INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Though seeds have a first round bye, those in action on the first day of the BNP Paribas Open include former World No.2 and Grand Slam runner-up Vera Zvonareva and the WTA's top-ranked teen, Madison Keys.
Wednesday, First Round
Peng Shuai (CHN #40) vs. [WC] Vera Zvonareva (RUS #634)
Head-to-head: Zvonareva leads 7-1
The last time Vera Zvonareva played Indian Wells, she was a Top 10 player. But she has fallen on hard times since, as illness and a right shoulder injury sidelined her after the 2012 Summer Olympics until the start of this year. She is slowly returning to form, notching the first win of her comeback at her most recent event in the first round of Pattaya City.
"I feel like I'm improving a little bit every day," Zvonareva said in Pattaya City. "I wish I could make bigger strides, but I have to keep working hard to be able to play the level of tennis that I want to play. Of course it is frustrating, but after you haven't competed for a year and a half and have surgery, it's a difficult challenge to come back. I knew it was going to be difficult."
If Zvonareva takes the next positive step in that comeback, Indian Wells would certainly seem an appropriate place. She is 22-6 here, including the biggest of her 12 WTA titles in 2009 and three quarterfinal outings, not to mention the doubles crown in 2009. Also in her favor is her dominance in her series with first round foe and former World No.14 Peng Shuai. The No.2 Chinese and doubles World No.1 is a former quarterfinalist here whose year has been highlighted by reaching her sixth WTA final at Shenzhen in January.
Madison Keys (USA #38) vs. Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL #46)
Head-to-head: first meeting
Two players who had arguably the most memorable weeks of their careers at the Apia International Sydney in January will face off in the first round of Indian Wells. Madison Keys recorded her second-best win as a pro with her win over No.11 Simona Halep in her Sydney opener en route to her second WTA semifinal. Tsvetana Pironkova went from qualifying all the way to her first WTA title, beating three Top 10 players along the way.
Pironkova takes a 14-4 record this year into Wednesday's contest against Keys, which is three more wins than she collected all of last year. Last week, Keys recorded her 100th win as a pro and became the world's top-ranked teen when Eugenie Bouchard turned 20.
Christina McHale (USA #55) vs. [Q] Casey Dellacqua (AUS #78)
Head-to-head: first meeting
One of a plethora of rising young Americans, Christina McHale is coming off her best WTA showing to date - a run to the final last week in Acapulco. And she came awfully close to securing her maiden title against Dominika Cibulkova in an almost three-hour final. One of McHale's signature moments came in Indian Wells, as her defeat of No.3 Petra Kvitova in the third round in 2012 is her second best win.
Casey Dellacqua should be match tough, recording wins on Monday and Tuesday to secure a qualifying berth. The No.2 Australian's year has been highlighted by a fourth round outing at the Australian Open, tied for her best Grand Slam showing.
Around the grounds...
Former World No.3 Nadia Petrova takes on Sílvia Soler-Espinosa, and Kurumi Nara squares off with 18-year-old American qualifier Allie Kiick in the Japanese's first match since capturing her first WTA title in Rio two weeks ago.