Williams started the year slowly, losing her first two matches at Auckland and the Australian Open. By virtue of these defeats, the American lost her place in the world's top 10 but has since regained the form that took her to two titles in China at the end of 2015. After winning both of her Fed Cup singles matches for the US in Hawaii, the former world number one went on to win her 49th career title in Kaohsiung without dropping a set.
Interestingly enough, Nara's best week of 2016 also came in Kaohsiung, even though she was forced to withdraw prior to the quarterfinals due to a left thigh injury. Since then, the Japanese player qualified into this event without dropping a set before beating Teliana Pereira 6-1, 6-2 in the first round.
This is a landmark return to Indian Wells for Williams, who will appear at the event for the first time since the infamous incident of 2001. Back then, an aggrieved crowd had reacted negatively towards the Williams family after Venus withdrew seemingly minutes before playing Serena in the semifinals due to an injury. Despite vowing never to return due to the event, the 35-year-old was moved by the reception her younger sister received last year when she ended her own boycott and opted to return to an event that she twice reached the semifinals at way back in 1998 and 2001.
Nara will be looking to advance beyond the second round at Indian Wells for the first time, after losing at this stage to Simona Halep in 2014. The 24-year-old has won one WTA title to date in Rio 2014 and was ranked as highly as number 32 later that year.
Williams boasts a comfortable 2-0 head-to-head advantage over Nara and has never lost a set against her. The latest of these encounters came on the hard courts at Auckland 2014 where Williams won 6-4, 6-1 in the second round.
A winner of seven Grand Slam singles titles, Williams still possesses a huge game centred around a punishing serve and early groundstrokes. The currently world number 12 loves nothing more than standing inside the baseline to return serve, constantly looking to shorten the point and make the most of her six foot one inch frame at the net.
Now ranked down at 89, Nara will be hard pressed to make her game stand up to that of her rival. A full foot shorter than her opponent, Nara may struggle to compete against the power of Williams on the notoriously high bouncing courts in Indian Wells. As her game is based on building the point with her consistent groundstrokes before unleashing her forehand, the Japanese number three must take advantage of the fact that she's already adapted to the unique desert conditions at Indian Wells and catch Williams off guard. After all, the American will no doubt be rusty considering her recent three week lay-off and may find it hard to control the ball initially in the thin desert air.
Given this, as well as the emotions involved in making her return to the event for the first time in 15 years, it wouldn't be surprising if Williams has a slow start. However, once she finds her range she should master both the conditions and her opponent.
Prediction: Venus Williams in straight sets