The BNP Paribas Open, the largest ATP World Tour and WTA combined two-week event in the world, to be held March 5-18, 2012 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, will once again feature exceptional men’s and women’s fields highlighted by 11 former BNP Paribas Open champions and 14 Grand Slam champions, it was announced today by Steve Simon, tournament director.

For the first time in the history of the tournament, and for any ATP Masters 1000 or WTA Premier events, the players will compete for more than $11 million in prize money, with the men’s and women’s singles champions taking home $1 million each. Here is a look at 12 men and 12 women to watch for at the 2012 BNP Paribas Open.

A few men to watch at the 2012 BNP Paribas Open

Defending champion and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic had one of the best years in the history of tennis in 2011. He captured five ATP Masters 1000 events and three of the four Grand Slams. He has shown no signs of slowing down and will be a force to be reckoned with for players wanting to dethrone him at the 2012 BNP Paribas Open.

Nicknamed “The King of Clay,” World No. 2 Rafael Nadal captured the French Open title in 2011, his sixth in the last seven years at Roland Garros. The 2007 and 2009 BNP Paribas Open Champion put up a fight against a streaking Novak Djokovic in the 2011 Indian Wells final, taking the Serbian powerhouse to three sets, but eventually came up short.

There is no doubt that Roger Federer is one of the greatest players of all time. He holds 16 Grand Slam titles, the most of any male player in the history of the sport, and won three straight BNP Paribas Open titles from 2004-2006. In 2011, despite a valiant three-set effort, Federer lost in the BNP Paribas Open semifinals to a red-hot Djokovic. Last year also marked the first time since 2002 that Federer did not end the year with at least one Grand Slam title.

The No. 4 ranked player in the world Andy Murray made a bold move in hiring eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl as his coach. The Brit has played well at the BNP Paribas Open in the past, reaching the final in 2009, but lost in the 2011 second round to rising American Donald Young.

Mardy Fish is the highest-ranked American player. The 2008 BNP Paribas Open finalist had a great run the last year and a half, winning three titles and reaching four finals.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga burst onto the tennis scene as a surprise finalist at the 2008 Australian Open and later that year, the Frenchman reached his career-high ranking of World No. 6, which is where he currently sits. In one of the best comebacks of 2011, the heavy-hitting Tsonga fought back from two sets down in the Wimbledon quarterfinals against six-time champion Roger Federer.

Juan Martin del Potro won his first Grand Slam at the 2009 U.S. Open and shortly after reached a career-high ranking of World No. 4. However, in the months following, a wrist injury forced him out of the sport for an extended period of time during which he dropped to No. 485. He entered the 2011 BNP Paribas Open ranked No. 90 in the world, made a run to the semifinals, and cemented his return as one of the top players in the game.

Former World No. 1 and 2003 U.S. Open Champion Andy Roddick almost captured the BNP Paribas Open title in 2010, falling in the final to Ivan Ljubicic in three sets. The best American male player over the last decade, he has 30 ATP World Tour titles on his resume and is always a fan favorite.

Ryan Harrison looks to be one of the most promising young Americans in the game. Last year was a breakthrough season for the Louisiana native as he reached back-to-back ATP semifinals in Atlanta and Los Angeles. One of the major storylines at the 2011 BNP Paribas Open was his Cinderella run to the fourth round, where he took Roger Federer to a first-set tiebreak before the three-time champion’s experience got the better of him. A firecracker on court,

Milos Raonic is the youngest player in the top-25 at only 21 years old. Despite his age, he has already won two ATP titles and is a threat to anyone who is unlucky enough to face him.

Women to watch at the 2012 BNP Paribas Open

Defending BNP Paribas Open champion and World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki won six titles in 2011, the most of any WTA player. Her BNP Paribas Open title was the crown jewel of her season. She should definitely be on every fan’s viewing schedule in Indian Wells.

2011 WTA Player of the Year and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova could very well become the World No. 1 player this year, as she is extremely close to Wozniacki in ranking points. She lost in the second round in Indian Wells in 2011, but her game and confidence is at another level and she should make a run deep into the draw.

Victoria Azarenka is of the hardest-hitting players on tour and enters the 2012 season with a career-high ranking of No. 3 in the world.

Maria Sharapova is back in the top 5 after a strong 2011 season that included reaching her first Grand Slam final (Wimbledon) since 2008. The Southern California star and Los Angeles resident is a former BNP Paribas Open champion (2006), and almost added a second crown last year before falling to Wozniacki in the semifinal.

Marion Bartoli has a unique playing style that can be difficult for opponents to match up against. Always entertaining to watch, the 2011 BNP Paribas Open runner-up is a must-see player at the 2012 event.

19-year old Christina McHale is the second-ranked American WTA player. Always a dangerous opponent, she holds wins over World No. 1 Wozniacki and 2011 BNP Paribas Open finalist Bartoli.

The women’s qualifying draw will take place March 5-6 and the men’s qualifying rounds will be held March 6-7. There will be 48 players in each draw vying for 12 spots in the main draws. Both days of jam-packed qualifying action are free for fans plus $10 parking. First-round main draw play will begin Wednesday, March 7 for the women and Thursday, March 8 for the men. The men’s and women’s singles championship finals will be held on Sunday, March 18.

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