Turning around less than 24 hours after Madison Square Garden’s BNP Paribas Showdown, Roger Federer looked like he’d rather be anywhere else than here.
Agnieszka Radwanska called out, “She’s lying,” as she passed Caroline Wozniacki, who was trying to answer a question posed an eager journalist. “You owe me a purse,” the Dane shouted back to Aga, smiling.
And Ana Ivanovic giggled through her explanation of the sand storm she and Vera Zvonareva played through during the 2009 final.
“Whenever anyone asks me about this tournament, I say it’s an unbelievable place. Always perfect. It never rains. It never windy. It’s never cloudy … except for one day. And that was in 2009,” Ivanovic said. “I still wonder how we managed to play this match. I remember acing Vera on my second serve and the ball went backwards. I remember this particular point.”
Ivanovic didn’t win that day and hasn’t returned to a final in the Coachella Valley since. But her cheery outlook has not been dampened. Especially not since she made changes to her schedule.
“I had a different approach last year,” Ivanovic began. “I really tried to embrace my time off the court. I always used to feel guilty on my day off. So last year I said, ‘I really work hard, so in my time off I deserve to relax and not to think what others are going to think about me.’ So for me to put away that feeling of guilt was very important. I started to enjoy my time off the court and also on the court, which obviously showed in my results.”
Kevin Fischer (@Kfish_WTA) March 11, 2015
Wednesday’s chance for media to ask the Top 8 seeds from the WTA and ATP Tours twisted and turned. Subjects came and went, but Serena Williams’ return – after an absence of 14 years – was on everyone’s mind.
“She’s such a great champion,” Ivanovic said. “We’re so lucky to have someone like this in tennis. She shows that week in and week out. It’s always a great challenge to play against her. You always feel extra motivated. She’s tough. She has a really big serve, bigger than some on the men’s tour.”
“Her serve is amazing,” Federer said. “She has easy pace on it. She seems to do it rather consistently. And she has a solid second serve. I think it’s wonderful for American fans who have attended this event for so many years and haven’t seen her play here.”
“Either you guess or you’re just lucky, with her serve,” Radwanska added. “You don’t know where it’s going to go.”
Radwanska, though, tempered her remarks about Serena’s return. “Well to be honest there will be other top players, but, of course, she is in the draw, as well. But, good that she’s back. Always another challenge for us here. It’s her decision that she comes back.”
Maria Sharapova, who is projected to play Williams in the final, was sincere in her comments about the return – even if their head-to-head is a lopsided 17-2.
“I think it’s all positive,” Sharapova said about Serena’s decision to stay away and come back. “I think it’s great for the tour, great for tennis. Personally, when you’re playing any event – and especially being at the top of tennis – you want to be playing against the best. And as I’ve said before, she is the best. You want to be in the same field as the best. So, I think it’s great to have her here.”
Wozniacki’s and Williams’s friendship has been widely publicized; though the Dane is friendly with many of her fellow players, she distinguishes the top seed as a ‘close friend.’
“She’s special. Not only a great athlete, but a great person. She’s funny to be around; there’s never a dull moment. We just click; and, it’s nice to have a good friend on tour. To have someone you can rely on and trust. So, it’s nice to have the best player in the world playing a tournament like this again.”
Wozniacki, seeded No. 4, won Indian Wells once in 2011, and been the runner-up in 2010 and 2013. Her year has been lukewarm compared to expectations. She has won only one title in Kuala Lumpur; yet, her perspective varied.
“Actually I think I’ve had a pretty good season. I had an unlucky draw in Australia; and, Vika [Azarenka] played better than me in that match. That happens. But, in general, I’m pleased with my season so far. I’m pleased with my tennis and managed to push through some tough matches. In Dubai I didn’t feel my best health-wise, but I showed myself I’m where I want to be and can still compete when I’m not maybe one-hundred percent. I went to Doha and did my best and Malaysia and won the tournament. It’s a great feeling to hold the trophy.”
No. 9 seed Ekaterina Makarova has not been successful at Indian Wells over her seven appearances, and finds herself in an unusual spot. The Russian is the one of the newest additions to the Top 10, an added pressure on the Russian, who readily admitted her struggles here. Her best performance was last year when she made the round of 32, losing to Dominika Cibulkova.
“I’m not playing here good all the years,” she began, adding a slight chuckle. “The conditions [are] so dry here and the balls are flying. So for me it’s a little bit tough. But, this year I’m more focused, more understanding of how to better my game. I will try to show my best tennis.”
Makarova hasn’t garnered lots of attention and has, not too long ago, felt more comfortable in the background. However, with semifinal results in Flushing last fall and Melbourne in January, she’s at the highest ranking of her 10-year career.
“I believe more in myself than before,” she said, about her consistency and ability to push through the biggest tournaments. “Some start a little bit early, some a little bit late. After those bigger tournaments, I think I’m a different person. I’m a little bit more grown up now. It was important for me to understand mentally, rather than technically.”
Stan Wawrinka has had a similar career trajectory to Makarova. He didn’t break through to the upper echelons until later in his career, which began 13 years ago. Last year, though, he won the Australian Open, Monte Carlo — his first and only Masters 1000 title — and Davis Cup, alongside his merry band of Swiss stars, to name a few of the highlights.
“Last year, everything was different,” he said, remarking on his mindset at this time of year compared to 2014, and after coming off the Melbourne victory. “After Marseille I took five or six days off. Then I spent 10 days on fitness with my coach [Pierre] Paganini; and, then I came to the US to see Magnus [Norman] for a few days.”
“The season will be a tough one, for sure. I feel okay, though. I need a few more days to practice here. The conditions here are not easy to play; the ball flies. They’ve changed the ball.”
No matter the circumstances surrounding Wawrinka’s rise in the ranks and the new tennis balls, his outlook about Indian Wells is positive. “It’s one of the best Masters 1000 to play. It’s always sunny every day. Hopefully I can do some good results this year.”
In his eight appearances, Wawrinka’s best results have been quarterfinals in 2008 and 2011, losing to Novak Djokovic and Federer respectively. Last year, the Swiss lost to Kevin Anderson in the round of sixteen.
Davis Cup dominated exchanges, as well, throughout the four-hour-long roundtable event.
Federer tried to divert questions about it, saying he’s not the man to ask. Andy Murray said it should be played, “every two years.” Wawrinka wants changes, as well.
“It’s not the event it used to be,” Wawrinka said. “The top guys go once every two or three years, so for sure there’s something wrong about that.”
“I think we’ve talked about this too many times,” Federer said. “It’s so obvious that there are things not working. It’s obvious that it’s a great competition. Whatever you say, it’s just debating and nothing ever gets done and nothing ever gets changed.”
“You hear players say they love playing Davis Cup,” Murray began, “but then, they only step up once or twice.”
With more questions than answers left on the table regarding Davis Cup, and buckets of hope filled for a positive return of Serena Williams, these top seeds were anxious to get on court and get the tournament going. They reveled in the growth of the BNP Paribas Open, grateful of its continuous attention to player comforts. That all makes good press, but obviously comes second to winning.
What are your thoughts on the players’ mindsets heading into Indian Wells? Sound off in the comments!