2023 Indian Wells: Kenin beats Stephens in opening round; Shelton wins debut
Thirteen Americans—five men and eight women—will join their higher-ranked compatriots in Round 2 of the first combined ATP Masters 1000 and WTA 1000 event of the 2023 season at the BNP Paribas Open. With the Top 32 seeds in each draw receiving first-round byes at the event, resurgent veterans and rising stars alike took center stage on Wednesday and Thursday.
The highest-profile match in either field came in the women's draw, as Sofia Kenin defeated Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-1 in an all-American match between major champions. 2020 Australian Open champion Kenin, a wild card this week, scored her first win against Stephens in 81 minutes, and won eight of the last nine games. She trailed by a break early on in the first set at 2-1.
The win was Kenin's first over another Grand Slam champion in nearly two full years. Currently ranked No. 170, the 2020 WTA Player of the Year is working her way back from a foot injury that stymied her efforts in 2022, and reached her first semifinal since since finished runner-up at Roland Garros in 2020 in Hobart in January.
Another major-winner awaits Kenin in Round 2: She'll next face 2022 Wimbledon champion and No.10 seed Elena Rybakina.
"I'm going to do my best," Kenin said, "and I feel like if I'm going to play like this and better, I'm going to have a good chance."
Kenin wasn't the only wild card to turn heads in Round 1: Elizabeth Mandlik and Peyton Stearns also made good with thrilling three-set wins. Mandlik rebounded from losing a 6-3, 4-1 lead to outlast Alison Riske-Amritraj, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(1), while Stearns came from a set down in a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Spain's Rebeka Masarova.
Stearns, the 2022 NCAA singles champion, has been one of the hottest players on tour so far this year in her first full professional season. A winner of two USTA Pro Circuit titles already in 2023, she also reached her first WTA quarterfinal in her tour-level debut last week in Austin, Texas. She'll next face 2019 US Open winner and No.32 seed Bianca Andreescu.
Other women's winners in Round 1 included California's Claire Liu, who earned a Round 2 date with world No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek after a 7-6(5), 6-3 winner over Slovak lucky loser Anna Karolina Schmiedlova; Bernarda Pera, who outlasted Italy's Lucia Bronzetti 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in a staggering 2 hours, 52 minutes; and Shelby Rogers, who was a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 winner over Katie Volynets in another all-American opener.
On the men's side, Ben Shelton had a dream tournament debut thanks to a 6-4, 6-1 win over former Top 10 player Fabio Fognini of Italy for his first win since the Australian Open. Shelton came from 2-0 down early in the match to snap a three-match slide since Melbourne; after losing to fellow American Tommy Paul in the last eight, the lefty lost in Round 1 in Delray Beach and Acapulco to Marcos Giron and Top 10-talent Holger Rune, respectively.
His reward? A tantilizing second-round date with defending champion and No. 4 seed Taylor Fritz.
It's one the energetic rookie is looking forward to.
"I'm pretty excited, being able to play the defending champion, a guy who's Top 5 ... and doing some things you haven't seen an American [man] do in a while," Shelton told Tennis Channel after his win. "I'm really excited to get out there and compete against him."
Giron and Brandon Nakashima were winners of all-American first rounds against Aleksandar Kovacevic and John Isner, respectively, while Mackenzie McDonald and Jack Sock lost just nine games in four sets against Serbia's Filip Krajinovic and France's Gregoire Barrere. Nakashima will be the Round 2 foe for No. 5 seed Daniil Medvedev, winner of his last three tournaments, while Giron and No. 17 seed Frances Tiafoe will rumble in another all-American tilt.