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The record prize purse for ATP-WTA events outside majors includes $1 million for both the men's and women's singles champion. Women's main draw matches begin on Wednesday. The men open Thursday. High seeds have first-round byes.
Serbian star Djokovic captured Indian Wells as part of a stunning 2011 start of 41 match wins in a row. Djokovic began 2012 by winning the Australian Open crown but he lost to Britain's Andy Murray in last week's Dubai Open semi-finals.
"Last year was amazing, definitely the best year of my career," Djokovic said.
"If you ask me if I can repeat it, I don't know. It's going to be very, very hard obviously. It's a new year for me. I look forward to Indian Wells. Events coming up are really important and I need to get ready."
Djokovic, a five-time Grand Slam champion who could claim his fourth Slam title in a row by winning the French Open in June, beat Spanish World No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the 2011 Indian Wells final and also took the trophy in 2008.
Nadal, the 2007 and 2009 Indian Wells champion, will threaten again, as will three-time Indian Wells winner Roger Federer, the Swiss legend who has won 33 of his past 35 matches and five titles, and Murray.
World No. 3 Federer, who has won a record 16 Grand Slam titles, beat World No. 4 Murray in last week's Dubai Open final and hopes to bring that momentum to the California desert.
"It's nice to win a tournament outdoors now," Federer said. "That gives me hope that I can carry it over to Indian Wells and Miami."
Murray hopes slower courts at US events in March at Indian Wells and Miami will give him an edge.
"Conditions over in Indian Wells and Miami are going to be very, very different," Murray said. "Much slower courts, which hopefully will suit my game a little bit better."
Denmark's Wozniacki has lost her World No. 1 ranking and defends full points at Indian Wells, but is more concerned about form than jumping back up the list and said she does not feel extra pressure defending the crown.
"Everyone has things to defend or not to defend. It's just about playing," she said. "You will have more points at some tournaments, a little bit less at some, so it evens out in the end."
Venus and Serena Williams will be absent as usual. They have skipped Indian Wells since 2001, when fans booed the US sisters after an injured Venus pulled out of a scheduled final against Serena with tendinitis.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters of Belgium will miss the event with a left ankle injury suffered at the Australian Open.
Reigning Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was forced out of last year's Indian Wells quarter-final against Wozniacki with an injury and the World No. 1 withdrew from last month's Dubai Open.
"Health is the most important thing," Azarenka said. "If I'm healthy I can produce good tennis."
World No. 2 Maria Sharapova, a three-time Grand Slam champion coming off a runner-up effort at the Australian Open, won the 2006 Indian Wells title and reached last year's semi-finals before falling to Wozniacki.
Other contenders include reigning Wimbledon champion and World No. 3 Petra Kvitova, a Czech left-hander; sixth-ranked reigning US Open champion Samantha Stosur of Australia and China's eighth-ranked Li Na, the 2011 French Open winner.