Nadal man to beat as Osaka returns to Indian Wells

Red-hot Rafael Nadal will be the man to beat when Indian Wells kicks off this week, while Naomi Osaka will look to begin her ascent back to the top of the tennis world at the tournament that launched her career.

Nadal’s season was cut short last year due to a foot injury but the Spaniard has come roaring out of the gates in 2022, winning January’s Australian Open for a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title.

He followed that up by winning his fourth title in Acapulco last month and has not lost in 15 matches this season.

“Rafa Nadal is now 35 and he’s never had a start to the season like this one,” Indian Wells tournament director and former player Tommy Haas said. “He’s the guy to beat here, there’s no doubt about it. And he obviously enjoys it here very much.”

As a bonus, while in the Southern California desert, Nadal will stay at tournament owner and billionaire Larry Ellison’s private resort, Porcupine Creek Golf Club.

“He can play 18 to 36 holes of golf every day if he wants to,” Haas said. “He likes it there and wants to stay for as long as he can. If he’s healthy, watch out.”

On the women’s side, opportunity knocks for Naomi Osaka, who as a 20-year-old announced herself with a triumph at the WTA 1000 event in 2018.

Osaka, who fell in the third round at the Australian Open, will face an in-form Sloane Stephens in a first-round blockbuster.

“That’s a really tough one to start off with, and Osaka is going to have to be ready to go,” Davenport said.

“I think she was a little disappointed with how Australia went and that she’s pretty motivated, but it’s going to take a lot of work.”

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