Nadal, Djokovic and Murray are again the names on everyone’s lips ahead of Indian Wells

Nadal’s best-ever start; How will Zverev and Medvedev be received; Will Djokovic play? – Andy Schooler discusses the talking points ahead of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

The social media images of the Californian mountains are doing the rounds again and to tennis fans that can mean only one thing - Indian Wells is upon us.

The biggest tournament outside the four Grand Slams gets under way on Wednesday - with virtually every big name in the sport due to compete.

Ahead of the 12-day event, Andy Schooler looks at some of the talking points surrounding the BNP Paribas Open…

How long can the Nadal roll go on?

Next month will be the 20th anniversary of Rafael Nadal's debut on the ATP Tour but he's never made a start to a season like he has in 2022.

Already 15-0 for the year, is the 35-year-old about to write another remarkable chapter in his career?

He's won in Indian Wells three times before where the slow Plexipave courts aren't too dissimilar to the ones on which he recently won in Acapulco.

However, he's yet to compete in the same field as a certain famous player…

Will Djokovic show up?

Novak Djokovic Nov21

It has been widely assumed for some time that Novak Djokovic wouldn't be playing in Indian Wells or Miami which follows in two weeks' time.

However, less than 24 hours before the draw - and, frustratingly for 'next in' Joao Sousa, after the qualifying draw had been made - the Serb's name remained on the entry list.

With Djokovic having learnt a harsh lesson prior to his ill-fated trip to Australia, his social media has been rather quiet and his whereabouts are unknown. Tournament organisers haven't commented on a player who has been widely ignored in their pre-event coverage - Djokovic was only briefly mentioned towards the bottom of the press release which revealed the entry list.

If he does play, both the organisers and the unvaccinated player can expect a few more questions about how he was allowed to compete.

What reception will Zverev get?

Alex Zverev jan20

If Djokovic was considered tennis' bad guy Down Under - not sure there's much if about that, actually - then that role now seems to have passed to Alex Zverev.

And it's not one he carries well.

The German was last seen at the weekend moaning about the treatment he received at the hands of Brazil's Davis Cup crowd - it will be interesting to see what he gets in Indian Wells.

Frankly, he only has himself to blame after his angry outburst in Acapulco that saw him, on multiple occasions, smash his racquet against the umpire's chair, just centimetres away from the official's leg.

The ATP's response was, as usual, pretty toothless - the ban and fine handed down have both been suspended for a year and will only be implemented if another incident occurs.

You have to wonder what the officiating community thinks about that decision.

The shadow of war

Daniil Medvedev Open Feb22

The day that Russia's Daniil Medvedev found out he was to become world number one for the first time was the same day his nation invaded Ukraine.

The shine had been taken off his achievement before it had even happened.

He'll make his debut as world number one in Indian Wells and again you wonder what the crowd reaction will be.

Medvedev has often acted up to those who have turned against him and many would say the boo-boys only motivate him more.

Yet we saw in Melbourne his softer side with his post-final press conference a thoroughly depressing affair as he referenced "the kid who stopped dreaming". Having had a pro-Nadal crowd against him, often too against him, he added: "From today I'm playing for myself, for my family, to provide my family, for people that trust in me; of course for all the Russians, because I feel a lot of support there."

With his country now involved in an ongoing war which has sickened much of the world, these could be a tough few months for Medvedev and it would be no surprise were his form to suffer.

Getting the band back together

Ivan Lendl Andy Murray Jul17

Andy Murray's surprise decision to re-hire Ivan Lendl as coach has raised a few eyebrows and suggests he's ready to try all sorts to rediscover the consistency which is currently preventing him from climbing back into the elite.

Murray has had some good results already this year - five top-50 wins should not be sniffed at - yet 2022 Muzza is inevitably going to be compared to 2016 Muzza. Even by himself, one suspects.

What, therefore, will be particularly galling is the manner of some of his recent losses - winning one game against Roberto Bautista Agut in Doha must have stung, while equally depressing would have been his inability to really lay a glove on Jannik Sinner in Dubai.

We'll have to see if Lendl can do anything to help but don't expect an instant impact. After all, even peak Murray wasn't able to win in Indian Wells - this is one of only two Masters 1000 tournaments the Scot is yet to win, Monte Carlo being the other.

Another shock on the cards?

While Murray would appear to have little chance of winning the title, perhaps we shouldn't rule it out.

When this event was last staged in October, Cameron Norrie emerged as the surprise winner - and that edition of the tournament underlined a trend for the game's current elite finding this a tricky venue to negotiate.

Take a look at the world's top seven and outside of Nadal and Djokovic, none of them has ever made a big impact in the Californian desert.

In fact, they boast just two quarter-final appearances between them - one for Zverev, the other for Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Dry desert air and a slow court surface isn't a combination you find too often on the tour and such conditions can be tricky - just ask Murray.

Stage is set for Osaka

Naomi Osaka Jan22

On the women's side of things, the absence of world number one Ash Barty and Serena Williams leaves the stage clear for Naomi Osaka to lay down a marker for the rest of 2022.

That is, of course, if she's 100 per cent ready.

The Japanese hasn't played very much at all in the last 12 months for a variety of reasons, her own mental health appearing to be top of that list.

Given her lack of tennis, it wasn't a huge surprise to see her lose in the third round of the Australian Open but almost two months on, this looks the ideal chance to show everyone she means business.

Remember, this is a player who has won four of the last eight Grand Slams played on a hardcourt. She's also a Californian resident and is a former champion at this event.

The open nature of the women's game right now, particularly given the absence of Barty from this period of the season, means much is possible in Indian Wells but if Osaka is on top form, she'll be the one to beat.

Will Raducanu concerns deepen?

After her stunning US Open win in September, opinions were split about what would happen with Emma Raducanu but there weren't too many expecting her to go just 3-6 in the following six months.

But that is what has happened with the Briton winning back-to-back matches only once since her glorious three weeks at Flushing Meadows.

Of course, many provisos remain.

She is still only 19 and it is hard to imagine the change which has occurred in her life in the past six months. There's also been a hip injury sustained in Mexico recently - that could be an issue in Indian Wells.

Clearly we should not judge her too harshly.

Yet even the player herself will know that things need to improve.

She has plenty of ranking points to defend at Wimbledon, plus of course a massive pile at the US Open in August.

Were her current form to continue until then, she'd be struggling to gain direct entry into WTA tournaments, Grand Slam winner or not.

READ MORE: Alexander Zverev given suspended eight-week ban for hitting umpire's chair

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