They say 932 days is a long time in tennis.
OK, they don’t, but it is. That’s the number of days that Indian Wells had gone without a professional tennis match before qualifying for the main draw started on Monday. The 2020 edition of the tournament was called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic and this season's edition has been moved from March to October due to the restrictions in place earlier this year.
So what’s changed in tennis in the last 932 days? Plenty.
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Perhaps most notably on the men’s side there will not be a former champion in the draw, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Juan Martin del Potro all out. Thiem was the champion when the tournament was last played in 2019 as he won the first Masters title of his career. He is yet to win another, but he has been a part of a shift at the top of the game.
While there were few clear suggestions at Indian Wells in 2019 that the era of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer was coming to an end, they have only won five Masters titles between them since. There have also been two new Grand Slam winners, compared to none in the four years before the 2019 edition of Indian Wells. Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Thiem and Alexander Zverev have all broken through and cemented their places at the top of the game and where there was a strong veteran presence in the top 10 in 2019, with six players aged 30 or over, now there are six players aged 25 or under.
And the overall Grand Slam standings have shifted dramatically too. When Indian Wells was last played there was a clear leader – Federer. Now there are three co-leaders. Of the three, only Federer has failed to win a Slam in the last 30 months. Nadal has gone from 17 to 20 with two French Open titles and one US Open title, while Djokovic has shot from 15 to 20. There’s one more up for grabs at the Australian Open in January before Indian Wells is staged again in its normal slot of March in 2022.
A few more notable absentees at this year’s Indian Wells are Marin Cilic, Borna Coric and Milos Raonic. Cilic and Coric were seeded 10th and 11th in 2019, now the Croatian pair are both outside the top 40 in the world and will not be playing this week. Raonic made the semi-finals at Indian Wells two years ago, but is also not competing this time around due to injury. Will any of the three be able to get back into the top 10 or 20 again? It seems unlikely with the young players coming through.
Jannik Sinner was outside the top 300 in the world in 2019, now he’s knocking on the door of the top 10. Felix Auger Aliassime, who beat Tsitsipas and Cameron Norrie at Indian Wells last time out, has gone from outside the top 50 to 11th in the world. Casper Ruud had just broken into the top 100 in early 2019, now he’s world No 10 and has won the most titles (5) of any player this year.

Raducanu, Swiatek, Gauff mix it up

The landscape also looks different on the WTA side, although the change has not been as dramatic. Almost all of the top 10 that competed at Indian Wells in 2019 are still near the top of the game, with Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams and Kiki Bertens the biggest fallers. Ashleigh Barty and Aryna Sabalenka have both improved their positions in the last two year, although they will not be at Indian Wells, and, like on the ATP Tour, there has been an injection of youth.
Iga Swiatek, 20, didn’t make it through qualifying when Indian Wells was last played, now she is ranked No 4 in the world. Sofia Kenin has gone from No 34 in the world to a top-10 player and Coco Gauff and Emma Raducanu have both burst onto the scene. Gauff, 17, was still largely playing at ITF level in early 2019, and it wasn’t until the summer that she made her breakthrough at Wimbledon when she beat Venus Williams and made the last 16. Raducanu, 18, was competing at ITF tournaments in China the last time that Indian Wells was played; now she has rocketed up to No 22 in the world after an incredible summer.

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The top 30 in 2019 also included four players who have now retired: Maria Sharapova, although she did not play Indian Wells that year due to a shoulder injury, Caroline Wozniacki, Carla Suarez Navarro and Bertens.
One thing that remains the same is Serena Williams’ quest to win a 24th Grand Slam title. In 2018 she lost two major finals and after Indian Wells in 2019 she would lose two more. She hasn’t been back to a final since and looks as though she will not play again this season as she recovers from the injury that kept her out of the US Open.

Edmund, Konta slip down rankings

Things also look different from a British perspective. Katie Boulter and Heather Watson both lost in qualifying in 2019 – Boulter has done the same this year while Watson is automatically in the main draw – and the highest-ranked British woman was Johanna Konta. She was unseeded for the tournament and lost to seventh seed Bertens in the third round. Konta has had a difficult 2021 season as she has split with her coach, tested positive for Covid-19 and had injuries that have impacted how much she can play, leading to her slipping down to No 82 in the world. Raducanu will lead the British charge this year.

Johanna Konta

Image credit: Getty Images

It has been a similar story for the British men as Kyle Edmund has gone from making the fourth round as the 22nd seed in 2019, to dropping outside the top 100 in the world. While Edmund has dropped down the rankings, Dan Evans and Norrie have moved up. They are both inside the top 20 and results this week will determine who comes out of Indian Wells as British No 1.

No towels, no line judges

What else has changed since Indian Wells has been away? Unlike in 2019 there will be no ball kids scampering off to fetch towels for players in between points. That has been eradicated due to the Covid-19 pandemic and line judges are also heading the same way. The electronic line calling used at the US Open will also be in place at Indian Wells. There will, though, be fans in the stands just as there was when the tournament was last played. Indian Wells is one of the largest venues on tour, with a main court holding 16,000 fans, second only in size to Arthur Ashe in New York among outdoor tennis stadiums. It has been reported that organisers expect the event to be at 60 per cent capacity over the 11 days.
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