It was exactly two years ago that competitive tennis came to a standstill following the outbreak of COVID-19. Indian Wells was the first major casualty on the tennis calendar.
A year later, the event was suspended once again as the United States battled a second wave of the virus. But it was eventually held at the fag end of the season.
This year, the Masters 1000 tournament will return to its regular slot on the ATP calendar. As one of only two Masters 1000 events that features a 96-player field (along with Miami), Indian Wells provides a first-round bye for the 32 seeded players in the draw.
Cameron Norrie is the defending champion this year, while Daniil Medvedev is the top seed. Second seed Novak Djokovic's late withdrawal has led to a slight shuffle in the draw as unseeded Grigor Dimitrov has now taken the Serb's place. The Bulgarian was originally drawn against Tommy Paul, who will instead be facing Mikhail Kukushkin in his opener.
On that note, here's a look at the five best first-round matches in Indian Wells.
#1 Marton Fucsovics vs Mackenzie McDonald
Marton Fucsovics and Mackenzie McDonald have both played exactly 13 matches this season. They incidentally share an identical win-loss record of 6-7. But it isn't merely their similar win percentage that makes this matchup look interesting on paper.
While neither Fucsovics nor McDonald have great records against top players, they do have the ability to pose a threat. The American took eventual champion Andrey Rublev to a deciding set in Dubai, lost a tight match against Alex de Minaur in Rotterdam and nearly forced a deciding set against Alexander Zverev in Montpellier.
Fucsovics, meanwhile, lost a couple of close matches, to Denis Shapovalov in Dubai and Nikoloz Basilashvili in Doha. In the recently concluded Davis Cup qualifiers where he represented Team Hungary, the 2021 Wimbledon quarterfinalist lost to de Minaur in two tight sets.
McDonald and Fucsovics will face each other for the first time on the tour in Indian Wells.
Borna Coric being ranked 167th in the world isn't a familiar sight. The low rankings is a result of the Croat's absence from the tour over the past 12 months.
Following his semifinal run at Rotterdam in 2021, Coric took some time away from the game to treat his injured right shoulder. He underwent surgery in May last year and spent the rest of the season recovering.
He originally intended to return to competitive action earlier this year at the Australian Open, but the former World No. 12 was forced to delay his comeback. He is now set to make his return at Indian Wells with a protective ranking.
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina is one of the more entertaining players to watch on the tour and the Spaniard's matches generally involve a lot of drama. He recently squandered three match points in a loss to Jannik Sinner in the first round of the 2022 Dubai Open.
Although the 22-year-old hasn't had much success this season, he has been involved in thrilling encounters with every top-10 player he has faced so far. Besides his dramatic contest with Sinner, Davidovich Fokina narrowly lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rotterdam and Felix Auger-Aliassime at the Australian Open.
This will be the first meeting between Coric and Davidovich Fokina.
#3 Sebastian Baez vs Nick Kyrgios
Like Coric, Nick Kyrgios' ranking does not reflect his true ability. The Australian slipped to 132 in the world after missing a number of tournaments last season. He went on a hiatus following last year's Australian Open and only returned for Wimbledon. He called time on his season after the Laver Cup.
Kyrgios returned to action at the Australian Open earlier this year and took a set off Daniil Medvedev in the second round. He also went on to lift the doubles title with compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis.
While the 26-year-old was battling injury, Sebastian Baez was making a steady climb up the rankings. Two weeks ago, the Argentine made his first final on the ATP tour in Santiago, where he lost to Pedro Martinez in three sets.
Having already won 10 matches this season, the 21-year-old currently stands at a career-high ranking of 60.
Baez's favorite surface is clay, but he is no slouch on other surfaces and pushed Stefanos Tsitsipas to four sets at the Australian Open earlier this year.
In a classic case of a player making a comeback versus one rising up the ranks, Baez's first career meeting with Kyrgios will provide plenty of fireworks.
#4 Andy Murray vs Taro Daniel
Andy Murray and Taro Daniel are set to take on each other for the third time in a little over a month.
Indian Wells is the only hardcourt Masters 1000 tournament that Murray hasn't yet won. He has made the final once before, losing to Rafael Nadal in 2009. But the 34-year-old is currently a shadow of his former self.
Having nearly hung up his racket after multiple surgeries, Murray is on a mission to rediscover some of his best form. He recently made a return to the top 100 on the back of a runner-up finish in Sydney at the start of the year.
Murray has enjoyed some success against lower-ranked players following his comeback, but he has suffered lopsided defeats to top players like Auger-Aliassime, Roberto Bautista Agut and Jannik Sinner.
Daniel is the only lower-ranked player to have defeated Murray this season. When the pair met at the Australian Open earlier this year, the Japanese was ranked 120th in the world while Murray was ranked 113th. Daniel prevailed in straight sets, but Murray soon avenged that loss in Doha.
Apart from his win over the Brit, the 29-year-old Japanese hasn't done anything significant this season. The most memorable moment of his career came at Indian Wells four years ago, when he defeated Novak Djokovic in the Round of 64.
#5 Sebastian Korda vs Thanasi Kokkinakis
Thanasi Kokkinakis made a splendid start to his season, winning his maiden title in Adelaide. But following that triumph, the 25-year-old has amassed a 4-4 record over his next eight matches.
The Australian's most famous victory came in 2018, when he stunned Roger Federer in the second round of the Miami Masters. But he has failed to kick on since then, with injuries halting his progress.
But he is slowly finding his best form and will hope to play at a high level in California.
Sebastian Korda, meanwhile, is one of the most promising young talents on the tour right now. The 21-year-old went from strength to strength last season, reaching the final of Delray Beach and lifting his maiden title in Parma. He also reached the last 16 at Wimbledon. The fact that these achievements came on different surfaces is a testament to his versatility and ability to adapt.
Korda also finished as the runner-up to Carlos Alcaraz in the Next Gen Finals. He recently faced Kokkinakis in the first round at Delray Beach and beat him in straight sets.