Officially known as the BNP Paribas Open, a combined event played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in the Coachella Valley, the first of nine Masters 1000 Series events is better known as the Indian Wells Masters, one of the biggest events in tennis which features all its biggest names.
The highlight of the spring hard-court season, together with the Miami Masters which follows it, the Indian Wells Masters will be played from 6-19 March 2017 and features a 96-player draw with the 32 seeds all receiving byes into the second round – the biggest draw you will find in tennis outside of the four Grand Slams.
The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells has been dominated by three players over the last dozen years, with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal sharing eleven of the last twelve editions between them. Djokovic heads the all-time list with five titles; Federer has four, while Nadal has three.
Strangely, world number one, Andy Murray is yet to taste victory in the Californian desert.
Andy Murray has struggled over the years at Indian Wells. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
The reigning Olympic and Wimbledon champion has just the one final to show for his efforts, and that was way back in 2009. Could this be the year when Murray corrects that anomaly?
If he is to do that, he may have to do something that hasn’t been done in the last three years- that is, beat Djokovic in California.
The Serbian has won three Indian Wells titles in a row, with the most recent coming after a comprehensive dismissal of Milos Raonic in the 2016 final. Djokovic began the tournament on a rather shaky note, dropping the opening set in his opening match to the relatively unknown American, Bjorn Frantangelo, but once the Serbian got past that sticky situation, he went through the rest of the tournament without dropping a set, including a 7-5 6-2 victory over Nadal in a marquee semi-final.
However, the Serbian goes into the 2017 tournament with plenty of question marks around him. Djokovic sustained his Indian Wells form for the next three months of the year, winning the Miami title and a significant first Roland Garros crown in Paris, but the Serbian's fortunes would take a dramatic tumble after that. The French Open was Djokovic's sixth title in a routinely outstanding first half of the season, but he would win just one more title - the Rogers Cup- in the rest of the year. The lowest moments of that slump were a shock third round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon, and a first round exit at the Rio Olympics- a result which left the Serbian in tears. Unfortunately for Djokovic, his slump co-incided with Andy Murray's stunning surge, and a combination of both events eventually led to an exchange in ranking positions between the two men, as Murray replaced Djokovic on top of the world.
Not much has changed for Djokovic in 2017- although he did begin the year by beating Murray in the Qatar Open final. While he showed typical grit and resilience in overcoming Murray, he was largely unconvincing through the week in Doha, notably needing to save five match points against Fernando Verdasco in the semi-finals. He wouldn't be so fortunate at the Australian Open, as he suffered a shock second round defeat to Denis Istomin- a player ranked outside the top 100 at the time.
Djokovic's next assignment was to guide Serbia into the Davis Cup quarter finals, but even that threatened to go wrong as he trailed young Russian Daniil Medvedev by a set and a break before taking control of the situation, and winning when his opponent retired with cramps in the fourth set. Djokovic required treatment on his shoulder during the match, and it turned out to be a quite serious problem, serious enough to make him opt out of Dubai. Perhaps a trip to one of his most successful hunting grounds- Indian Wells- would bring much-needed solace to the Serbian?
While Djokovic generally enjoys life in Southern California, world number one, Andy Murray has never been comfortable at the venue. Apart from his final in 2009, Murray’s best at Indian Wells has been the quarter finals. He didn’t even make it that far in 2016, falling 6-4 6-4 to Federico Delbonis in the third round. Given his form in the second half of 2016, the Scot would have probably gone in as the favourite for the 2017 title, but that will not be the case, as there have been some significant twists and turns at the start of 2017. Murray ended 2016 with six straight titles, but almost two months into the new season, he is yet to claim any. An unconvincing week in Doha ended with a three-set loss to Djokovic in the final, but worse was to follow, as the world number one crumbled to a four-set loss to Mischa Zverev in the fourth round of the Australian Open. His poor start to the year, and his poor record in California suggest it may be another struggle in the desert for the Brit.
Roger Federer missed the 2016 tournament because of the freak knee injury he sustained just after the Australian Open, and he would go on to miss the entire second half of the season, but what a stunning return he has made in 2017. The great Swiss took out four top ten players- Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and great rival, Rafael Nadal in a wonderful run to the Australian Open title in his first official tournament since a semi-final loss to Milos Raonic at Wimbledon. Not even the great Federer, who always has high expectations of himself could have envisaged such a successful return from his long lay off.
While Federer sat out Indian Wells 2016, Djokovic moved one title ahead in the race for the most successful man in the tournament's history. Can Federer get back on terms in 2017?
Can Roger Federer return to winning ways at Indian Wells in 2017? (Photo by: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Federer won three of his four titles between 2004 and 2006, with the only other one coming in 2012, when he defeated John Isner in the final. The Swiss might not have won the title since 2012, but he always puts himself in a position to strike, notably losing to Djokovic in 2014 and 2015, both in three sets. After ending his long Grand Slam drought, the great man will attempt to terminate his five-year wait for a fifth Indian Wells title.
Rafael Nadal would have been very disappointed not to beat Federer in that Australian Open final. He looked good for the win when he broke early in the final set, but found himself the receiving end of a barrage of awesome stroke-making from his Swiss rival. Still, it was a superb return to action, and form for Nadal, who shut down his 2016 early to recover from a lingering wrist problem. He looked pretty sharp in his first competitive event of the season, despite falling to Milos Raonic in the quarter finals, and he confirmed his return to relevance with his run in Melbourne. With three Indian Wells titles in the bag, the 30-year-old Spaniard knows his way around the Californian desert.
The ATP's form player is Grigor Dimitrov, who is on an inexorable quest for the top ten. Dimitrov's resurgence under coach Dani Vallverdu has been stunning. From looking lost at number 40 in the middle of last year, the Bulgarian is playing some of the best tennis in his career. He's the only player with multiple titles this year- with his successes in Brisbane and Sofia, was desperately unlucky not to beat Nadal in their epic Australian Open semi-final. He will be a major factor in California.
Milos Raonic cannot be overlooked, as he looks to build on the gains of last year’s final, while other top-ten players, spear-headed by Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka will also abhor hopes of breaking that seemingly closed group of recent Indian Wells champions.
Can three-time defending champion, Novak Djokovic find some form and fend off the advances of a packed field, or will we have a new champion in 2017? These burning questions will be answered when the first Masters 1000 event of 2017 takes place at Indian Wells from 6-19 March.