Defending champ Bianca Andreescu, fellow Canadian Leylah Fernandez ready to storm Indian Wells

Canada's young tennis stars, including defending champion Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Annie Fernandez of U.S. Open acclaim, are taking to the hard courts at the BNP Paribas Open this week.

Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov make up Canadian men's contingent

Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez will play in the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., her first tournament since reaching the final of the U.S. Open last month. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Canada's young tennis stars, including defending champion Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Annie Fernandez of U.S. Open acclaim are taking to the hard courts at the BNP Paribas Open this week. 

Usually held in March, the tournament — dubbed the unofficial fifth Grand Slam — is being played in the fall after being postponed due the COVID-19 pandemic. It runs Monday through Oct. 17.

With the 2020 iteration being among pandemic-driven cancellations, the title defence for Andreescu goes back to 2019 —  a victory that marked her first-ever WTA title and launched the then 18-year-old's breakout season that saw her rankings rise from 152nd at the start of the year to No 5 in December. 

She went on to claim the Rogers Cup on home turf as well as the U.S. Open, becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title. She defeated 23-time major champion Serena Williams in both those victories.

Now 21, the Mississauga, Ont., native returns to the joint ATP 1000 and WTA 1000 event in the California desert that started it all.

Bianca Andreescu won the tournament in 2019, the last time it was played. (Mark J. Terrill/The Associated Press/File)

This season saw the Canadian struggle with injuries that sidelined her game, a positive COVID-19 test, and some early exits, most recently at the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic. 

Andreescu was forced to retire from her only final this year at the Miami Open after she fell and injured her ankle. 

Coming along with her is the latest Canadian women's star Fernandez in her first appearance after her stunning run to the final at the U.S. Open last month. 

While the 19-year-old was defeated by British teen Emma Raducanu, their play over the two weeks in Flushing Meadows captured the hearts of the New York crowds.

While the rest of her season was relatively uneventful, there was one other bang: Fernandez secured her first WTA title in March at the Monterrey Open without dropping a set.

Fernandez shot up the WTA rankings, starting at No. 88 and now at 29. Andreescu is ranked at No. 21. 

Toronto-born Raducanu, who also skyrocketed to No. 22 after beating Fernandez in three sets, also makes her first appearance since the U.S. Open after being granted a wild-card spot.

Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in September. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov compete in men's event

Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal is slated to compete after reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Open in a strong showing. The 21-year-old recently pulled out of the San Diego Open because of an upper-leg injury. 

Fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov is also scheduled to be in contention at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, following his quarter-final exit at the San Diego Open on Friday.

Over two years ago, Auger-Aliassime was defeated in the third round while Shapovalov reached the fourth. Canada's Milos Raonic, who made the finals in 2016 and semifinals in 2015, 2018 and 2019, is out, during a season that's seen him struggling with injuries. 

The men's field will be absent of defending champion Dominic Thiem, as well as his 2019 opponent Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal due to injuries.

Novak Djokovic also withdrew, with no explicit reason, but expressed his regret in a statement issued on Twitter.

Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov are also entered in the doubles event. On the women's side, Sharon Fichman of Toronto — who missed the U.S. Open due to a shoulder injury — is set to play, as well as Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa, who returns after also reaching the semifinals at Flushing Meadows. 

The tournament has a total prize pool of around $17 million US.