Serena Williams returns to action for the first time since the Australian Open at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
The American world number one suffered a shock loss to Angelique Kerber in the final at Melbourne Park and has decided against competing since.
Serena ended her boycott of the WTA Premier tournament last year, and her sister Venus will do the same at the 2016 edition.
While Maria Sharapova is absent, a strong field is still present to challenge Serena on the hard courts in California.
Venus in form on return -??The 35-year-old made a slow start to the season before winning the title at her last tournament, in Taiwan in February. Venus is returning to Indian Wells for the first time since 2001, when her withdrawal from a semi-final against her sister was booed by fans. Talented Ukrainian Elina Svitolina is also in fine form, having won the title in Malaysia.
Pressure on Halep -??Aside from a semi-final appearance in Sydney, the Romanian has struggled in 2016. She must step up, however, after being crowned champion last year. Halep failed to win in Dubai and Doha, losing to Ana Ivanovic and Elena Vesnina respectively. Under similar pressure is the player Halep beat in the decider as Jelena Jankovic looks to defend her points.
Sisters in same quarter -??Serena and Venus are in the same quarter of the draw, but it would surprise if the latter made it to the last eight. Venus will need to beat Andrea Petkovic and likely Halep to reach the quarter-finals. The Romanian fifth seed is the top-ranked player in Serena’s quarter. Kerber and Johanna Konta could meet as early as the third round.
A year ago -??Halep was given a free trip into the final after Serena’s withdrawal before their semi-final due to a knee injury. Halep enjoyed a good run, which included a win over Carla Suarez Navarro in the last eight. Jankovic surprised, with her victory against Madison Keys in the third round sending her on her way.
Red-hot Stephens, Serena still the one to beat -??Sloane Stephens is enjoying quite the year, holding an 11-1 win-loss record with two titles.??Serena dropped just two sets at Melbourne Park, but unfortunately for her they were in the final
Serena ready, Halep talks down pressure –??”No pressure. The most important thing is to be healthy, and when I’m healthy, I’m really happy,” Halep said.??As for Serena, she said: “I was ready to go in Australia and… and I???ll definitely be ready to go on Tuesday.”
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