2015 WTA @MiamiOpenTennis Preview and Predictions
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The WTA tour heads across the US for the second American hard court Premier event this month. After the bottom half collapse in Indian Wells, will normal service be resumed in Miami?
One of the most prestigious tournaments on the calendar, the annual combined ATP/WTA two-week event has been held in the beautiful city of Miami since 1987. It was previously held in Delray Beach in 1985, and moved to Boca Raton in 1986 before settling in the Magic City.
Serena Williams is the tournament’s most successful player with seven overall titles, including victories in 2013 and 2014. Victoria Azarenka, Kim Clijsters, Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Monica Seles and Venus Williams have also won this prestigious event.
Tier: Premier Mandatory
Location: Miami, USA
Prize Money: $ 5,381,235
Date: March 24th- April 5th
Top Eight seeded players (Ranking)
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Maria Sharapova (2)
3. Simona Halep (3)
4. Caroline Wozniacki (5)
5. Ana Ivanovic (6)
6. Eugenie Bouchard (7)
7. Agnieszka Radwanska (8)
8. Ekaterina Makarova (9)
The notable absentee is Petra Kvitova who is injured. Dominika Cibulkova and Timea Bacsinszky have also withdrawn from the tournament.
First round matches to watch:
Daniela Hantuchova vs Belinda Bencic
The first match that caught my eye was this battle of experience vs youth. 13 years separates them in age, and 12 places separates these players in the rankings. The world number 34, Belinda Bencic claimed the scalp of Caroline Wozniacki in Indian Wells before eventually losing to the runner up Jelena Jankovic. The Swiss had struggled prior to Indian Wells, so maybe the victory over Wozniacki can boost her confidence. Since winning the Patteya title, Hantuchova has struggled to build on that impressive run, losing three of her five matches since. The Slovak lost in the opening round of Indian Wells, but that means she’ll be well rested for Miami. There is only one previous meeting to talk about and that came last year on the grass courts of Birmingham, which Hantuchova won comfortably in straight sets. On this occasion, the circumstances are different, so don’t expect it to be so easy for the 31-year-old. With the form favouring the 18-year-old, Bencic will be the favourite and I expect The Swiss to level the head to head with a three sets victory.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Vera Zvonareva
Vera Zvonareva’s comeback continues in Miami, but the world number 153 has been dealt a tough opening hand in the form of compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The 23-year-old ranks 115 places higher than her opponent, and is coming off a decent run to the round of 32 in Indian Wells. It’s a stark contrast to Zvonareva, who found herself on the end of a one-sided beat down at the hands of Polona Hercog. Despite the result two weeks a go, this is still an interesting match for a majority of reasons. The former world number two’s descent down the rankings has been largely attributed to injury, and seeing the comeback of a top player is always interesting to watch. Combine that with the drama and top-level tennis that will be on show, you got yourself a must see round one match-up in Miami.
Yania Wickmayer vs Sloane Stephens
Remember in 2013 when Sloane Stephens was billed as the future of women’s tennis? It seems like a lifetime a go since the young American shocked Serena Williams at the Australian Open, and reached the top 20 two years a go. Nowadays the 22 year old is languishing just inside the top 50, with all that hope and promise seemingly fading further and further away. However, despite a horrible start to the year, Indian Wells could end up being a turning point for Stephens. The world number 45 defeated Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova on her run to the last 16 in California. She also took a set off Serena Williams, before eventually going down in 6-7,6-2,6-2. Wickmayer had some good news to tell of her own from Indian Wells, as she snapped a three match losing streak. Unfortunately that losing streak couldn’t be turned into a winning streak as she lost to Maria Sharapova in the second round. Stephens will be the favourite, but it will be interesting to see how she builds on last week’s good run in her premier meeting with Wickmayer.
The world number one’s return to Indian Wells ended sooner than she probably hoped, but Serena returns to Florida to defend her Miami Open title. Williams could rematch Monica Niculescu in the second round, just 2 weeks after straight setting the Romanian in Indian Wells. The opening set of matches shouldn’t be a problem for the defending champion. Her route to the quarter finals look awfully similar to the one she was projected to face in Indian Wells, and she pulled through that one without much trouble. After the potential rematch with Niculescu, Serena should easily dispatch Zarina Diyas in round three, and the winner of Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Angelique Kerber shouldn’t be too much of a problem in round four. That is presuming her knee injury isn’t serious of course. If so, then I would expect Serena to withdraw at some point in the tournament. There has been no news of the world number one withdrawing pre-tournament so it’s safe to presume the knee is fine. There are one or two players who can spring an upset, including Heather Watson who knocked Radwanska out of Indian Wells. The Brit is a potential second round opponent for an out of form Kerber, so watch out for that one.
