Who does wtatennis.com contributor Ravi Ubha think will reign supreme this fortnight? Can Indian Wells comeback kid Serena Williams recapture the title? Read on...
WTA Staff

Heading into the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, there's one dominant storyline: How will the weather hold up?

Kidding, of course. We all know what it is, but that won't detract from the excitement when Serena Williams plays her first match in the desert this week.

Can Williams win the event - 14 years after her last visit? The draw will obviously play a part, so let's take a closer look.

First Quarter: Serena, Plus A Fine Supporting Cast
The match between Monica Niculescu and Aleksandra Krunic won't just be any first round tussle. The winner takes on Williams in the second round following Serena's bye in round one.

Regardless of whether she faces the unorthodox Niculescu or all-action Krunic, it'll be a first head-to-head. Williams is likely to advance and then clash with a player who has impressively - and rather quietly - climbed the ranks the past two years, 28th seed Zarina Diyas.

Yet the fourth round is where things could get really interesting, since former finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova or Angelique Kerber may face the 19-time Grand Slam champ. Kuznetsova and Kerber are in need of wins, and the latter just split with her coach.

But if they get to the round of 16, they'll likely be in decent shape. Kuznetsova owns two wins over Williams and their last five matches have been close; Kerber topped Williams in 2012.

Though Williams garners most of the spotlight in this quarter, two players surging - and at career-highs in the rankings - feature and might go head-to-head in the fourth round, Timea Bacsinszky and Lucie Safarova.

Bacsinszky probably needs to get past Ekaterina Makarova (another who has toppled Serena) in the third round, with the Russian potentially playing doubles partner Elena Vesnina in round two.

Prediction: Williams def. Makarova

Second Quarter: Simona - And Others In Form
Of the eight seeds that surface in the second quarter, five are in good form - Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, Carla Suárez Navarro and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

A semifinalist last year, Halep will be hoping there are no aftereffects from the rib injury that forced her to withdraw as the defending champion in Doha. The first seed the Romanian could run into is Varvara Lepchenko, whose early season has been derailed by illness.

If recovered, the big-hitting Lepchenko won't be easy for Halep; she's collected some big wins on home soil.

Muguruza and Pliskova are two of the brightest prospects on the women's tour and a third round duel beckons. Pliskova prevailed in their three set slugfest in the semifinals in Dubai.

Suárez Navarro and Zahlavova Strycova might lack overwhelming power, but if they tangle in the third round, it'll be one to watch: Suárez Navarro likes to work the angles and still possesses a lovely one-handed backhand, while (the still feisty) Zahlavova Strycova doesn't lack in variety.

One seed here who isn't doing as well as planned is Agnieszka Radwanska. Lack of results, plus being last year's finalist, give the Pole a bit more pressure.

Perhaps having the Cheesecake Factory so close by can trigger a revival.

Prediction: Halep def. Zahlavova Strycova

Third Quarter: Woz, Bouchard On Collision Course?
As a former winner and finalist on two other occasions, Caroline Wozniacki certainly likes playing in Indian Wells. Jet lag might be an issue for the Dane early this week given she was in Malaysia over the weekend, but Woz won the title so, positively, she'll have momentum. And, it's a few days before Wozniacki contests her first match.

Wozniacki's mini-section is intriguing. Come the fourth round, if Wozniacki gets there, her possible opponents include Madison Keys, Jelena Jankovic or 2007 titlist Daniela Hantuchova. (Hantuchova, however, is 1-6 in her last seven in Indian Wells.)

Keys is the most dangerous player of the trio and makes her return to action after her breakthrough - at a Grand Slam, anyway - in Melbourne.

The young American, if the seeds hold, confronts Jankovic in the third round. More injuries have threatened to undo Jankovic's renaissance in 2014, but she won the title in 2010 and made the quarterfinals last year.

Higher up in the quarter sits Eugenie Bouchard. Speaking of injuries... Bouchard has only played one match since the Australian Open, exiting to Mona Barthel as the top seed in Antwerp.

Thus, more likely candidates to go deep are Andrea Petkovic and Alizé Cornet. They're potential combatants in the third round, a match that could linger.

Prediction: Wozniacki def. Petkovic

Fourth Quarter: An Early Blockbuster Between Maria And Vika?
As she continues to rebuild her ranking after last year's health woes, Victoria Azarenka is bound to get some tough draws in the early rounds. It's happened, in fact, at all three of her tournaments in 2015.

Indian Wells is another example, with the two-time Grand Slam winner expected to battle Maria Sharapova in the third round.

Yes, you might be thinking, it's also a tough draw for the second-seeded Sharapova, who is coming off an illness in Acapulco.

Azarenka can boast a 6-1 record against Sharapova on hardcourts, yet the Russian did emerge triumphant the last time they met on hardcourts at the WTA Finals in 2012.

If Sharapova or Azarenka progress past the third round, they'll have to be the heavy favorite to go all the way to the semifinals, even if defending champion Flavia Pennetta looms.

Pennetta's season looked like it was about to take off after she reached the quarterfinals in Dubai, but the Italian subsequently won only two games versus Radwanska in the second round in Doha. (She'd won their two previous matches.)

Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Garcia could square off for the second consecutive tournament - Garcia beat Ivanovic last week in Monterrey - in an open top half of the quarter.

Prediction: Azarenka def. Ivanovic

Semifinals: Williams def. Halep, Azarenka def. Wozniacki

Winner: Williams