The WTA may well be welcoming a No.1 back to the top spot in Simona Halep but this fortnight’s Indian Wells tournament will be a lot about how 3 other former No.1’s perform. Maria Sharapova will continue to try and establish herself back post-ban while Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams will play their first tournament for a long time. Azarenka’s personal issues have been well documented while Serena’s complications during the birth of her son has meant her return has not been so straight forward. All three of them will not be seeded, meaning they will start in the first round of the event.
It’s Simona Halep, 2015 champion, that holds the top spot currently and as such she has to be one of the favourites for the title. She has not played since giving a walkover in Doha last month but her 14-1 record to begin this year has been impressive. Early potential dangers for the Romanian include Melbourne semi finalist Elise Mertens and Kristina Mladenovic. The latter finally ended her disastrous losing streak to make the final of St Petersburg, losing to Petra Kvitova in the final.
Still holding on to a top 20 seeding this tournament, Svetlana Kuznetsova will likely lose that once she fails to defend her final of last year. Her and Elena Vesnina took advantage of the open draw to make surprising appearances in that match and rewarded the fans with a thrilling three set match. Big hitting Aryna Sabalenka could be up in round two while Johanna Konta is her first projected seed opponent.
Jelena Ostapenko remains as difficult to predict as ever with the Latvian’s level of play all over the place. 2018 hasn’t been great to her so far though and she comes in with a 3 match losing streak. Belinda Bencic will want to make that four in round two but must first beat Timea Babos. Bencic looked like she would be the first of the youngsters to make a slam breakthrough but Ostapenko stormed through during her absence to do so. Bencic showed signs of her previous high level to begin the year and 2018 could be a great year for her if that is anything to go by.
The second quarter of the draw has the potential to throw up some thrilling matches with Garbiñe Muguruza heading up this section of the draw. The Spaniard has never made the final of Indian Wells but could be well placed to if she makes it through the early rounds.
Maria Sharapova is lurking in round three, assuming she can beat Naomi Osaka and a spiralling Agnieszka Radwanska. Sharapova is a 2 time champion at Indian Wells, last winning in 2013. She will have to improve on her last performance though, a three set loss in Doha. She was dragged all over the court by Monica Niculescu, departing from the tournament after the opening round.
Petra Kvitova was certainly the player of last month and currently holds an 11 match winning streak. She beat 7 top 20 players across her runs in St Petersburg and Doha and is beginning to look once more like the Petra of old, prior to her horrific hand injury. The same inconsistencies may arise though that leaves her vulnerable to an early exit although Karolina Pliskova may be the one to defeat her in round four.
It’s hard to read too much from the two exhibitions that Serena has played this year but it’s fair to say that she has not been able to shake off the rust following her health scare during pregnancy. She was a finalist in 2016, losing to Victoria Azarenka. She begins against Zarina Diyas, a player she beat 2 and 0 in her return to this event three years ago. It’s doubtful she wins so overwhelmingly this time around but Serena is certainly not the type of player to turn up just to make up the numbers and. A match with her sister in round three could be interesting but Venus will need to beat a Romanian in Niculescu or Cirstea first up. Julia Görges also awaits in this part of the draw. The German is another who appears to have found consistency over the past few months and may be the one to take advantage of this section of the draw.
Elina Svitolina warmed up for this tournament by winning the Tiebreak Tens event earlier in the week, a success that included a 10-0 victory over CoCo Vandeweghe prior to the final. The fourth seed is rarely considered as one of the players to watch out for in big tournaments. She has 2 titles already including Dubai but winning here would do a lot for her until her slam breakthrough.
The final quarter of the draw contains three former champions but there isn’t much expectation that the most recent of them can defend her title. Elena Vesnina was very impressive in her run last year but a 4-5 record in 2018 doesn’t bode well for her chances here. 10th seed Angelique Kerber will hope to defeat her early while Caroline Garcia will be expecting a deep run given her spot as the 7th seed.
How Victoria Azarenka performs will be of interest to many. The Belarusian played just 6 matches after her return from pregnancy as her 2017 was cut short by a custody battle over her son. It meant she was unable to compete outside of her home state. There is no real indication of her level right now but Heather Watson is definitely a beatable opponent for her. She beat the Brit at Wimbledon last year in three sets in her penultimate match of the year.
Caroline Wozniacki will want to regain her No. 1 spot but it may be a tough ask for now with her requiring an early exit for Simona Halep while winning this event herself. The 2011 finalist is more than capable of doing so and the attention being focused on returning stars may work in her favour with the pressure off. Aside from Azarenka, other early opponents for the Dane could include Sloane Stephens and Anett Kontaveit. Kontaveit has played Wozniacki tough on both occasions the pair have met, splitting three setters with her.