By Richard Osborn
1. Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic have a long and storied on-court history that zigzags both the years and the globe. They’ve played 13 times dating back to 2005 (Jankovic holds a slight 7-6 advantage in the series), often in big-stage moments. “Always tight, entertaining matches,” Jankovic reflected this week. “In general, the Williams sisters were always able to bring out the best in my game and push me to play my best tennis and compete at a high level.”
So even has the competition been that nine of their matches have gone three sets, including three at the majors. There was the Serbian’s third-round wins at ‘06 Wimbledon (7-6(8), 4-6, 6-4) and ‘07 Roland Garros (6-4, 4-6, 6-1), and Venus’ memorable payback in the ’07 US Open quarterfinals (4-6, 6-1, 7-6(4)).
The pair will meet again on Saturday for a 14th time in Stadium 1, a trip to the third round of the BNP Paribas Open on the line. The resurgent 36-year-old Williams — who in January reached her first Slam final in eight years in Melbourne — is playing her most inspired ball in years. But Jankovic, 32, historically plays some of her best tennis in the desert. She won the title here in 2010, and was a finalist in 2015. This one should be fun.
2. World No. 1 Andy Murray kicks off the night session against Canadian Vasek Pospisil. The top-ranked Scot has never lost to Pospisil in four career head-to-heads, but his opponent comes in on a roll, having advanced through two rounds of qualifying and a first-round win over Taipei’s Yen-Hsun Lu. The two last face each other in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2015, the same year they met in the second round here in Indian Wells.
Since becoming the first Brit to climb atop the Emirates ATP Rankings on November 7, 2016, the soon-to-be 30-year-old has established himself as one of the sport’s most formidable defensive forces. Case in point: earlier this month, Murray saved seven match points before beating Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-7(4), 7-6(18), 6-1 to reach the Dubai final.
3. Poised for a return to No. 1, two-time major titlist Angelique Kerber will open her BNP Paribas Open campaign against Andrea Petkovic in an intriguing all-German showdown beginning at 11 a.m. in Stadium 1. As Petkovic has said of her longtime friend and Fed Cup teammate, Kerber can wear down the best of ‘em by shrinking the court. While she won’t necessarily overpower you, she’ll more often than not outlast you.
But Petkovic — who’s claimed three of their past four meetings — clearly relishes these kinds of challenges. As she explained on Thursday, “It’s always important to have these matches against the best right now, because I’ve worked on a lot of things. Now I really need the friction against the best — the biggest possible stress, distraction and pressure that can possibly be thrown at me. That’s what I want. That’s what I crave. That’s exactly what I’m getting, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
4. Catch the Bryan brothers while you can. The greatest tandem in the history of the doubles game, they’re now 38 and beginning to hint that they won’t be around much longer. In January, the twin Californians announced that they would be retiring from Davis Cup competition after 14 years of dedicated serve. Bob and Mike were all but a guaranteed point on Saturday since Patrick McEnroe first brought them into the fold. Taking the court in Stadium 2, they’ll face enigmatic Aussie Nick Kyrgios and doubles legend Nenad Zimonjic. You can bet the Bryans will be more than motivated playing on their home turf.
5. Popcorn matches are aplenty on Saturday. Kick back and enjoy the likes of Jeremy Chardy vs. Dominic Thiem; Fabio Fognini vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; John Isner vs. Mikhail Kukushkin; Sam Stosur vs. Julia Goerges; Coco Vandeweghe; and Tomas Berdych vs. Bjorn Fratangelo.