Fifth seed Ana Ivanovic will be glad that Caroline Garcia hasn’t been drawn into her section given their past two meetings have gone the Frenchwoman’s way. However, the Serb is still been drawn into a seriously difficult section with the likes of Garbine Muguruza, and an in form Sabine Lisicki. Ivanovic will likely face Lisicki in the third round if the German carries her Indian Wells form into the tournament. However Lisicki is known more for her exploits on grass more than anything else, so an early exit to compatriot Julia Goerges wouldn’t be surprising. Ivanovic faces a tough round two of her own in Monica Puig, but despite her recent losses, you would expect the Serb to win that without too much hassle. Depending on Lisicki’s form, expect Ivanovic to make round four where she’ll face her first true test of the tournament. Muguruza will be glad that she has been drawn away from Karolina Pliskova considering how much the Czech has frustrated her recently. Despite those heart breaking losses, Muguruza still remains one of the WTA’s hottest prospects, and with a good draw and little to defend, she’ll be looking to continue her climb up the rankings. First will likely be Lauren Davis, who will have the American crowd behind her. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Muguruza is the superior player, but the crowd might fire Davis to a great performance. Errani is projected to make the third round, but as always the Italian is prone to losing to a big hitter on fire. I can’t see the 11th seed making it past Muguruza, as on paper it’s a terrible match-up for Errani. That means we could see the first ever meeting between Adidas twins, Garbine Muguruza and Ana Ivanovic. If this match comes to fruition, I recommend watching as this is one of the most intriguing potential fourth round clashes. Muguruza can brag about victories over players such as Serena, Halep, and Wozniacki, so the Spaniard will look to add Ivanovic to that list.
The Indian Wells champion has been handed a tough draw, with a potential rematch with Jelena Jankovic in the wings. But first, the world number three must navigate her way through the second and third rounds. Big hitting Italian, Camila Giorgi is projected to be Halep’s first real test in the round of 32. Giorgi is known for her raw power despite not being among the biggest girls on tour, and that makes her extremely dangerous. If the Italian hits her peak form, she could very well blast Halep off the court, but the chances are Halep squeezes through to the last 16. Who she will face there is a bigger mystery than Bigfoot. Jelena Jankovic, Flavia Pennetta, and Victoria Azarenka will battle it out for a round four meeting with Simona Halep, all with a very good chance of making it to the final 16. Jankovic is coming off the back of a final run in Indian Wells, where she came within one game of the title. The Serb channelled some of her 2010 form, but she played few three setters, so she may be slightly fatigued. Jankovic has the unfortunate Azarenka draw, meaning she’ll face the former world number one in the second round. That is providing that Vika makes it past Soler Espinosa of course. Injuries sent Azarenka out of the seeding positions, but she still remains one of the most dangerous unseeded players in the draw. With the head to head in favour of Azarenka, you will probably say she’s a slight favourite despite Jankovic’s efforts last week. Flavia Pennetta shouldn’t have too many problems making round three, with the Italian likely to face Tsvetana Pironkova in round two. It will be interesting to see how makes it to Halep, though I don’t really see either Pennetta or Azarenka knocking the Romanian out. If Azarenka rewinds the clock back to 2013/2013, she could go deep, but we haven’t seen that sort of form from the world number 36 in 2015, so expect Halep to make it through this section.
Eugenie Bouchard has been handed an interesting draw, with the likes of Roberta Vinci, and Casey Dellacqua being obstacles on her quest to round four. Being one of the more experienced players on tour, Vinci will no doubt cause Bouchard a lot of problems, especially with her slice. The Italian may not be the top 20 player she once was, but she’ll still provide a unique test for the young Canadian. Bouchard was part of the bottom half collapse in Indian Wells, where she fell to Lesia Tsurenko in the round of 16. The 6th seed’s recent form isn’t encouraging, so it may be an opportunity for Belinda Bencic to have another good run. The Swiss struggled at the start of the season, but she found form in Indian Wells, defeating Caroline Wozniacki and making it to the fourth round. The 18 year old will face an out of form Daniela Hantuchova, and Casey Dellacqua in the opening rounds, in matches she’ll fancy her chances in. The seeded Dellacqua didn’t play Indian Wells, and is coming off three straight defeats, so expect her to make an early exit here. That will set up an interesting round three match-up with Bouchard. This will definitely give the fans a glimpse into the future, as both have been tipped to be future stars of the WTA. Right now, Bouchard is the better player so the 6th seed will be favourite, but with good form behind her, a Bencic upset wouldn’t at all be surprising. It is likely that the round four opponent will be either Lucie Safarova or Madison Keys, who are projected to meet in the third round. Don’t be too quick to bet on it though, because there are banana skins possibly awaiting both of them in the second round. An in form Sloane Stephens will likely await Keys, whilst a returning Yaroslava Shvedova should face Safarova in round two. Shvedova of course upset the Czech at the Australian Open, so look out for surprise result here. Stephens kick started her 2015 campaign in Indian Wells after a terrible start to the year, so she could be in good form heading into the match with fellow American Madison Keys. Despite the potential of upsets, I see this section going according to the seeding, with Safarova advancing to the fourth round to face Eugenie Bouchard.
