INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - The BNP Paribas Open gets underway on Wednesday, with two former Grand Slam champions and one of America's brightest young prospects all in action.
Wednesday, First Round
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS #46) vs. Andrea Hlavackova (CZE #65)
Head-to-head: first meeting
One of the good news stories from the opening months of the season has been the return of Svetlana Kuznetsova following knee surgery. While not altogether surprising given her trophy-laden past, back-to-back quarterfinals in Sydney and the Australian Open were a welcome reminder of what the Russian - who possesses one of the most complete games on tour - is still capable of.
The Indian Wells Tennis Garden has been good to Kuznetsova in the past - she finished runner-up in 2007 and 2008 - and a relatively kind draw will have whetted her appetite for another good run. First up is main draw debutante Andrea Hlavackova. After a strong second half of 2012, Hlavackova has yet to find her groove this campaign, but, if her aggressive, all-court game clicks, she is more than capable of unsettling Kuznetsova.
Francesca Schiavone (ITA #47) vs. Flavia Pennetta (ITA #92)
Head-to-head: Schiavone leads 4-2
With 14 titles and 69 weeks inside the Top 10 between them, Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, have been the golden girls of 21st century Italian tennis. However, over the past 12 months, injury, loss of form and the emergence of the effervescent Sara Errani have seen them usurped as the nation's standard bearers.
On Wednesday afternoon Pennetta and Schiavone will look to roll back the years - and book a second round meeting with Maria Sharapova - in the seventh stanza of a decade-long rivalry. Schiavone has won four of these - including a third round victory in Indian Wells five years ago - and, with Pennetta only recently back from wrist surgery, she will start as marginal favorite.
Christina McHale (USA #48) vs. Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL #50)
Head-to-head: McHale leads 1-0
Another player who has had her thunder stolen of late is Christina McHale. Having burst onto the scene in 2011, and then followed it up with an equally impressive start to 2012, the 20-year-old has watched on in recent months as Sloane Stephens has assumed the mantle of America's great young hope.
McHale reached the fourth round in southern California last year before losing a heart-breaking final set tie-break to Angelique Kerber and finds herself in a relatively open section of the draw this time around. First in her path is the mercurial Tsvetana Pironkova. The only previous meeting between the two, 18 months ago in Cincinnati, went the way of McHale, who will be further buoyed by the fact that Pironkova has not won a match since early January.