This is the 12th consecutive year that Venus and Serena Williams will be boycotting Indian Wells, but it may be the one that hurts the most. So far this season, Serena and Victoria Azarenka have begun to sow the seeds of a real rivalry at the top of the WTA. Last month in Doha, Serena took Vika’s No. 1 ranking the day before Vika finally managed to beat, as well as annoy, Serena. Now all of that will have to wait until later in the month, when the two will presumably take their places across from each other in the draw in Key Biscayne.
Azarenka, of course, is in Indian Wells, where she returns as defending champion. But the stories and players to watch come a little farther down the rankings rung. Petra Kvitova is coming off a very good month of February and is up to No. 6; we know she can challenge anyone on any day. Sara Errani has avoided a sophomore slump so far, after her breakout 2012. Sloane Stephens will try to get back on a winning track, and withstand the inevitable heightened scrutiny after her recent Grand Slam success, back at home. And chances are that Caroline Wozniacki will keep things interesting, one way or another.
Here’s a look at where those players, as well as everyone else, has fallen in this 96-woman, Premier Mandatory draw. How will they handle each other, as well as the blistering sun, the hot days, the cool nights, the thin air, and the whipping winds that will surround them in the California desert? Fighting through the elements should be worth it; there's 5 million bucks on the line.