Watch List: Maria Sharapova returns to Stuttgart, Rafael Nadal in Barcelona
The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, Rafael Nadal looks for some confidence at the Barcelona Open, while the Stuttgart field features seven of the WTA's top 10 players.
Porsche Grand Prix
Two-time defending champion Maria Sharapova, who is 8-0 at this tournament, comes into this year's event with some major question marks about her form. Setting aside 2009, when she didn't start her season until after the French Open, this is the first time since 2004 that Sharapova heads into the clay season without having reached a final. She's also coming in with her lowest ranking in three years, at No. 9.
Agnieszka Radwanska, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber are the top four seeds. Seven of the top 10 are in action (Serena Williams, Li Na and Victoria Azarenka are the injured/fatigued holdouts). Those four top seeds are all coming off a busy Fed Cup weekend, helping lead their respective teams to victories. Never underestimate how Fed Cup duties can affect play. Kerber, in particular, will be coming straight off a jet from Australia.
With a packed draw -- 23 of the 24 direct entries are or have been ranked in the top 20 -- the early rounds offer fantastic matches, highlighted by an all-Serbian derby between Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic. Sharapova has a difficult opening match against Lucie Safarova, who beat her on clay in 2010 and pushed her hard in three sets in Miami this year. Family Circle Cup champion Andrea Petkovic will need to recover from her Australian trip quickly to take on Indian Wells champion Flavia Pennetta, and Dominika Cibulkova will play Sabine Lisicki.
Update: Caroline Wozniacki (left wrist) and Cibulkova (achilles) have withdrawn from the tournament. Ivanovic will now play Lisicki and Jankovic will play lucky loser Mona Barthel.
Rafael Nadal will try to rebound from a disappointing loss to David Ferrer in the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals. He could get a rematch with Ferrer, the No. 2 seed, in the final. Nadal needs this title. After losing to Ferrer on Friday, the No. 1 admitted that despite winning two titles this year and making the finals at the Australian Open and Miami, he's lacking confidence. His loss in Monte Carlo raised some eyebrows, but if he falls again this week in a weaker Barcelona field, the panic alarms will go off.
Kei Nishikori will play his first tournament since a groin injury forced him to withdraw from the Miami semifinals. One interesting potential early match features Ernests Gulbis and Alexandr Dolgopolov in the third round.
BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy
How's this for weird: Grigor Dimitrov is the top seed at a tournament and Sharapova is not. The Bulgarian took a late wild card into the ATP 250 in Bucharest and sits atop the draw for the first time in his career, with Mikhail Youzhny, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon behind him. Lukas Rosol is the defending champion.