Tennis Picks: Women's 2014 BNP Paribas Open

Nila Amerova

Friday, February 21, 2014 2:51 PM GMT

Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 2:51 PM GMT

The WTA Tour is headed to the BNP Paribas Open in a few weeks in Indian Wells and so without further ado, here’s an early preview of the women’s field of contenders for the highly coveted title.

Williams boycott continues

The Williams sisters’ continued boycott of Indian Wells enters its 13th straight year. Since 2001, when Serena Williams won the title over Kim Clijsters amidst relentless booing from the crowd, still incensed by Venus Williams’ decision to withdraw from her highly anticipated semi-final match against Serena, the siblings haven’t graced the event with their presence. Most likely, they never will. But let’s not dwell on that or the personal intricacies of the matter. The only relevant bit as far as tennis betting is concerned: no Serena Williams means a genuinely wide-open affair.

When just about every major tournament in the women’s game begins and ends with a narrative about the indisputable Queen of the game and the caveat: if she’s in it, she’ll win it. A title up for grabs so – and not just any measly title by the way but a big deal with a hefty prize purse of $1 million –makes handicapping a most intriguing prospect as every single player all of sudden has a notional chance to win it.

In fact, over the last 12 years there have been nine different champions on the women’s front, with three players repeating – the now inactive Kim Clijsters (2003 and 2005), Daniela Hantuchova (2002 and 2007) and Maria Sharapova (2006 and 2013).

So who will win this year’s instalment of the BNP Paribas Open? Will Maria Sharapova successfully defend her title or will another champion emerge? Here’s a list of the possible contenders.

World No.2 Li Na, in the absence of Serena Williams, will assume top seeding in Indian Wells but, arguably, the top contender in tennis betting circles will be Victoria Azarenka – an opinion that correlates to the US Open futures markets where the Belarusian is installed as the second favourite at +250 to win outright behind Serena at +110.

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Azarenka is one of the most solid hard courters in the women’s game and consistent. She won the title in 2012 when she beat Maria Sharapova convincingly 6-2, 6-3 but was unable to defend her title last year due to injury.

Maria Sharapova, who is listed as the third favourite in US Open betting markets to win outright across sportsbooks, cuts an attractive figure for the title in Indian Wells as she’s featured in the last two finals, a runner-up in 2012 and a champion in 2013 after beating Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-2.  At times, many hastily write off the Russian only to be left flummoxed by her resilience and competitiveness. Avid tennis fans however know better than that, as Sharapova’s competitiveness has always been second to none, rivalling Serena in heart and fight if not in results.  

Australian Open champion Li Na should prove a serious contender for the Indian Wells title and a test for either Azarenka or Sharapova should they cross paths in the Californian desert.  But because of her tendency to be inconsistent at times, she’s the least favoured of the top four contenders for the title.

Outside of the top four, it’s fair game really. Ana Ivanovic, who beat Serena Williams in Melbourne this year, is the 2008 champion and 2009 runner-up. She could potentially enjoy a standout run in California. Similarly, Caroline Wozniaki is the 2011 champion and runner-up last year. Another seasoned veteran that could potentially surprise is Daniela Hantuchova who won this title twice – to date her only major titles – and enjoyed a solid run in Melbourne earlier this year.

From the crop of young guns, emerging stars, constant contenders and those reinvented a few standout including Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Simona Halep, Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska. Without the benefit of a draw however it’s hard to whittle down which of these could be a potential game changer at the BNP Paribas Open.

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