Thursday, March 6, 2014

Stars come out at Indian Wells

Australian Open champion Li Na is
seeded first in the BNP Paribas Open
at Indian Wells. Photo by Paul Bauman

   INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Women's first-round matches in the BNP Paribas Open began Wednesday.
   But other than Shuai Peng's 4-6, 6-0, 7-5 victory over 2009 champion Vera Zvonareva, the highlights came in the interview room.
   Shortly after the loss by Zvonareva, the 2010 Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion coming back from shoulder surgery, the WTA tour held its all-access hour (actually two hours) as the top eight women's seeds met the media one by one. All 32 men's and 32 women's seeds receive byes in the opening round.
   As usual, all the top women except Serena Williams are here. The world No. 1 has boycotted the tournament since a 2001 incident in which her sister Venus defaulted just before their 2001 semifinal. Fans booed, and some allegedly made racist comments to the family.
   Following are highlights from Wednesday's interviews (seeding, world ranking in parentheses):
   Li Na, China (1, 2) — The two-time Grand Slam singles champion (2011 French Open and this year's Australian Open), who turned her acceptance speech in Melbourne into a comedy routine, on whether it's easy to find her name at the top of the draw: "It's always easy to find my name because it's the shortest ever. I have to say thanks to my mom."
   Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland (2, 3) — The 2012 Wimbledon runner-up, on turning 25 today: "A lot of players are 16, 17, 18 years old. This is like sometimes eight years difference, which is a lot, right? So, of course, I don't feel young anymore."
   Victoria Azarenka, Belarus (3, 4) — The two-time Grand Slam singles champion (2012 and 2013 Australian Open) and 2012 Indian Wells winner, on how she'd like to change sports: "I want to inspire kids to have fun playing tennis, not just to be pushed to play tennis, because I see that a lot. Being a (professional) tennis player, you go straight from 14 (years old) to 25. You miss that window because you've got to be responsible, you've got to be professional. Helping kids is (like going back to) childhood, and I love that.
   "I just had my first charity event (for Children's Hospital Los Angeles), and it has been my dream to be able to do that. This was just the beginning. I have so many ideas, so many projects to (work on), so I'm really excited."
Maria Sharapova, seeded fourth, will defend her BNP
Paribas Open title. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Maria Sharapova, Russia (4, 5) — The four-time Grand Slam singles champion, and defending and two-time Indian Wells champion, on returning to her hometown of Sochi for the Winter Olympics and visiting the wall she hit against as a child: "I think I started playing because I was so bored watching my father play. I just took a racket — it happened to be Yevgeny's racket because my father would play with Yevgeny Kafelnikov's rackets — and I would just go on my own and hit against the wall. I kept doing it and doing it, and little by little I started playing with other kids, and it became more competitive."
   Angelique Kerber, Germany (5, 6) — The two-time singles semifinalist in Grand Slams (2011 U.S. Open and 2012 Wimbledon) and Indian Wells (2012 and 2013) on the only time she has met countrywoman Steffi Graf, two years ago at Wimbledon: "I was so nervous that I have no idea what advice she gave me. It was nice to meet her because she is my idol."
   Simona Halep, Romania (6, 7) — The WTA's Most Improved Player last year, on having more media obligations since cracking the top 10 for the first time in January: "It's a new style of my life now, and I have to enjoy (it). I don't know how to say ... I have to do this, so it's OK."
No. 7 seed Jelena Jankovic won the
BNP Paribas Open in 2010. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Jelena Jankovic, Serbia (7, 8) — The former world No. 1 and 2010 Indian Wells champion on her new house in San Diego: "It's beautiful. I was just there, but it rained for three days. That was unusual. I practiced for two days on my own court, then the rain was just ... I said, 'Where are we, in England or San Diego?' "
   Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic (8, 9) — On the best advice she received after winning Wimbledon in 2011: "I remember when my agent told me that my life is going to be totally different ... but it wasn't really advice."   
   Here are links to the men's and women's draws and Thursday's order of play:

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