Caroline Wozniacki will look to put a disastrous Indian Wells campaign behind her with a good run in Miami, and with her draw she shouldn’t face many problems until the fourth round. The Dane will have to slay some of the home crowd favourites in her section, with Madison Brengle and Vavara Lepchenko likely opponents before a round four clash with Venus Williams. The 34 year old has played well this year, even adding another title to her already large collection. You’d expect Venus will make her way through Coco Vandeweghe in round two, despite having to deal with her big serve. Sam Stosur is likely in round three, but given their respective forms and the head to head record, it should be a Venus Williams victory. So with the fourth round clash between Wozniacki and Venus likely, a lot of you may be expecting an extremely close and interesting match. Well I’m afraid I got some bad news, especially for Wozniacki fans. The world number five has NEVER defeated Venus Williams in six attempts, including in Auckland this year. That meeting was the first time Wozniacki had even taken a set off the American. This screams match-up issue, so Wozniacki’s confidence will be down in this match, and you have to expect a Venus win here.
The world number five wasn’t the only one who suffered a premature exit in Indian Wells, as Agnieszka Radwanska slumped to a straight sets defeat against Heather Watson. Despite the recent poor form, I don’t see the Pole falling that early this time around, with Irina Begu being the biggest challenger in round three. Polona Hercog, and Anna Schmiedlova shouldn’t trouble the world number 8, but of course, nothing is set in stone when regards to the WTA. On current form, you would expect Carla Suarez Navarro to meet Radwanska in round four, even if the Spaniard has a few tricky opponents along the way. Former top 20 player Kirsten Flipkens will likely be followed by Alize Cornet. The Frenchwoman has a 3-2 head to head lead over Navarro, but given their respective forms of late, expect that head to head to be levelled here. Radwanska has never lost to the Spaniard, but their last meeting came way back in 2012. At that point, Radwanska was a better player and Suarez Navarro wasn’t at the level she is at right now, so expect a tougher match for the Pole on this occasion.
World number two, Maria Sharapova, will be looking to put a disappointing Indian Wells behind her by going one further in Miami. The Russian will be fairly pleased with her draw overall, even if there are some interesting challengers in round three and four. The first challenge will be in the form of Caroline Garcia, who recently defeated Ana Ivanovic twice. Sharapova’s only loss to the 21-year-old came via a walkover in Acapulco, and you would expect that not to change. Garcia is dangerous, but it’s hard to go against Sharapova making the last 16. Rising star Karolina Pliskova will be anxiously awaiting the world number two at that stage barring a big upset. The Czech has been in tremendous form this year as she continues her ascension towards the top 10. Her big serve, effortless power, and strong mentality have seen Pliskova make some big runs this year, but this could very well be her toughest test yet. Both Pliskova and Sharapova are known for their mental strength, so this will likely be a test of wills, rather than a test of talent. It will likely go three sets, so be sure to catch this one if it is to happen.
What do Ekaterina Makarova, and Elina Svitolina have in common? Have you got it yet? Maybe I should just tell you. They both lost to Timea Bacsinszky in Indian Wells. The good news for the both of them is that The Swiss has withdrawn from Miami, but the bad news is that they will face each other in round three providing there are no upsets before then. Svitolina has a tough potential second round clash with Mona Barthel who is especially dangerous when in form. Unfortunately those ‘In form’ days are a rarity for The German. Expect Svitolina’s consistency to get her through to round three. The Ukrainian met Makarova in Sydney, and it was the Russian who prevailed in straight sets. I expect this match to be slightly closer, but the end result will be the same. That should set the 8th seed up for an interesting round four meeting with Andrea Petkovic. The world number 10’s biggest test before the round of 16 will be Barbora Zahalova-Strycova in round three, but I predict the German to get through that one, and face Makarova in round four.
Round of 16:
Serena def. Kuznetsova in 2
Muguruza def. Ivanovic in 3
Halep def. Azarenka in 3
Safarova def. Bouchard in 3
Venus def. Wozniacki in 2
Suarez Navarro def. Radwanska in 3
Makarova def. Petkovic in 2
Sharapova def. Pliskova in 3
Serena def. Muguruza in 3
Halep def. Safarova in 2
Venus def. Suarez Navarro in 3
Sharapova def. Makarova in 3
Serena def. Halep in 2
Sharapova def. Venus in 3
Serena def. Sharapova in 2
Depending on how the injury holds up, it’s hard to see past Serena claiming her eighth Miami title. The world number one is the tournament’s most successful player for a reason, and despite some tough tests along the way, she’ll likely get the job done yet again.