A year after returning to tour-level tennis at Indian Wells, Serena Williams was given a complicated and tough draw for the combined ATP-WTA tournament on the hard courts of California. The 23-time major champion could face former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the second-round clash, after the full draw was revealed on Monday.
Seeded 10th, Williams, who played her first tour event in Indian Wells last year after the birth of her daughter, was drawn into the same quarter of the draw as No. 4 seed Sloane Stephens and No. 7 seed Kiki Bertens in the bottom half, and will face either Azarenka or Vera Lapko after an opening-round bye.
In 2016, Azarenka had beaten Williams in the final, as she pulled off the ‘Sunshine Double’ in Indian Wells and Miami before announcing her own pregnancy.
Even if Serena gets past Azarenka, things won’t get easier for her. A prospective third-round match will see her face off against No.20 seed and two-time major champion Garbiñe Muguruza before a fourth round with Bertens and a quarterfinal meeting with Stephens.
In the other quarter in the bottom half, No. 2 seed Simona Halep will face the winner of Barbora Strycova or a qualifier first up, and could be projected into a fourth-round meeting with last year’s runner-up, No.14 seed Daria Kasatkina, or No.22 seed Jelena Ostapenko.
In the top half of the draw, defending champion and World No.1 Naomi Osaka may get an opportunity to exact revenge for a recent loss. The top seed, who won her first career title in the Californian desert last year, will face either Kristina Mladenovic or Zheng Saisai in her first match at the Premier Mandatory event this year.
The reigning US Open and Australian Open champion lost to Mladenovic in her first match since her triumph Down Under, and first match as World No.1, in Dubai last month.
Also lurking for Osaka in this section is No. 25 seed and Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins, while the seeded projections could mean that the winner of a third-round clash between Dubai champion Belinda Bencic and No.13 seed Caroline Wozniacki could face Osaka in the last 16, before a potential Melbourne rematch with Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals.
Rounding off the top half’s other quarter is Petra Kvitova, who could face the unseeded Venus Williams should the American pass her opening test against Andrea Petkovic, first, with Angelique Kerber, Aryna Sabalenka and Lesia Tsurenko on the horizon.