Indian Wells was where things really began to take off for Iga Swiatek last year and the Pole will begin her title defence confident that she can repeat her victory when the BNP Paribas Open begins this week.
But the world No 1 may not have it all her own way, with no fewer than six other Grand Slam champions in her half of the draw, Aryna Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, in the other half looking to maintain her superb start to 2023 and a host of other big names looking for a big victory.
Swiatek still strong favourite
Last year, her Indian Wells win was part of her stunning 37-match win streak which took her all the way to a second Roland-Garros title and there’s no doubt Swiatek will enjoy returning to the desert.
But the Pole could face a string of tough encounters if she’s to go all the way. She begins against either Claire Lu or Alison van Uytvanck, while former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu could be waiting in round three.
Magda Linette and Caroline Garcia are seeded to face her in round four while one of Ons Jabeur, Elena Rybakina – who beat her in Melbourne – Victoria Azarenka and Daria Kasatkina is likely to make it to the semi-finals.
But with other slam winners, including Emma Raducanu and Sloane Stephens, also in the top half, upsets are more than possible.
Stephens-Kenin the highlight of top half first-rounders
Stephens plays another former slam winner in Sofia Kenin in round one, for the right to play Rybakina. The pair have played just once before, with Stephens winning in Toronto last year. Kenin is still making her way back from a huge loss of form while Stephens remains capable of beating anyone when she’s on song.
Raducanu, the US Open champion from 2021, plays Danka Kovinic, while Katerina Siniakova meets Jule Niemeier.
Sabalenka heads bottom half
As the world No 2 and second seed, Aryna Sabalenka sits at the bottom of the draw and if she shows the form she produced in Australia, it will take something special to stop her.
Beaten just once in 2023, by Barbora Krejcikova in Dubai, the Belarusian plays Alize Cornet or Evgeniya Rodina in round two and could face Donna Vekic, fresh off her fourth title. Get through that and Sabalenka could play Krejcikova again, in the fourth round.
The Czech will carry plenty of confidence into the 1000 event, having beaten the world’s top three – Jessica Pegula, Sabalenka and Swiatek, in winning the Dubai title.
Should Sabalenka make it to the quarter-finals, Coco Gauff could be waiting. Fellow American Pegula or Maria Sakkari of Greece, the runner-up to Swiatek last year, could be her semi-final opponent.
Other notable names in the draw include Alycia Parks, the American who won her first title earlier this year, and another American, Elizabeth Mandlik, the daughter of Czech Hana Mandlikova.