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Indian Wells Masters: Five WTA players to watch

Considered to be one of the season's biggest events outside the four Grand Slams, Indian Wells has understandably attracted a stellar line-up with women's world number one Iga Swiatek hoping to defend her crown.

After a few early scares, the prolific Pole showed her qualities as she eased past Maria Sakkari 6-4 6-1 in the final last year and she went from strength to strength after that, winning both the French Open and the US Open.

Swiatek is favourite to follow up last year's success but there are plenty of challengers to her supremacy, with Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, American duo Jessica Pegula and Cori Gauff and French fifth seed Caroline Garcia all noteworthy dangers.

Second seed Ons Jabeur may need some time to find her feet after undergoing minor surgery but Barbora Krejcikova, who defeated Swiatek in the final in Dubai in February, and Australian Open runner-up Elena Rybakina, would be two others to consider.

With a deep field lining up at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, we have looked at five players who could contend for the title.

What:WTA Indian Wells
Where:Indian Wells Tennis Garden, California, USA
When:Wednesday 8th March 2023 - Sunday 19th March 2023
How to watch:Amazon Prime
Odds:Iga Swiatek 15/8, Aryna Sabalenka 15/2, Barbora Krejcikova 10/1, Jessica Pegula 10/1, Elena Rybakina 16/1, Cori Gauff 18/1

Super Swiatek remains the one to beat

When Swiatek is on-song she is a cut above any player on the WTA Tour and the 21-year-old Polish sensation will be hoping she can build on last year's triumph.

Swiatek kickstarted this year with a run to the fourth round of the Australian Open but she built on that with a trophy win in Qatar before making the final of the Dubai Tennis Championships.

The Pole was surprisingly beaten 6-4 6-2 by Krejcikova in that title decider but she had earlier eased past Leylah Fernandez, Liudmila Samsonova and Gauff.

And given her dominance on clay courts, these unique conditions should again play to her strengths.

Although played on a hard court, the dry desert air means the conditions tend to play a little slower, which can often take a bit of bite off of the heavy servers.

The three-time Grand Slam champion won four of the six WTA 1000 events she competed in last year and, armed with a decent draw, could take some stopping.

With Bianca Andreescu and Emma Raducanu struggling for form, Swiatek's toughest early test could come in the fourth round against Beatriz Haddad Maia but she'd be expected to pass that obstacle and most of her chief title rivals are housed away in the bottom half.

Swiatek is 15/8 To Win Outright and those quotes look justified.

Melbourne champion Sabalenka hoping for more success

Sabalenka claimed her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, and although unable to build on that in the Dubai Tennis Championships, she remains a threat to all in California.

The Belarusian is perhaps one of the most powerful players on the WTA Tour and when it clicks she is difficult to contain.

The world number two is evidently a title contender but the draw could have been kinder and the slower playing conditions in the desert could nullify some of her biggest assets.

With Krejcikova a likely fourth-round opponent and Gauff, Pegula, Bencic, Sakkari and Veronika Kudermetova also in the bottom half of the draw, the competition is fierce.

Krejcikova defeated Sabalenka 0-6 7-6 6-1 in Dubai most recently, so while Sabalenka could again bulldoze her way to the title, perhaps there is better value to be had at 15/2.

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Conditions could suit Czech star Krejcikova

Krejcikova's confidence should be through the roof following her title success in Dubai at the end of February, a tournament in which she overcame the world's top three in Swiatek, Sabalenka and Pegula, as well as defeating world number eight Daria Kasatkina and world number 12 Petra Kvitova.

A replication of that effort would make her a serious player at Indian Wells, especially if conditions play as tough as they often do.

Krejcikova is a former French Open champion and she has had a 10-day break since those heroics in Dubai, so ought to be fit and ready to do herself justice.

The 27-year-old was forced to withdraw from this event last year with an elbow injury and will be keen to make amends.

There shouldn't be too many early concerns for the Czech and a crunch fourth-round clash with Sabalenka is again on the cards in what could be a defining match in this tournament.

But Krejcikova may again have the beating of the Belarusian if the courts play slower, just as she did in Dubai most recently.

At 10/1, there is certainly plenty going in the favour of the Czech star.

Consistent Pegula sure to have her say

Pegula finds herself at world number three due to her being a sheer model of consistency and the American should be on the radar of many at Indian Wells.

The third seed has made the quarter-final in four of the last five Grand Slam events, which shows she is a big-game player, while she also made the last eight of this event in 2021.

Pegula was beaten by Krejcikova in the semi-final of the recent Dubai Tennis Championships but she finished runner-up to Swiatek in the Qatar Open prior to that.

Another deep run is almost guaranteed from the reliable Pegula, who shouldn't really have anything to worry about until a fourth-round clash with Kvitova or Jelena Ostapenko.

From then on things get tougher but conditions are unlikely to concern Pegula and, with her holding her form well, there is plenty to like about her title prospects at 10/1.

Badosa hoping to spark a revival

Paula Badosa has been in poor form, losing in the opening round of her last two tournament appearances, but this is a venue that has been good to her in the past and her return to California may spark a revival.

The Spaniard was crowned champion in 2021 and she also went on to make the semi-final last year, eventually losing in three sets to runner-up Sakkari.

However, the 25-year-old has had a near three-week break and would have surely been looking towards this as it is one of her favourite events.

If back to her best, Badosa should revel in these conditions and that would make quotes of 66/1 seriously underestimate her chances.

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