World No. 1’s Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki lead a world-class field into the US$4.5 million BNP Paribas Open, a combined WTA and ATP Masters series event that begins today.
Instant replay will be available for the first time on all eight competition courts at the desert resort oasis, where Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic and Serbian Jelena Jankovic will defend their crowns.
Women’s main-draw matches begin today, while the men start tomorrow. In each case, top seeds have first-round byes, pushing the debut matches for most of the major stars to the weekend.
Nadal, a nine-time Grand Slam champion who won 2007 and 2009 Indian Wells titles, ended a five-week layoff last week in a first-round Davis Cup tie and seeks another deep run after losing to Ljubicic in last year’s semi-finals.
Nadal could join US legends Jimmy Connors and Michael Chang and Swiss world No. 2 Roger Federer as a three-time winner at Indian Wells.
Federer, a 16-time Grand Slam singles champion, comes in off a loss to third-ranked Novak Djokovic in the Dubai final and a week of workouts to prepare himself for the challenge of the US hardcourts.
Federer is 29-7 lifetime at Indian Wells and is the only player to win the event three times in a row, his title run coming from 2004 through 2006.
Djokovic, the 2008 Indian Wells champion, is on a 12-match win streak after capturing the Australian Open and Dubai titles.
The Serbian star would replace Federer as world No. 2 headed into the Miami Masters event later this month if he wins the Indian Wells title, reaches a final not against Federer or reaches the semi-finals with Federer ousted before the quarter-finals.
Sweden’s Robin Soderling has won three titles this season and risen to fourth in the rankings, just ahead of Scotsman Andy Murray, who reached the Australian Open final, but comes to Indian Wells still in search of his first Grand Slam crown.
Wozniacki, who lost to Jankovic in last year’s Indian Wells women’s final, won six titles last year and another crown last month at Dubai after losing in the Australian Open semi--finals, keeping the great Dane without a Slam crown.
Second-ranked Kim Clijsters, the 2003 and 2005 Indian Wells champion, is coming off a victory over China’s Li Na in the Australian Open final, the Belgian taking her third Grand Slam title since a 2009 return from a break to start a family.
Russian Vera Zvonareva, the world No. 3 who won at Indian Wells in 2009, is joined among the favorites by fourth-ranked Australian Samantha Stosur, fifth-ranked Italian Francesca Schiavone, sixth-ranked Jankovic and seventh-ranked Li, the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final.
“Australia is over. Now I have to start all over again,” Li said, mindful of first-match exits last year at Miami and Indian Wells.
Other top players in the fields include past Indian Wells winners Maria Sharapova of Russia and Lleyton Hewitt of Australia.