Every week Tennis Channel and TENNIS.com will be introducing a Tough Call around a thought provoking topic—and our panel of experts will chime in both on-air and online. Be sure to join the discussion, weigh in on our polls, or comment on Facebook and Twitter using #TennisToughCall.
Reasons Serena Williams Will Have The Better Result At Indian Wells
~ She’s the GOAT: Serena has won more majors than any player in the Open Era, male or female, with 23—though she’s a legend too, Azarenka only has two career majors.
~ She’s won Indian Wells twice before, in 1999 and 2001 (and she’s an incredible 23-2 at the event, her only losses coming to Mary Pierce in 2000 and Azarenka in 2016).
~ She doesn’t usually take long to get back to top form: The last time Serena came back from a long lay-off—her 11-month foot injury and illness lay-off between July 2010 and June 2011—she was already winning WTA titles again as early as July (Stanford).
Reasons Victoria Azarenka Will Have The Better Result At Indian Wells
~ This isn’t her first tournament as a mom: While Serena is playing her first WTA event since becoming a mom, Azarenka already played two last year, including Wimbledon, where she reached the fourth round—so this will not be a new experience for her at all.
~ She’s also won Indian Wells twice before, and more recently: While Serena’s titles here came in 1999 and 2001, Azarenka’s came in 2012 and 2016 (and she actually beat Serena for the title in 2016 in straight sets). Azarenka is 26-6 lifetime at this event.
~ She has a better draw: While Serena could face Venus—arguably her toughest rival—in the third round, Azarenka has dominated everyone in her potential early rounds (she’s 5-0 against Heather Watson, 1-0 against Daria Kasatkina and 3-0 against Sloane Stephens).
OUR EXPERTS WEIGH IN
ASHLEY NDEBELE: Victoria Azarenka
Although both these two Grand Slam champions haven’t played a professional WTA match since 2017, I think Azarenka will have a better showing simple because she wasn’t sidelined by any injury or physical issues. While dealing with child custody issues, which have kept her off the tour since last summer, Azarenka has managed to spend a lot of time on the court practicing. Serena, on the other hand, has talked about the complications she faced after giving birth to her daughter last September, which postponed her much-anticipated return. I think Serena will perform better in Miami.
ZACH COHEN: Serena Williams
While Serena looked a bit rusty in her exhibition appearances this week, I'm still finding it tough to pick against her here. Once she wins a match or two, her confidence should skyrocket. She'd then potentially face Venus in the third round. Even though Venus hasn't dealt with anything close to what Serena has over the past year, Serena has easily won the last three meetings between the two sisters. I would expect her to handle her again at this event. Will Azarenka make it to the fourth round? I'm saying no.
NINA PANTIC: Victoria Azarenka
Though Serena has got a few exhibition matches under her belt, Azarenka has competed more recently on the WTA tour and was very strong during her few tournaments last year (including a fourth-round run at Wimbledon). She also looks fitter than ever and will be so happy to be back on court again after such a tough stretch that she'll play freely, while Serena is always burdened with expectation.
ED MCGROGRAN: Serena Williams
Given how long it's been since either player was on tour, you can't look past their very first opponents. Heather Watson, Azarenka's opponent, hasn't won a singles match since the second week of January; Zarina Diyas, Williams' opponent, has been marginally better in 2018. Frankly, I was surprised Serena entered Indian Wells at all, considering her performance during Fed Cup doubles. You have to have to assume that Serena wouldn't enter the event without some confidence in her abilities. As for Azarenka, Watson, who has played on big stages before, will be a tough out.
STEVE FLINK: Victoria Azarenka
This may be toughest of the tough calls we have had to make so far! Neither Williams nor Azarenka can be very confident at the moment. Both players are unseeded with difficult draws. Serena could face her sister Venus if she makes it to the third round. Venus at the moment would be the favorite to win that match. Azarenka opens against Heather Watson, and then could confront Sloane Stephens in the second round. With little conviction, I am picking Azarenka to do better at Indian Wells than Williams.
STEVE TIGNOR: Victoria Azarenka
We don't know what we're going to get from either woman—Vika hasn't played since Wimbledon; Serena hasn't played a real match since last year's Australia Open. But Azarenka's draw looks slightly more forgiving; she's 8-0 against her first two potential opponents, Heather Watson and Sloane Stephens. Meanwhile, Serena could face her sister Venus in the third round.
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