On Wednesday, the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells returns to the WTA calendar after a two-and-a-half-year absence. The main draw, which was released Monday, set up some fascinating early encounters for the season's final WTA 1000 event.
Even though the 32 seeded players have opening byes, many intriguing first-round clashes will start off the event, including the return of two-time BNP Paribas Open champion Kim Clijsters to Indian Wells. Clijsters is playing the event for the first time since 2011.
The former World No.1 Clijsters, who received a wildcard into the main draw, will kick off her campaign against World No.53 Katerina Siniakova. The winner of that opener will face another former World No.1 and multiple major champion in the second round, No.10 seed Angelique Kerber.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Clijsters, who won titles at Indian Wells in 2003 and 2005, still seeks her first tour-level win since her 2012 retirement season. She returned in 2020 and suffered close losses in her three matches last year, to Garbiñe Muguruza, Johanna Konta and Ekaterina Alexandrova. In her season debut last week in Chicago, she fell in three sets to Hsieh Su-wei.
Another Grand Slam champion contesting this week's first round is 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, who will meet Heather Watson. The winner of that match will play 19th-seeded Jessica Pegula in the second round.
And 2017 US Open runner-up Madison Keys will be embroiled in a hard-hitting battle in the opening round, when she takes on six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi. The winner of that match will face another big hitter, No.9 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Things will stay exciting once the second-round matches start taking place, where the 32 seeded players kick into action after their first-round byes.
For example, an eye-opening third-round matchup between two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu could take place, if they each win their second-round matches.
The former World No.1 Halep, seeded No.11, would first have to get past either Zhang Shuai or Marta Kostyuk in the second round, while No.17 seed Raducanu would need to beat the winner of the match between Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Raducanu will be making her Indian Wells debut. She returns to the tour for the first time since she stormed to her maiden Grand Slam title in New York. Ranked World No.150 at the time, Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title and has since shot up to No.22 in the WTA Rankings.
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.
World No.3 Karolina Pliskova and World No.4 Iga Swiatek are the top two seeds for the event. Top-seeded Pliskova, who qualified for the year-ending Akron WTA Finals on Monday, will meet either Zheng Saisai or a qualifier in the second round.
No.2 seed Swiatek, who is trying to win her own spot at the Akron WTA Finals in Guadalajara, will have a second-round encounter with either Petra Martic or wildcard Katie Volynets.
And 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 awaiting her. She will face either Marketa Vondrousova, the Olympic silver medalist in singles or Viktorija Golubic, the Olympic silver medalist in doubles.
No.5 seed Garbiñe Muguruza, who, like Sakkari and Swiatek, is aiming for one of the final spots in Guadalajara, will take on either Ajla Tomljanovic or a qualifier in the second round. Muguruza won her ninth career WTA singles title in Chicago on Sunday.
No.3 seed Barbora Krejcikova, who has already locked up WTA Finals berths in both singles and doubles (paired with Siniakova), will face either Nao Hibino or a qualifier after her first-round bye.
Two superstar Canadians are also definitively in the mix. Defending BNP Paribas Open champion Bianca Andreescu and 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez are both seeded in the field.
No.16 seed Andreescu, who won the most recent edition in 2019, will meet either Alison Riske or a qualifier in the second round. No.23 seed Fernandez will face either Alizé Cornet or a qualifier after her first-round bye.