INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - A star-studded field featuring eight of the Top 10 players in the world will descend on Indian Wells over the next two weeks for the 25th edition of the BNP Paribas Open.
Heading the top half of the draw is Victoria Azarenka, who is not only the defending champion at the Premier event, she is also a perfect 14-0 on the year - a similar situation to last year, when she came into this event with a 17-0 start and eventually extended it to a very impressive 26-0 start.
After a first round bye, which every seed gets this fortnight, the No.1-seeded Azarenka opens against either Daniela Hantuchova or a qualifier. Hantuchova would be particularly hard, given the Slovak is the only active player to have won this title twice, and also has a 2-1 record against the Belarusian.
Other seeds in Azarenka's road to the final are No.28 seed Kirsten Flipkens in the third round, No.15 seed Sloane Stephens fourth round, No.8 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the quarters and No.4 seed Angelique Kerber in the semis - Kerber's projected quarterfinal opponent is No.7 seed Sam Stosur.
The bottom half of the draw is led by Maria Sharapova, who is the No.2 seed with plenty of positive memories from Indian Wells, having won the title back in 2006 and making another final last year.
Sharapova's opener could be just as dangerous as Azarenka's - she will play one of two former Top 10 players, Italians Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta. While Sharapova has had a few weeks off to practice, both Schiavone and Pennetta have been building momentum in the Latin American clay court swing. Sharapova is 3-0 against Schiavone but two of those were three-setters, and she is tied 2-2 against Pennetta, with Pennetta actually winning their last two meetings, on hardcourts too.
Other seeds in Sharapova's road to the final are No.25 seed Carla Suárez Navarro third round, No.14 seed Roberta Vinci fourth round, No.6 seed Sara Errani in the quarters and No.3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the semis - Radwanska's projected quarterfinal opponent is No.5 seed Petra Kvitova.
Other big threats in the draw include a pair of former World No.1s and former Indian Wells champions, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. Ivanovic, the 2008 champion here, and Jankovic, who won here in 2010, are the No.11 and No.18 seeds and are lurking in Stosur and Errani's sections, respectively.
And fans don't have to wait until Day 1 of main draw play to watch world class tennis - the qualifying draw is stacked with talent, including the return to action of former Top 10 player Andrea Petkovic and a few players who made big runs during last week's three-tournament week - Karolina Pliskova, who won her first WTA title in Kuala Lumpur, and Olga Puchkova, who made the finals of Florianopolis.