WTA Miami Sony Open 2013 Draw Preview and Analysis

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For full draw, please click here: WTA Miami Sony Open 2013 Draw

No sooner has the tennis elite decamped from Indian Wells than attention turns to another major hard court tournament, the Sony Open Tennis. Miami has staged a high-profile mixed competition since 1985, and has been the scene of many classic matches over the years. A Premier Mandatory event for the women, it offers total prize money of over $4 million as well as 1000 ranking points to the champion.

Last week’s BNP Paribas Open certainly featured a star-studded field, but there were two notable absences: Serena Williams and Li Na. Thankfully for the fans (and organisers) at the Sony Open Tennis, Serena will be playing in Miami, while Li will make her first appearance since her run to the Australian Open final back in January.

The last time we saw Serena compete, she lost the final in Doha to Victoria Azarenka. The American will accept nothing less than the winner’s trophy in Miami, both to reassert her dominance over the rest of the WTA and also to bolster her lead at the top of the rankings. Like all seeds at the Sony Open Tennis, Serena gets a bye to the second round. There, she will face either Flavia Penetta, still rusty as she comes back from a lengthy injury lay-off, or world number 65 Johanna Larsson. The competition doesn’t get much stiffer for Williams in the third round, where she is seeded to meet Yanina Wickmayer. In the last 16, the reigning US Open champion could play either Dominika Cibulkova or Lucie Safarova. Both are dangerous competitors who have caused problems for top players in the past, but either woman would need to play the match of her life to beat Serena.

From the quarter-finals onwards, however, the going gets much tougher for the top seed, as she could face a rematch with the woman her beat her at that stage last year, Caroline Wozniacki. Although the Dane was overwhelmed by Maria Sharapova in the Indian Wells final on Sunday, she has been making steady progress this season following her rankings slide in 2012. If she plays smartly, and if Serena is not at her best, Wozniacki has a chance to frustrate the 15-time Grand Slam champion, even if a second successive upset seems unlikely. If not Wozniacki, then Li Na has an opportunity to derail Serena. She will be lacking match toughness coming into the event, but if the Chinese star can find her groove in the first few rounds, a quarter-final showdown with Williams could be a tournament highlight.

Predicted quarter-final: Serena def. Li

Agnieszka Radwanska, the fourth seed and defending champion in Miami, hasn’t made the headlines since her blockbuster start to the year, where she won two titles in a row and reached the last eight in Melbourne. She hasn’t performed poorly, reaching the quarter-finals in Dubai and Doha and only narrowly losing to Maria Kirilenko in Indian Wells last week, but the Pole has a lot of points to defend over the next ten days, and needs a strong result to remain in the conversation as a potential Grand Slam winner. But Radwanska’s path to a title defence is one of the toughest for any top player. In the third round, she could meet 27th seed Mona Barthel, who dumped Ana Ivanovic out of the BNP Paribas Open. A strong, fast player with a big game, the German could overwhelm Radwanska if she is on form. Also in this section of the draw are two Americans at the opposite end of the career spectrum. Venus Williams, who first won Miami back in 1998, could encounter 19-year-old Sloane Stephens in the third round. That contest, with its classic “youth versus experience” narrative, would undoubtedly get top billing on the Grandstand Court.

Having won the title in Dubai a couple of weeks ago, Petra Kvitova was disappointed to fall to Maria Kirilenko in Indian Wells. But the Czech has an opportunity to continue her upswing with a deep run in Miami. Provided she is healthy and playing reasonably consistently in her first couple of matches, Kvitova looks to be a safe bet for the fourth round, where she would most likely face either Marion Bartoli or Julia Goerges. These are two players who have tended to threaten more than they deliver recently. Bartoli has a new coach in Jana Novotna, but the partnership is in its early stages, while Goerges is still struggling with inconsistency, and hasn’t upset a higher ranked player since she beat Sam Stosur in Beijing last October.

Predicted quarter-final: Kvitova def. Radwanska

In the bottom half of the draw, Maria Sharapova’s route to the last 16 is littered with qualifiers. She should have few problems making her way past Elena Vesnina in the third round, but in her next match she could face the woman she dismissed in the Indian Wells semi-finals, Maria Kirilenko. Kirilenko has stepped up a gear recently, dedicating herself to singles and showing more self-belief than ever before. A strong showing in Miami would maintain her momentum, but it remains to be seen whether or not she can consistently challenge the players ranked above her.

Sharapova is seeded to meet Sara Errani in the quarter-finals for the second straight tournament, but the pocket powerhouse will first need to negotiate the likes of Daniela Hantuchova, Sabine Lisicki and Tamira Paszek, all powerful players whose lack of discipline will likely be their undoing against the ultra-reliable Errani. A fourth round clash between the Italian and Ana Ivanovic would be interesting. Ivanovic has been ranked in the 10-15 bracket for some time now, but has failed to dent the armour of those in the top ten. She remains a popular player wherever she goes, yet is still short of the form that brought her the French Open title in 2008.

Predicted quarter-final: Sharapova def. Errani

Little is straightforward when it comes to Victoria Azarenka, and the Belarusian enters Miami under a cloud of doubt. Having pulled out of the BNP Paribas Open due to an ankle injury, is she ready to mount a serious challenge for the Sony Open Tennis title? Her withdrawal from Indian Wells was her 20th since the beginning of 2010, and another mid-tournament default would disappoint fans as much as it would aggravate organisers. Assuming Azarenka is fit to play, however, she will benefit form a relatively easy draw, at least until the quarter-finals. She will meet either a qualifier or American wild card Madison Keys in her opening match, and could play Laura Robson in the third round, provided the young Brit gets past Camila Giorgi and Alize Cornet. Roberta Vinci and Carla Suarez Navarro, seeded 15th and 20th respectively, are Azarenka’s potential fourth round opponents for, but neither player has the firepower to trouble the second seed.

There were major concerns for Angelique Kerber at the start of the season. Nursing an ankle injury, she limped to the fourth round in Melbourne, but didn’t win a match in the Middle East. Having played more events than almost anyone else in 2012, she looked set for an extended slump, with the rankings tumble that would entail. But the German reached the semi-finals in Indian Wells last week, only just losing to Wozniacki, and she will be favoured to live up to her sixth seeding in Miami, even with dangerous floaters such as Sorana Cristea, Jelena Jankovic and Nadia Petrova in her section. And in the quarter-finals, against a stricken Azarenka, she will have her best chance yet to beat the Australian Open champion.

Predicted quarter-final: Kerber def. Azarenka

Such is Serena Williams’ dominance that many fans view every tournament she enters as hers to lose. Certainly, the top seed is the favourite for the Miami title, but a Williams victory is not guaranteed, especially given the strength of the draw at the Sony Open Tennis. Potential matches with Li and Kvitova could be classics, and a final showdown with Azarenka would add another spark to their growing rivalry. Under the circumstances, however, it is hard to envisage Azarenka lasting that long, leaving the door open for Maria Sharapova. Unfortunately, although a Serena-Maria final would be a showdown between the biggest superstars in the women’s game, it is unlikely to be an evenly matched contest. Williams has simply owned Sharapova for the last eight years, making the Russian look weaponless and short of ideas. Entering an event as the world number one for the first time since 2010, Serena has her eyes set firmly on the silverware. As ever, it will take a superb performance to stop her.

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