The Sunshine Double is set to begin with the BNP Paribas Open. Paula Badosa is the defending champion having won the last edition of the tournament just a few months ago. After the withdrawal of two pre-tournament favorites, the Australian Open finalists, Ash Barty and Danielle Collins, the draw has opened up for a possible repeat for Badosa or maybe a new face to snag a WTA 1000 crown.
With the top-32 getting byes, we take a look at the tournament favorites, sleepers, early exits, and some matches to watch for.
Iga Swiatek: The Pole added to her list of accolades recently by winning the WTA 1000 tournament in Doha. This was her first big hard court title on her resume having already won the French Open and Rome on clay and showing she can compete on grass with a junior Wimbledon title. With the slow, heavy conditions of Indian Wells, this could suit her more than the conditions did in Doha where she won.
Paula Badosa: The defending champion looks to get back on track at the place where she won just a few months ago. The Spaniard exited early at both Dubai and Doha, much to the surprise of many. She'll start this week with either Heather Watson or Tereza Martincova.
Anett Kontaveit: The Estonian is one of the most in-form players on tour this season. Beginning with her semifinal appearance in Sydney followed by her title in St. Petersburg and then a runner-up in Doha, the Estonian is now looking to add a big hard court title to her resume. She has a nice draw at the bottom half with potential roadblocks being Pegula, Osaka, or Vondrousova to get to the last eight.
Simona Halep: The Romanian's return to full-time tennis has been a success so far. Despite her seeding being lower than usual having returned from injury late last year, Halep has a title and a semifinal under her belt already. After the withdrawal of Barty and then new top-seed Barbora Krejcikova, her draw gets a bit easier now getting Alize Cornet as a potential fourth-round opponent in what would be an Australian Open rematch.
Madison Keys: Likely going under the radar, the American is coming off of disappointing results in Mexico where she lost to Harmony Tan and Petra Martic. Now back on home soil, this could be a chance for her to turn it around. Her history at Indian Wells has not been the best, having never made it past the fourth round but her section is open enough which could see her make it out of there.
Aryna Sabalenka: Despite being seeded second and currently the highest-ranked player in the field, the Belarussian is not being pegged as one of the favorites to win the title. On her day, she's up there as one of the best hard court players on tour but recently has dealt with serving woes and a dip in form. Like Keys, a winnable section could fire her back into the fray.
Naomi Osaka: Ranked closer to 100 than she is to number 1, it feels odd to put Osaka, a four-time major champion, in this category. However, like the players listed above here, she is going under the radar as well. If she can get by her opener against Sloane Stephens, whom she is 0-2 against, the gates could open for her to go on a run here.
Potential Early Exits
Emma Raducanu: The US Open champion was not handed an easy draw in her first match back from an injury while she picked up in one of the warmup events in Mexico. She'll be set to face the winner of Dayana Yastremska and Caroline Garcia. Both are coming off of deep runs in the Lyon event just last week and are very capable of pulling off big scalps. Raducanu remains a mystery with her ability to compete week in, week out at the tour-level. A win for her would do a world for her confidence, but she's on upset alert for us.
Leylah Fernandez: Fresh off a title in Monterrey, most wouldn't put someone coming off a winner's trophy in a potential early exits column, but Fernandez's draw is brutal. Should Amanda Anisimova win, it'll be a titanic showdown between two talented youngsters of the Americas with Fernandez representing Canada and Anismova representing the US. With the American likely having already adapted to the conditions and a match under her belt should they meet, this could be a chance for Anisimova to add another big win under her belt.
Belinda Bencic: A player no one wants to face in the opening rounds of any big tournament is Kaia Kanepi. The Estonian's power can throw off anyone who is not ready for it or is struggling to find their rhythm. If Kanepi serves a lot of double faults like she did today, Bencic will take those free points and be opportunistic. If she finds her serve, look for a potential upset.
Early Matches To Watch For
Yastremska-Garcia: A pair of players mentioned earlier who are coming off of a finals and semifinal appearance in Lyon respectively, this should be a highly-entertaining affair. Yastremska is trying to claw her ranking back up after a "suspension" from the tour before being found not guilty for taking a banned substance. Garcia is a shadow of her former self but is still capable of putting together upsets or strings of matches together. With not much between them, expect this one to go three sets.
Stephens-Osaka: The blockbuster showdown everyone talked about as soon as the draw was revealed. The American is 2-0 over Osaka with both those wins coming when Stephens was closer to her peak performance compared to today. However, coming off a title in Guadalajara, she'll be brimming with confidence in this showdown of two of the tour's hardest ball strikers from the back of the court. Osaka has not played since the Australian Open but looks much happier and enjoying herself more. Another one that will get the crowd enthralled from start to finish and that we see going this distance as well.
Halep def Pliskova
Swiatek def Keys
Kontaveit def Badosa
Sakkari def Azarenka
Swiatek def Halep
Kontaveit def Sakkari
Kontaveit def Swiatek