There’s a town called Surprise in Arizona, but recently it seems as though the area around the BNP Paribas Open should be renamed Surprise, California.  The tournament has served up a few thrilling matches, a lot of gorgeous sunlight, and a heaping helping of “huh?” as a plethora of marquee names have exited after the first three rounds.  We’ll take a look at these early upsets, reasons why they were surprising or not surprising, and give them a score between 1 and 10 on the surprise-o-meter.

Suarez Navarro def. Kuznetsova (1):

Why it was surprising:  The 2008 runner-up, Kuznetsova has often played well in Indian Wells and generally has adapted her game well to the desert conditions.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  Suarez Navarro stunned Venus in the 2009 Australian Open, and Kuznetsova had lost her previous match (in Dubai) to the 99th-ranked Regina Kulikova.

Score:  7

Kleybanova (23) def. Clijsters (14):

Why it was surprising:  Clijsters’ comeback in 2009 was little short of miraculous, resulting in her second Grand Slam at the US Open.  Her steady, low-risk style has succeeded on these slow hard courts before; she won the title twice.  One might also think that her experience would aid her in a third-set tiebreak.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  Kleybanova recently won her first title in Kuala Lumpur (def. Dementieva) and entered the event full of confidence.  She creates imaginative and challenging angles with her flat groundstrokes.  Meanwhile, Clijsters has struggled since her epic win over Henin in the Brisbane final.

Score: 6

Martinez Sanchez (21) def. Azarenka (3):

Why it was surprising:  A semifinalist here last year, Azarenka started 2010 impressively by nearly ousting Serena in Australia and reaching the final in Dubai.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  Martinez Sanchez’ quirky left-handed style, which incorporates the little-used serve-and-volley technique, can disrupt rhythm and fray tempers.  Azarenka’s is easily frayed.

Score: 8

Vinci def. Hantuchova (21):

Why it was surprising:  A two-time titlist in the desert, Hantuchova calls the BNP Paribas Open her favorite tournament and has knocked off names such as Kuznetsova here in the past.  She had shown recent strong form by reaching the Monterrey final the previous week.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  A clever all-court player, Vinci changes pace and spin with ease, not allowing flat, smooth-hitting players like Hantuchova to settle into a groove.

Score:  5

Sevastova def. Ivanovic (24):

Why it was surprising:  The 2008 champion and 2009 runner-up, Ivanovic has enjoyed better results at Indian Wells than any hard-court tournament.  She had shown signs of emerging from her recent slump by challenging Clijsters (although, see above) in Madison Square Garden and by hiring Graf’s former coach, Heinz Gunthardt.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  Sevastova had just reached the Monterrey semifinal after knocking off top seed Jankovic (one suspects that she isn’t the most popular player in Serbia right now).  Her slow-paced game lures inconsistent sluggers like Ivanovic into error-strewn performances, which Ana has been regularly delivering anyway.

Score:  5

Dulko (31) def. Henin (W):

Why it was surprising:  Henin had started her comeback brilliantly, coming within one point of snatching the Brisbane title from her compatriot and within one set of snatching the Melbourne prize from a briefly flustered-looking Serena.  Many prognosticators (including myself) picked her to win this title in the absence of the Williams sisters.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  Dulko had previously upset two Slam champions (Sharapova and Ivanovic) in the previous year.  Henin’s new uber-aggressive style may be less suited to the slow courts here than the modulated aggression of her first career.

Score:  9

Baltacha (Q) def. Li (7):

Why it was surprising:  Li Na had rolled to the Australian Open semifinals after knocking off names such as Wozniacki and Venus; once there, she gave Serena a determined test.  Following her breakthrough there, she reached the top 10 for the first time and finally seems healthy.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  Including her two qualifying wins, Baltacha had won 10 of her previous 11 matches.  Li has always been a streaky player and had accomplished little since that Melbourne fortnight.

Score:  7

Zheng (18) def. Sharapova (10):

Why it was surprising:  The 2006 champion, Sharapova had just won the Memphis title and gained a much-needed confidence boost; one might have expected her to profit from a Willliams-less draw.  She stands about 10 inches taller than Zheng.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  Like Li, Zheng broke through in Melbourne and reached the semifinals (as well as the top 20) there.  Her low, deep groundstrokes repeatedly trouble tall players and even bothered Serena in Miami last year.  Sharapova’s high-precision game doesn’t suit the ultra-slow courts especially well, and she had barely escaped the unheralded Dushevina in the previous round. 

Score:  5

Baghdatis (27) def. Federer (1):

Why it was surprising:  Federer is Federer.  Also, he had led the head-to-head 6-0, and one would expect his experience to prevail in a close, tense thriller.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  Baghdatis has surged back into the conversation this year, winning Sydney and defeating Ferrer in Australia.  More significantly, Federer had just recovered from an illness during which he couldn’t practice, and the rust had showed in his previous win over Hanescu.

Score: 7

Greul def. Monfils (12):

Why it was surprising:  Monfils had recently delivered an outstanding performance in Davis Cup, and Greul might be best known as Djokovic’s opponent when the Serb threw a racket in disgust at not winning with sufficient ease.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  You never know what to expect from the Frenchman, who often seems more interested in staging a spectacle than winning a match.

Score:  8

Blake def. Ferrer (13):

Why it was surprising:  Blake hasn’t beaten top-level players in months, and his career appeared to be spiraling towards retirement.  Ferrer had led the Spanish Davis Cup team to victory over Switzerland with two inspired wins.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  Blake plays his best on North American hard courts, while the transition from clay to hard may have dulled Ferrer’s game.

Score:  5

Garcia-Lopez def. Cilic (8):

Why it was surprising:  Cilic had won two titles and reached the Australian Open semifinals after defeating Del Potro and Roddick.  He seemed poised to take advantage of the top players’ battered condition.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  His marathon run in Australia and the vast quantity of tennis that he has played this year may have taken off both his physical and mental edge.

Score:  8

Dabul (Q) def. Simon (16):

Why it was surprising:  The extremely consistent Simon should have been able to extend rallies long enough to reap the rewards of a qualifier’s sporadic inconsistency.

Why it wasn’t surprising:  He has struggled with a knee injury and hasn’t reproduced his astonishing results from late 2008-early 2009.

Score:  6