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Osaka loss recalls a familiar tune at Indian Wells

Matt Zemek



Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports

Naomi Osaka reminds us: This Indian Wells WTA tournament bears hardly any resemblance to the previous year’s Indian Wells tournament.

That sentence applies not just to Osaka in particular, but it centers around her after the 2018 champion lost before the quarterfinals Tuesday night. Belinda Bencic will stick around, and Osaka will leave, after Bencic’s convincing 3-and-1 win in a battle of the year’s first major champion (Osaka) and the year’s first Premier 5 winner (Bencic).

While the Bencic victory is significant partly because it affirms Bencic’s return to the big leagues — as a sustained contender for big prizes, provided she stays healthy — it is also noteworthy because it reinforces how volatile the WTA side of Indian Wells has been this decade.

Going back to 2013, this tournament annually turns into something profoundly different from the previous year.

If you look at the past six years of Indian Wells quarterfinalists, only a few players have been able to return to this stage of the BNP Paribas Open with some semblance of consistency. I would cite these three in particular: Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, and — before she retired — Flavia Pennetta. For the most part, the women who make the quarterfinals one year usually fall away the next. It is not criticism, merely the (lack of a) steady pattern at this tournament.

The last Indian Wells finalist to repeat as a finalist the next year was Maria Sharapova in 2012 and 2013. Who said that desert soil was hard to turn over? The ground is remade at Indian Wells on a regular basis as far as the WTA is concerned.

We already are guaranteed — with Osaka’s loss following Daria Kasatkina’s early exit — of having another new final relative to the previous year. Maybe one of the elites — Angelique Kerber in the top half or Elina Svitolina in the bottom half — will lift the trophy. Maybe Venus Williams and Bianca Andreescu will meet.

Whatever the combinations are, bet on this: They won’t be remotely the same in 2020.

On a WTA Tour where tennis observers are looking for any signs of entrenched, long-term consistency, Indian Wells is supremely emblematic of the absence of that trait.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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