Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur aim to get back on track at Indian Wells

World No 1 hopes to bounce back from shock Dubai final defeat when she defends her title, while the Tunisian returns from knee surgery

Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur ended the 2022 season in the top two places of the WTA Tour rankings. EPA
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They were the two standout players on the WTA Tour last season, featuring in three of the four Grand Slam finals between them, leading the rankings, and amassing more match wins than anyone else.

Now as Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur prepare to get their campaigns at Indian Wells under way on Friday, both will be aiming to overcome recent setbacks, albeit from very different stages of their seasons.

Swiatek last year established herself as the undisputed dominant force of women's tennis, winning eight titles - including Roland Garros and the US Open - and topping the world rankings with more than double the points of second-ranked Jabeur.

Perhaps the Pole set the bar too high, because the start to this season has been comparatively mixed. A surprise fourth-round defeat at the Australian Open, even if it was to eventual finalist Elena Rybakina, was followed by a rampant march to the Qatar Open title, clinched for the loss of just five games.

Swiatek carried that devastating form throughout the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, until she suffered a surprise straight-sets loss in the final to former French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova.

Far from a crisis and she remains comfortably the best player in the world, but perhaps the aura of invincibility has slipped ever so slightly.

"Sometimes it’s also important to remember that you can lose," Swiatek, 21, said. "There are other players who are also playing great tennis. Last season spoiled me a little bit."

Swiatek admitted that she might have been influenced by the outside noise, which may have affected her perspective. After all, a title and a final from the first three tournaments is ultimately a fine start to the season.

"Last year, before this huge streak, before winning all these tournaments, I would be so happy with the result, but because of these comments right now I felt like, ‘oh, that’s not enough,’" she said.

"So I’m trying not to read a lot of these things and I don’t want it to influence me because I’m happy with the work I’ve made and with how I played in Doha and Dubai."

Swiatek is defending champion this week, as she will be at the next Masters event in Miami having become the fourth woman to complete the 'sunshine double'. The three-time Grand Slam winner has plenty of experience defending titles and will deservedly be favourite to do so in California.

A chief rival will be making her return to the court this week. Jabeur faced Swiatek in the US Open final in September, the Tunisian suffering a second successive Grand Slam heartbreak after losing the Wimbledon final to Rybakina two months earlier.

Despite those disappointments, 2022 represented another step forward for Jabeur, who emerged as the second-placed player on tour and claimed her first Masters title in Madrid.

The start to this season has been frustrating for the 28-year-old Tunisian, though. Jabeur visibly struggled during her second-round loss at the Australian Open and announced shortly after she would undergo knee surgery, forcing her to miss the Middle East swing in Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Dubai.

"So happy to be back! Thank you all for your continuous support," Jabeur posted on social media as she took to the practice court in California this week.

Entering her first tournament in almost two months, expectations will be understandably lower than usual. Yet even as she makes her way back to full match fitness, Jabeur's presence adds further star power to a draw comprising the best players in the world.

Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, the world No 2, will aim to get back to winning ways after her unbeaten start to the season was ended by Krejcikova in the Dubai quarterfinals, while the likes of world No 3 Jessica Pegula and sixth-ranked Coco Gauff will be out to secure the title on front of their home fans.

Swiatek may have been reminded recently what defeat tastes, but even amid this stacked field, she is still the player to beat at Indian Wells.

Updated: March 10, 2023, 6:22 AM