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Ten storylines to follow from Indian Wells

Indian Wells stadium.
by Mark Hodgkinson
Wednesday 5 March 2014

There is plenty to expect from the first Masters 1000 / WTA Premier event of the season, as the men's and women's tours reunite for the first time since the Australian Open. Wimbledon.com picks out ten...

1. Will Roger Federer’s form transfer from one desert to another, from Arabia to California? Federer’s success at last week’s tournament in Dubai was his most encouraging victory since he won Wimbledon in 2012. If Federer can keep that run going in America, there will be even more reason to believe that the Swiss can possibly win a record eighth title at the All England Club this summer. 
2. A geopolitical crisis (hot, cold, and emphatically not yours) tends to make the Winter Olympics fade in your mind a little quicker than you had imagined, and it now seems like a long time since Maria Sharapova was in Sochi, promoting her old hometown to the world. The United States-based Russian returns to tennis this week, and to a tournament she won last year. 
3. For most observers, it was Rafael Nadal’s tournament victory in Indian Wells last year that signified that the Majorcan was back as a force at the top of the game. Okay, by then, he had already reached the final in Vina del Mar, and won two titles in Sao Paulo and Acapulco, but those tournaments were all on his favoured clay, and in Indian Wells he was on hard courts, and competing against the very best in the world. In the last three rounds last March, he defeated Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and then Juan Martin del Potro, and from there he went on to have the most astonishing comeback in the history of tennis, perhaps of all sports. Now, a year on, Nadal is going to have to start trying to defend all those points.
4. Prepare to hear a lot from the players about the black cod, the sushi and the sashimi. Among the many improvements to the Garden (the new Stadium 2, public wifi, extra parking), there is a new Nobu restaurant.
5. So Stan Wawrinka went to Hollywood the other day, with a tour of Universal Studios in Los Angeles – another of the perks of joining the grand slam club – and now he returns to tennis when he plays his first ranking tournament since his victory at January’s Australian Open (in the meantime, he has represented his country in the Davis Cup).
6. Can the Wimbledon champion reach his first final since last summer’s Championships, and perhaps even score his first title? Dani Vallverdu, Andy Murray’s assistant coach, passed the message on to head coach Ivan Lendl that the Scot’s performance in the semi-final of last week’s Acapulco tournament, where he lost to Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, was his best match since he had an operation to his back last year.
7. Once again, Serena Williams won’t be in Indian Wells – every year since 2001, when the American said she was booed and racially abused by sections of the crowd, she has skipped the tournament. Still, she came close to playing this year, after being inspired by a Nelson Mandela film, and even put her name on the entry list, before then withdrawing it again after careful consideration. So expect some chatter about whether Williams will return in 2015. 
8. You might have thought it was impossible for some in tennis to be more excited about Grigor Dimitrov, one of the Bright Young Things of the men’s game, and then he went and won last week’s tournament in Acapulco, including beating Andy Murray along the way, and you realised that, yes, it is quite possible. Can he turn the dial some more with a run in California?
9. So one thirty-something at the top of the game is missing, but the player ranked behind Serena Williams, Li Na, will be in California, hoping to build on her victory at the Australian Open.
10. Will the Novak-Boris partnership have its first big success of the year? Novak Djokovic, who is working with new coach Boris Becker, didn’t retain his title at the Australian Open, and also couldn’t win last week’s Dubai tournament, where he was beaten in the semi-finals by Roger Federer. Maybe it all starts for them now?

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below or @Wimbledon...

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