Tuesday March 6th, 2012

Rafael Nadal has been absent since the Australian Open and Petra Kvitova has played only two matches, in Fed Cup. (Getty Images)

There's no denying that Indian Wells, Calif., is a peaceful resort town. Given the picturesque desert oasis surrounded by the snow-topped mountains, it's impossible not to want to just pull up an Adirondack chair, grab a cold beverage and chill out under the sun until you're baked to a medium-well crisp.

But as the ATP's and WTA's best know, this week's BNP Paribas Open kicks off an unrelenting flurry of major tournaments over the next five months that will have them jumping from the United States and Europe and bouncing from hardcourts to clay to grass. The meaty portion of the year starts now.

With that in mind, here's a look at five players who need to post positive results to set the table for the rest of their year.

Rafael Nadal: The last time we saw Nadal, he was hunched over trying to remain on his feet through the Australian Open trophy ceremony. While Roger Federer was cleaning up in Europe and the Middle East and Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were working out the rust in Dubai, Nadal was resting and training in Spain. Nadal will need to hit the ground running after his five-week layoff because, with the exception of Queen's Club, he has finals points to defend all the way through Wimbledon this year. Surely he would relish another crack at Djokovic, whose comeback victory against Nadal in last year's Indian Wells final was the first of seven consecutive wins for the Serb in their rivalry.

Petra Kvitova: Much like Nadal, Kvitova has had a long break but for entirely different reasons. After choosing not to defend her title in Paris, the Czech was sidelined by injury (she withdrew from Doha with a sore right Achilles tendon) and illness (a virus kept her out of Dubai). It seems like forever ago that Kvitova was the presumptive future No. 1, but Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka has seized the top spot with a perfect start to 2012. Kvitova was a mere 115 points out of the No. 1 ranking at the beginning of the year and she's now dropped to No. 3, 1,885 points behind Azarenka.

The good news for Kvitova is she has a tremendous opportunity to make up ground at Indian Wells, where she has only five points to defend after losing in the second round last year. The bad news is she's never played well in North America. Her best result in three Indian Wells appearances was a third-round showing in 2009. Kvitova needs a statement win to get her back into the mix.

Caroline Wozniacki: The defending champion has always been stuck in a position of having to prove herself, but with recent losses to Lucie Safarova and Julia Goerges, the Dane arrives in California without having made a final in 2012 and she could be out of the top five by the end of the tournament, depending on how Agnieszka Radwanska and Sam Stosur do. There's no reason she shouldn't make at least the semifinals, but she's been vulnerable to big hitters on good streaks lately.

Mardy Fish: Since the Japan Open last October, Fish has played seven straight ATP tournaments without posting back-to-back victories. At this point, Mardy needs a few wins like a fish needs water (sorry!). Fish, a 2008 finalist, lost early last year, drawing a white-hot Milos Raonic in the second round, so there's little pressure to defend points. It's a confidence issue with the eight-ranked Fish, and if he can just string a few victories together, you get that sense that he'll settle down. Bernard Tomic: Hey, remember when Tomic was "a thing"? Since his star-making turn in Melbourne, the 19-year-old Aussie has been disappointing. He skipped San Jose to deal with some legal issues at home and returned to the Tour with a first-round loss to Ivan Dodig in Memphis and a quarterfinal loss to John Isner in Delray, the latter a 6-3, 6-2 defeat in less than an hour. The slow courts at Indian Wells should suit his game and give him the time he needs to construct the wacky points he loves so much.

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