see the possibility of, ‘Who’s next?’ ” Annacone mentioned. “Now, as a tennis fan, I’m like, ‘Which one of you is capable?’ And to me, that’s exciting. It’s exciting as a fan. Intrinsically for me, as a coach, it’s exciting because I get to watch to see who can manage that environment the best.

“Which one of you can handle that possibility and deal with not necessarily the physical skill that it takes? I think there’s a lot of players that can deal with that. But I think there’s very few that can deal with the mental expectation and the mental pressure, and I think whoever does that the best will be the one that steps up.”

That individual could possibly be Alcaraz, who proved his psychological and bodily endurance on the U.S. Open final yr. But he has been bothered by a hamstring harm that led him to skip a match in Acapulco, Mexico, and an exhibition in Las Vegas, leaving his health degree unclear.

The final man standing additionally could possibly be Daniil Medvedev, who final yr turned the primary man apart from Djokovic, Federer, Nadal or Andy Murry to be ranked No. 1 on this planet since 2004. Seeded No. 5, he’s using a 14-match successful streak that features a victory over Djokovic in Dubai final week and three straight titles.

It additionally could possibly be Fritz, who’s ranked a career-best No. 5 on this planet and is seeded No. 4 at Indian Wells. Annacone is biased, after all, however mentioned he thinks the Southern California native is ready to step up after successful the title final yr, reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals, successful a Tokyo match, and advancing to the semifinals on the year-end tour occasion.

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“I think he is right at the top of the chart of all the young guys in the ability to manage big moments, to trust himself in big moments and play his best tennis in big moments,” Annacone mentioned.

The sooner gamers like that emerge on each excursions, the higher. Not to make anybody overlook Williams or the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic rivalry, however to honor them by aiming for his or her degree of excellence.