The first major hardcourt event since the Australian Open has begun. The first Premier Mandatory event at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells has brought the best players on both ATP and WTA tours here. In the women's draw, former two-time champion Serena Williams is the notable absentee, after winning her 23rd Grand Slam singles title Down Under, withdrew from the event due to a knee injury.
Nevertheless, Williams' absence has boosted everyone else's chances in the draw of taking home this prestigious title. Defending champion Victoria Azarenka completed the Sunshine Double last year by winning Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back. However, the former two-time Australian Open champion is unable to defend her title due to currently being on maternity leave.
Fifth seed Dominika Cibulkova is one of the firm favorites to win the title in Indian Wells this year. The 2014 Australian Open runner-up was a quarterfinalist in the Californian Desert back in 2014. Furthermore, the diminutive Slovak has a chance to end this week at a career-high ranking of three, depending on other results. Cibulkova's 2017 record is an underwhelming 8-6 record, and she lost in the third round of the Australian Open to Ekaterina Makarova, which would have been a disappointing result for her.
On the other side of the net to Cibulkova is Kristyna Pliskova. Pliskova is the twin sister of Karolina, who is the better known out of the two sisters, and occasionally gets mistaken for her sister. However, Pliskova is starting to move up the rankings, and she is on the cusp of breaking into the top 50 for the first time in her career.
The 24-year-old hailing from the Czech Republic is a talented player, and she possesses the tools to trouble Cibulkova. Pliskova reached the third round of the Australian Open at the start of the year, losing to the then defending champion Angelique Kerber.
How they got here
As one of the top 32 seeds, Cibulkova received a bye into the second round. However, she was dealt with a tough opener into the tournament as she was up against Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko. The match certainly lived up to the billing with the fifth seed defeating Ostapenko, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, who's ranking has slid down to 64 in the world.
Meanwhile, Pliskova has had to navigate her way through the draw which she has done in emphatic fashion. The current world number 54 defeated multiple-time Grand Slam doubles winner Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-0, 6-3, and she followed this up with a win over 33rd seed Daria Kasatkina with the exact same scoreline to advance to the third round in Indian Wells for the first time in her career.
This will be the first career-meeting between Cibulkova and Pliskova. Pliskova will be looking to do her sister Karolina a favor by upsetting the Slovak as Cibulkova could overtake Karolina in the rankings, who has semifinalist points to defend. Moreover, the big-serving Czech will sense this tournament as a big opportunity to boost up her ranking in the right direction.
The reigning WTA Finals champion will want to add another big title in her cabinet, and although her draw is a tough one, she will fancy her own chances to go deep in this tournament. In this contest with Pliskova, the fifth seed will need to serve well, and remain aggressive on the baseline but also mix up the play by throwing in a few drop shots. Moreover, Cibulkova has the ability to outlast many of her opponents in long rallies, and she will be looking to utilize her forehand, and use it down the line to punish Pliskova.
On the other hand, Pliskova has a good serve, although it doesn't generate as much power as her sister's, it is still a dangerous weapon and she can get a few cheap points on it. The Czech will be looking to break into the top 32 for the first time this year, and showcase her skills, that she is just as good as her sister.
This is the final match scheduled in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Day 7 of the BNP Paribas Open at not before 8:30 pm local time. The winner of this third round match will secure a berth in the fourth round, where they will face this year's Australian Open quarterfinalist, the number 19 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Pliskova's compatriot and 17th seed Barbora Strycova for a place in the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Cibulkova in straight sets