The biggest names are dropping out early at the BNP Paribas Open. (AP)

It’s been an unusual season so far, to say the least. The big names fans are used to seeing deep into tournaments like Indian Wells are conspicuously absent, if not due to injury then to an equally formidable opponent:


Something Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic and Vika Azarenka have all had in common over the years is an ironclad mental will to compete. After prolonged (or in Sharapova’s case, staggered) absences from the sport, that mental edge might be harder to regain than their physical prowess.


IDEMOOOOOO #BNPP018 #TeamDjokovic ????

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That was evident in Djokovic’s third set disappearing act in an opening-round loss to qualifier Taro Daniel. Battling nerves and a shaky backhand for the first two sets had taken its toll on Djokovic and he seemed to watch that 6-1 third set more than he played it.

Rust was also visible when Azarenka got broken at love at 5-5 in the second set of her tussle with Sloane Stephens. After battling to hang with her for much of the second set, she simply couldn’t hold it anymore.

Even Serena couldn’t sustain a late second-set comeback against an inspired performance from her older sister Venus.

By contrast, newly-minted Grand Slam champ Wozniacki looks like the definition of “match fit.” She’s so battle-tested at this point, her game can disappear for long stretches of a match and she maintains her confidence that she’ll find a way to win. 

Even a youngster like Taylor Fritz is getting a taste of what it means to be battle-tested. In his win over Fernando Verdasco, he looked like the cagey, confident veteran. Coming in to the match, Fritz had 14 wins on the season between the ATP Challenger and ATP World Tour circuits. That sustained court exposure seemed to help him navigate a tricky third set, while he was under the weather, no less.

Serena, Sharapova, Djokovic and Azarenka don’t have 14 wins between the four of them on the season.

That’s the bad news. The good news is the more they play the more they’ll get reacquainted with the mental battle, where they all have a pretty good record.

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