After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the BNP Paribas Open returns this week for the first fall edition in Indian Wells, California. The combined WTA 1000 and ATP Masters 1000 event will feature a 96-player singles field and 32-team doubles draw, played over two weeks in the California desert. 

With qualifying still to be determined for the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, the stakes will be high. Here's what you need to know about the last WTA 1000 event of the season:

When does the tournament start?

Qualifying is underway this week, with main-draw play to kick off Wednesday, Oct. 6. The bottom half of the draw is scheduled to play Wednesday, with the top half to play on Thursday. 

The halves will continue to alternate days into the second week until Tuesday, Oct. 12, when all eight Round of 16 singles matches will be played. The quarterfinals will be played across Wednesday and Thursday, with the singles semifinals scheduled for Friday. 

When are the finals? 

The doubles final will be played on Saturday, Oct.16. The singles final will be played on Sunday, Oct. 17 at 1:00 p.m. PT. 

Who are the top seeds?

Here are the Top 16 seeds:

No.1 Karolina Pliskova
No.2 Iga Swiatek
No.3 Barbora Krejcikova
No.4 Elina Svitolina
No.5 Garbiñe Muguruza
No.6 Maria Sakkari
No.7 Petra Kvitova
No.8 Belinda Bencic
No.9 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
No.10 Angelique Kerber
No.11 Simona Halep
No.12 Ons Jabeur
No.13 Elena Rybakina
No.14 Elise Mertens
No.15 Coco Gauff
No.16 Bianca Andreescu

Also seeded in the draw are US Open champion Emma Raducanu (No.17 seed) and finalist Leylah Fernandez (No.23 seed). The last seeded player is Sorana Cirstea. The Top 32 seeds all have byes into the second round.

Champion's Reel: How Bianca Andreescu won Indian Wells 2019

2019 Indian Wells

Who are the defending champions?

Bianca Andreescu began her rise in the California desert in 2019, stunning the field to win her first WTA title, at Indian Wells. Coming into the tournament as a wildcard ranked No.60, the Canadian defeated Muguruza, Svitolina and Kerber in succession win the title as a teenager, defeating the German Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in a dramatic final.

Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka took home the doubles title with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. Mertens and Sabalenka would go on to complete the "Sunshine Double," winning Miami two weeks later. 

What does the draw look like?

For a full breakdown of the draw, click here

World No.1 Ashleigh Barty, No.2 Aryna Sabalenka, No.8 Sofia Kenin and No.12 Naomi Osaka withdrew from the tournament before the draw.

Wildcards were granted to two-time champion and former No.1 Kim Clijsters. US Open champion Raducanu, whose ranking was well outside the main draw cutoff at the entry deadline four weeks ago, was also given a wildcard. The final main-draw wildcards went to Americans Caty McNally, Claire Liu, Katie Volynets, Katrina Scott, Ashlyn Krueger and France's Elsa Jacquemot.

What is the prize money and ranking points on offer?

Champion: $1,209,730/1,000 points
Finalist: $640,000/650 points
Semifinalist: $335,000/390 points
Quarterfinalist: $175,000/215 points
Fourth Round: $92,000/120 points
Third Round: $51,895/ 65 points
Second Round: $29,045/ 35 points
First Round: $18,155/ 1 point

With regard to ranking points, the World No.1 ranking is not in play in Indian Wells. Barty will remain No.1 after the tournament.

Photo by WTA/Jimmie48

Key storylines

Indian Wells will play a major role in WTA Finals qualifying: With Barty, Sabalenka, Krejcikova and Pliskova having already qualified, four automatic qualifying spots and two alternate positions remain open for the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara with just three tournament weeks remaining in the regular season. With 1,000 points on offer in Indian Wells, a title run by any player in the Top 25 of the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals Leaderboard could vault them into qualifying contention. 

With the top four spots claimed, here where the Porsche Race Leaderboard Top 20 stands at the start of Indian Wells:

No.5 Maria Sakkari: 3,147 points
No.6 Garbiñe Muguruza: 3,141 points
No.7 Iga Swiatek: 3,106
* Note: 46 points separate the No.5 to No.7 spots

No.8 Naomi Osaka: 2,771 (not playing)
No.9 Ons Jabeur: 2,685 points
No.10 Elise Mertens: 2,438 points
No.11 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: 2,385 points
No.12 Elina Svitolina: 2,382 points
No.13 Coco Gauff: 2,325 points
No.14 Jessica Pegula: 2,286 points
No.15 Emma Raducanu: 2,282 points
No.16 Anett Kontaveit: 2,227 points
No.17 Belinda Bencic: 2,196 points
No.18 Angelique Kerber: 2,172 points
No.19 Paula Badosa: 2,112 points
No.20 Daria Kasatkina: 2,061
* Note: 710 points separate the No.8 to No.20 spots

Kim Clijsters returns to California after a decade away: A champion in 2003 and 2005, the former No.1 continues her comeback. The 38-year-old fan favorite is set to play her first Indian Wells since a Round of 16 run in 2011 and will open against Siniakova in the first round. Still looking for her first win since coming back in 2020, Clijsters played her first match of 2021 last week at the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic, where she went three sets against Hsieh Su-Wei in the first round. 

Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez get back to business: The two breakout stars of the US Open will play their first event since New York. Both are seeded in their tournament debuts. Raducanu and will face either Maria Camila Osorio Serrano or Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round. A potential blockbuster meeting with Simona Halep could be in the cards in the third round.

Fernandez will open against either Alizé Cornet or a qualifier.

Garbiñe Muguruza, Maria Sakkari, Ons Jabeur and Anett Kontaveit coming in hot: All four women are in qualifying contention for the WTA Finals and are carrying great form and confidence into Indian Wells. Chicago champion Muguruza is a two-time quarterfinalist and comes in fresh off winning her second title of the season in Chicago. Sakkari became the first Greek woman to break the Top 10 after making the final in Ostrava, while Jabeur inched closer to the Top 10 after making her third final of the season in Chicago. And Kontaveit has quietly turned her season around, winning 13 of her past 14 matches, including the title in Ostrava two weeks ago.

Year-end No.1 ranking: Indian Wells will also play a significant role in the year-end No.1 ranking. Roland Garros champion Krejcikova and Wimbledon finalist Pliskova can keep their bids for the top spot if they make it to Championship Sunday, with Pliskova needing the title if she's to stay in the hunt.