The draw for the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells was made on Monday and sees the return of two-time champion Kim Clijsters, who is making her first appearance in ten years, while Emma Raducanu is making her debut.
Clijsters starts her campaign against Katerina Siniakova, the World No 53, but Raducanu, who is seeded 17 and receives a first-round bye, awaits the winner of the match between Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and Aliaksandra Sasnovich, with a win for the Brit setting up a possible encounter against Simona Halep in the 3rd round if the Romanian defeats the victor of Zhang Shuai against Marta Kostyuk contest.
Former World No 1s Petra Kvitova or Victoria Azarenka are Raducanu’s projected 4th-round opponents.
Both Clijsters and Raducanu are in the main draw as wild-card entries, having been invited by organisers as star attractions.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Clijsters, who won the title at Indian Wells in 2003 and 2005, is still seeking her first tour-level win since her retirement in 2012.
She returned in 2020 and suffered close losses in her 3 matches to Garbiñe Muguruza, Johanna Konta, and Ekaterina Alexandrova while, in her season debut last week in Chicago, she fell in 3 sets to Hsieh Su-wei.
Raducanu, the surprise 18-year old US Open champion last month, is racing up the rankings and playing only her 5th top flight pro event this week.
She made history by winning the title without losing a set through qualifying and the main draw at Flushing Meadows, the first qualifier to win a major in the Open era.
Her quick rise up the WTA rankings is set to reach a new high at around 18 next week, boosted by others whose points from last year drop off after this event.
Raducanu was ranked at 338 in the rankings when she was handed a wild-card into Wimbledon in June, and her run to the 4th round at the All England Club began her surge ahead of her historic US Open win, which propelled her up to No 23 in the rankings.
She will collect 35 rankings points even if she loses her first match, but a run to the quarter-finals would give her an additional 215 points, which should be enough to take her into the world’s top 20, while a semi-final appearance would garner 390 points and move her up towards a top 15 ranking, and a final showing could propel her towards the top 10.
World No 1 Ash Barty has elected not to compete at Indian Wells, while Naomi Osaka also pulled out and Aryna Sabalenka, who is on site, was forced to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19 a few days ago and is now isolating. Another absentee is Sofia Kenin due to on-going injury.
This leaves Karolina Pliskova, the World No 3, in the hot seat as the top seed, with World No 4 Iga Swiatek as 2nd seed.
Pliskova, who has just qualified for the year-ending Akron WTA Finals, heads the top half of the draw and will meet either Zheng Saisai or wild-card Caty McNally in the second round, while Swiatek, who is trying to claim her own spot at the season-ending finale in Guadalajara, will have a second-round encounter with either Petra Martic or wild-card Katie Volynets.
Even though the 32 seeded players have opening byes, many intriguing first-round clashes will kick off the event on Wednesday.
Britain’s No 3 Heather Watson takes on 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in her opening match, with the winner to play 19th-seeded Jessica Pegula in the second round.
Katie Boulter, however, the British No 5 who is sharing her coach Jeremy Bates with Raducanu at this event, failed in her bid to reach the main draw as she was beaten 7-5 6-2 by 16-year-old American Reese Brantmeier in the first round of qualifying.
Madison Keys, the 2017 US Open runner-up, will be embroiled in a hard-hitting battle with 6-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kaia Kanepi and the winner of that match will face another big hitter in 9th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Reigning French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova is seeded 3rd and projected to face 15th seed Coco Gauff in the 4th round with 5th seed Garbiñe Muguruza the other dangerous player in the section.
Krejcikova, who has already locked up WTA Finals berths in both singles and doubles with Katerina Siniakova, will face either Nao Hibino or a qualifier after her first-round bye.
Muguruza, who is aiming for one of the remaining spots in Guadalajara after having won Chicago on Sunday, will take on either Ajla Tomljanovic or a qualifier in the second round.
Former French Open winner Swiatek is the highest-ranked player in the lower half of the draw and she could face defending champion Bianca Andreescu, who won the title in 2019, in the 4th round.
Meanwhile, US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez is also in the bottom half and could face either a qualifier or Alizé Cornet of France in the second round, with Pavlyuchenkova a potential 3rd-round opponent and Olympic champion Belinda Bencic likely to be up next.
Another third-round clash between Grand Slam champions is a possibility, with Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka seeded to meet if they win their second-round matches.
No 7 seed Kvitova would first have to defeat either Arantxa Rus or a qualifier, while 27th-seeded Azarenka will play the winner of the match between Magda Linette and Rebecca Peterson.
No 6 seed Maria Sakkari, who is currently in a prime position to potentially qualify for the Akron WTA Finals, has a tough second-round matchup facing either Marketa Vondrousova, the Olympic singles silver medallist, or Viktorija Golubic, the Olympic silver medallist in doubles.
It is two-and-a-half-year since the BNP Paribas Open was last held at Indian Wells, but it is the first autumn edition of the event.
The combined WTA 1000 and ATP Masters 1000 event will feature a 96-player singles field and 32-team doubles draw, played over two weeks in the California desert.
With qualifying still to be determined for the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, the stakes will be higher than ever.
The bottom half of the draw is scheduled to play on Wednesday, with the top half to play on Thursday, and the two halves will continue to alternate days into the second week until Tuesday 12 October, when all 8 Round of 16 singles matches will be played.
The quarter-finals will be played across Wednesday and Thursday, with the singles semi-finals scheduled for Friday.
The doubles final will be played on Saturday, 16 October, with the singles final on Sunday, 17 October.
Defending champion Andreescu began her rocket rise in the California desert in 2019, stunning the field to win her first WTA title at Indian Wells.
Coming into the tournament as a wild-card ranked No 60, the Canadian defeated Muguruza, Svitolina, and Kerber in succession to win the title as a teenager, defeating the German 6-4 3-6 6-4 in a dramatic final.
Elise Mertens & Aryna Sabalenka took home the doubles title with a 6-3 6-2 win over Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova, who went to complete the ‘Sunshine Double’, winning Miami two weeks later.
With Barty, Sabalenka, Krejcikova, and Pliskova having already qualified for the WTA Finals, 4 automatic qualifying spots and 2 alternate positions remain open with just 3 tournament weeks remaining in the regular season.
With 1,000 points on offer in Indian Wells, a title run by any player in the Top 25 of the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals Leaderboard could vault them into qualifying contention.