INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - The draw is out for the 2019 BNP Paribas Open, where World No.1 Naomi Osaka readies to defend a title for the first time in her career and hold off four women - Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Sloane Stephens, and Karolina Pliskova - looking to unseat her at the top spot.
Top 16 seeds: No.1 Naomi Osaka, No.2 Simona Halep, No.3 Petra Kvitova, No.4 Sloane Stephens, No.5 Karolina Pliskova, No.6 Elina Svitolina, No.7 Kiki Bertens, No.8 Angelique Kerber, No.9 Aryna Sabalenka, No.10 Serena Williams, No.11 Anastasija Sevastova, No.12 Ashleigh Barty, No.13 Caroline Wozniacki, No.14 Daria Kasatkina, No.15 Julia Goerges, No.16 Elise Mertens.
Top Half: Osaka, Kvitova, Pliskova, Kerber
Bottom Half: Halep, Stephens, Svitolina, Bertens
Last year: Naomi Osaka d. Daria Kasatkina, 6-3, 6-2
Osaka seeking a rare title defense in the California desert
There has been only one successful title defense at Indian Wells. It came 28 years ago in 1991, when Martina Navratilova won her back-to-back titles. Additionally, in recent years, Indian Wells has been the site of the surprise champion. A Top 10 player has won the title just once in the last five years.
Osaka comes into Indian Wells looking to defend a title for the first time in her career. She has a new head coach by her side in Jermaine Jenkins, who was brought on just last week. And she's looking to bounce back from a disappointing performance at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships two weeks ago, which saw her bow out 6-3, 6-3 to Kristina Mladenovic in her opening match.
Osaka could face Mladenovic right off the bat this week, as the Frenchwoman opens against Zheng Saisai, with the winner to face the defending champion in the second round. The first seed Osaka could face is Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins, with Dubai champion Belinda Bencic or Caroline Wozniacki looming in the Round of 16. Navigate that early draw and Osaka could see an Australian Open redux, with Pliskova a potential quarterfinal opponent and Kvitova in the semifinals.
Four in the Chase for No.1
One year ago, Osaka was ranked outside the Top 40 and still chasing her first WTA title. Twelve months on and the 21-year-old defending champion is now a two-time major champion and the reigning World No.1.
Four women have a chance to overtake Osaka at No.1 in Indian Wells: Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep, Sloane Stephens, and Karolina Pliskova. To do it, all four will have to make a deep run into the second week.
Kvitova, who currently sits at No.1 on the Porsche Race to Shenzhen Leaderboard, will need to at least reach the semifinals for a chance to at No.1. Halep and Stephens need to at least reach the final, while Pliskova will need to win the title with other results falling in her favor.
Kvitova quarter highlighted by question marks
Kvitova anchors the second quarter of the draw and could face either Venus Williams or Andrea Petkovic in her opening round. With a title in hand (Sydney) and two more finals (Australian Open, Dubai), no one has won more main draw tour-level matches than Kvitova this season. But the desert conditions have always been tricky for the big-hitting Czech, who has yet to make it past the quarterfinals here.
Also in Kvitova's quarter are Madison Keys, who is playing just her second tournament of the season, Aryna Sabalenka, who is still in search of her first Top 50 win of the season, and Angelique Kerber, who has yet to find the dangerous form she found this time last year.
'Quarter of Death' led by Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams, and Kiki Bertens
The most intriguing quarter of the draw is led by No.4 Stephens. In addition to the incredible section that could see Serena Williams have to go through Victoria Azarenka and Garbiñe Muguruza just to make the Round of 16, this quarter also features two of the most dangerous teenagers of the season in Amanda Anisimova and Bianca Andreescu.
St. Petersburg champion Kiki Bertens and Dubai semifinalist Hsieh Su-Wei could face in the third round. Johanna Konta is also floating in this quarter.
An American woman has not won Indian Wells since 2001. Serena is playing her second tournament of the year and her first since making the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in January.
Simona Halep comes out the draw winner
Given the tough draws she's had so far in 2019, the World No.2 has a draw that should allow her to play into form. A champion here in 2015 and a semifinalist last year, Halep will open against either Barbora Strycova or a qualifier. The first seed she could face is an always dangerous Aliaksandra Sasnovich, with last year's finalist Daria Kasatkina or Jelena Ostapenko, both of whom have struggled to find their form so far this year, potentially in the Round of 16.
Get through those early matches and Halep could face either Elina Svitolina or Ashleigh Barty. The Aussie is back in action at a tournament for the first time since her quarterfinal run at the Australian Open. She could face Caroline Garcia in the third round.
Notable first-round matches: Alison Riske vs. Alison Van Uytvanck, Venus Williams vs. Andrea Petkovic, Ajla Tomljanvic vs. Alize Cornet, Wang Yafan vs. Sofia Kenin, Daria Gavrilova vs. Dayana Yastremska, Market Vondrousova vs. Laura Siegemund.
Notable potential second-round matches: Naomi Osaka vs. Kristina Mladenovic, Danielle Collins vs. Eugenie Bouchard, Petra Kvitova vs. Venus Williams, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Maria Sakkari, Angelique Kerber vs. Yulia Putintseva, Johanna Konta vs. Hsieh Su-wei, Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka, Elise Mertens vs. Amanda Anisimova, Elina Svitolina vs. Sofia Kenin, Caroline Garcia vs. Jennifer Brady, Barbora Strycova vs. Simona Halep.
Main draw play begins on Wednesday, March 6th.