Emma Raducanu's main challengers for Indian Wells title as US Open winner accepts wildcard

Emma Raducanu will play for the first time since her stunning US Open victory next week, after the Brit accepted a wild card into Indian Wells. The joint ATP and WTA 1000-point tournament in the Californian desert is one of the tour’s biggest events, often dubbed the ‘fifth Grand Slam’, and the 18-year-old will go in as a favourite, having recently won the biggest level of title in the sport. However, with Raducanu still adjusting to life on the pro tour while several of her colleagues appear to be in great form, there are multiple players who will challenge her for the title in Indian Wells.

Raducanu made history by winning the US Open earlier this month, becoming the first-ever qualifier to make a Grand Slam final and going one better by lifting the title, and in doing so shot up the rankings from No.150 in the world to world No.23, since rising again to No.22.

Her hotly anticipated return to the court following her unprecedented run in New York was confirmed on Tuesday (September 28), when she was awarded a wild card into the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, after taking time to decide whether she wanted to return to America to compete in the prestigious event.

Unlike in Flushing Meadows, the recent US Open champion will go into Indian Wells as one of the players to beat, with everyone else on the WTA Tour now well aware of the Briton and her solid game, proving a new challenge for Raducanu who has always been the lesser-known underdog so far in her career.

While Raducanu herself goes in as one of the favourites, given her astonishing achievement in New York, there are several big contenders standing between the 18-year-old and the title, which would also give her an extra 1000 ranking points and around USD$1.2m in prize money, and Express Sport takes a look at those who could challenge the Brit for the title.

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Maria Sakkari

The Greek recently made her top-ten debut after an impressive run to the final at the WTA 500 in Ostrava. Sakkari has been a solid contender on the WTA Tour for a long time, but finally reaching a career-high of world No.10 will give her a big boost.

Though Raducanu was able to beat Sakkari in the US Open semi-final, it was on a Grand Slam stage for a spot in the final, with the Greek already having scars from this year’s Roland Garros semi-final, and she admitted she was not at her best against the Briton in Flushing Meadows. The new top-ten player is always dangerous at WTA Tour level, and will be pushing for her first 1000-point title to go with her new ranking.

Aryna Sabalenka

A US Open semi-finalist, Sabalenka is also another player who has faced some mental blocks at Major level but has absolutely no problem on the WTA Tour, with ten titles and counting under her belt.

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Sabalenka will be the No.1 seed in Indian Wells following the withdrawal of Ash Barty, and is always one of the most dangerous forces on the tour, with her powerful serve and hard-hitting groundstroke winners. Having won another WTA 1000 earlier this year in Madrid, she will be vying to earn even more points and close in on the world No.1 spot.

Leylah Fernandez

No one has more to prove against Raducanu specifically than Fernandez – the 19-year-old Canadian she beat in the US Open final.

Fernandez herself has gone from world No.73 to top 30 in the rankings, and proved she could beat even the best players in the world on the biggest stage at the US Open, overcoming Naomi Osaka, Angie Kerber, Elina Svitolina and Sabalenka en route to the final. It’s highly unlikely the US Open runner-up will face a tougher draw, so if she can get to a Grand Slam final by beating that roster of players, she can win a WTA 1000 event.

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Bianca Andreescu

While the 21-year-old has not been at her best level recently, having been hampered by injuries since the end of the 2019 season, you can never count out the defending champion.

Andreescu lifted the trophy back in March 2019 as an 18-year-old wild card, beating the likes of Kerber, Svitolina and Muguruza, and the site of such a triumph could spark the return of Andreescu’s dominant form that saw her go on to win the Rogers Cup and US Open later that year, spelling trouble for Raducanu if the US Open champions run into each other.

Anett Kontaveit

The world No.23 is a solid WTA Tour player who is overdue a big title, and is fresh off the back of an impressive week in Ostrava, where she beat ninth seed Paula Badosa, third seed and recent gold-medallist Belinda Bencic, second seed and home favourite Petra Kvitova, and Sakkari en route to the title – all big names who you would expect to get to the latter stages.

Kontaveit also spent years working with Nigel Sears, the coach that led Raducanu to success at Wimbledon earlier this year before the pair split, and having spent time training in London with Sears may already be more clued up on Raducanu than other players on tour.

Ons Jabeur

Having recently reached a career high of world No.16, Jabeur is another player long overdue a big title, and has been getting closer in recent months, making the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the WTA 1000 in Montreal, beating the likes of Garbine Muguruza, Iga Swiatek and Andreescu across both tournaments. The Tunisian also made history this year as the first Arab woman to win a WTA Tour title in Birmingham, and has a game full of variety that could trouble Raducanu and catch her out.

Simona Halep

The two-time Grand Slam champion is still continuing her comeback to the tour after spending more than three months out, having picked up an injury during the Italian Open in May.

Indian Wells will mark just her fourth tournament since, but she showed signs of her old self at the US Open as she overcame Roger Cup champion Camila Giorgi and 19th seed Elena Rybakina before losing in the round of 16.

Halep is someone who has been aware of Raducanu, with the Brit citing the Romanian as one of her idols. She was one of the first players to congratulate the 18-year-old for her US Open win and an adorable photo emerged of a younger Raducanu, whose father is Romanian, with the former world No.1.

Plus, having just gotten married and made a coaching change, parting ways with Darren Cahill after six years on-and-off, Indian Wells seems like the perfect place for Halep to come in refreshed and with new beginnings, at the site of her first WTA 1000 title back in 2015.

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