INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Tennis is in a rather extraordinary place at the moment in the sense that many of the best players – the most compelling stories – aren’t currently in the top eight.
So that meant that on Wednesday at the BNP Paribas Open, with all due respect to the top-eight players who attended the mandatory media availability / WTA All-Access hour, the players fans and media might most want to hear from at this moment in tennis were not the players who were made available.
It’s not a criticism as much as it is a window into procedure on the pro tours for these kinds of pre-tournament media availabilities.
Serena Williams (unranked, a wild card) is officially returning to action after being out since the 2017 Australian Open. Not there.
Victoria Azarenka (No. 204, a wild card) is back at a tournament for the first time since last year’s Wimbledon. Not that she hasn’t been in the tennis news for other reasons, with her ongoing custody dispute. Not there.
Maria Sharapova (No. 41), is back at the tournament she has won twice, for the first time since 2015. Not there. She did, though, have a match to play Wednesday night.
Novak Djokovic (No. 10), has been out since losing in the fourth round of the Australian Open, and having played just four matches all season. He won the tournament in 2008, 2011, and three consecutive times from 2014-16.
A procedure on his elbow after the Australian Open left Djokovic’s participation in doubt as the tournament neared. But he’s here, and brings mentor Andre Agassi to the desert for the first time. Not there.
All four of the above have been world No. 1. All four have won the BNP Paribas Open – and all of them have won it more than once.
Men and women all at once
An added twist, which is often the case here.
Media availabilities for both the men and the women (for whom the main draw matches began Wednesday) were both on Wednesday.
And that meant that at times, male and female players were available at the same time, and so if you wanted to speak to both, it was challenging.
The women tend to lose those one-on-one battles for attention. It’s not fair, but it is what it is.
In a dream scenario, the alphabet soup of tennis (WTA, ATP, ITF) would all collaborate together to coordinate and get maximum exposure for all players.
As well, two of the most compelling of those top eight male players were both scheduled for 3:15 p.m. at one point. At least Juan Martin del Potro was later pushed back 15 minutes, as Alexander Zverev kept the original time slot.
Venus Williams was there – she squeezed in as the No. 8, and therefore honored the mandatory commitment and perhaps saved herself a fine. Had she been No. 9, she, too, would have been absent.
Here’s what Williams had to say.
Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem both scheduled their media availabilities for Thursday.
In the end, perhaps no one wanted to slight the top eight players present at the tournament (in the women’s case, the top eight ranked players in the world and in the men’s case, eight of the top 10 with Rafael Nadal and David Goffin out) by leaving them out to sub in accomplished former champions.
And perhaps the WTA and ATP are eager to showcase some of the other contenders for the men’s and women’s singles titles.
But the storylines that will most be watched in the sports world at large (and on a macro level, even in much of the tennis world) will not revolve around Kevin Anderson or Jack Sock or Thiem or Karolina Pliskova or Jelena Ostapenko or Caroline Garcia.
At least for the moment, it will be about Serena, and Vika, and Novak, and Maria.