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WATCH: Game, Set, Bet: How many majors will Iga Swiatek win in 2023?

Taylor Fritz vs. Ben Shelton

This match was made for the opening weekend at Indian Wells. Fritz, 25, is the defending champion and top-ranked American, and a SoCal local to boot. Shelton, 20, has made the biggest splash of any American man so far in 2023, coming out of nearly nowhere to reach the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. He looked good again in a first-round win over Fabio Fognini in Indian Wells.

This will be the first meeting between the two, and the pressure will be squarely on Fritz’s shoulders. Not only is he defending 1000 ranking points here, he’s defending his place in the U.S. men’s hierarchy. It has taken him close to seven years on tour to establish himself in the Top 10 and as a big-title threat. He doesn’t want this kid, who had never left the country before January, to knock him off that perch already.

Shelton could do it. He serves in the 130s, and he’ll give as good as he gets from the ground against Fritz. But seven years of experience, and a Top 5 ranking, should count for something, right? Winner: Fritz

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Fritz and Shelton are the third match scheduled on Stadium 1 for Saturday.

Fritz and Shelton are the third match scheduled on Stadium 1 for Saturday.

Iga Swiatek vs. Claire Liu

In 2017, Swiatek and Liu were the No. 4 and 5 seeds, respectively, in the Roland Garros junior draw. That year Liu made the final in Paris (and reached No 1 in the girls’ rankings), while Swiatek went out in the quarterfinals. A year later, in their only pro meeting, in Auckland, Liu gave Swiatek all she could handle over three sets.

Times have obviously changed. Now Swiatek is No. 1 and Liu is 56th. There’s no reason to think these two will revert to their junior selves on Saturday, but Liu has been reaching the middle rounds of tournaments so far this season. As a Southern California native, Liu should have her backers in IW. Those fans will also have a chance to see Swiatek’s first match in the States in 2023. Twelve months ago, this is where she found the dominating form that took her to No. 1. Winner: Swiatek

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Carlos Alcaraz vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis

“I feel great,” Alcaraz says, to the relief of the tennis world, and especially officials in Indian Wells. The Spanish teen had to pull out of last week’s event in Acapulco with a right hamstring injury, just two months after pulling out of the Australian Open with a similar problem. But he says he has healed in time to try to reclaim the No. 1 ranking with a title run in Indian Wells.

He’ll take the first step against the 94th-ranked Kokkinakis. That’s not an intimidating number, but the Australian has more game, or at least more serve, that it might indicate. As a qualifier here, he has already won three matches in Indian Wells, and at 26 he does know his way around a stadium-court stage. But Alcaraz’s level of play should render all of those factors moot. Winner: Alcaraz