By Toni Headley
Toni Headley is a tennis expert who worked at ESPN for 10 years and has been a freelance writer there for the past 2 years. She also previously worked at CBS Sports and has covered every major tennis tournament in the world multiple times.
From the California desert to the beaches of Miami, tennis continues to dominate North America for two more weeks. As the players try to deal with the Indian Wells – Miami double, which is one of the toughest stretches in the tennis season, I am reminded how hard it is to win both. Victoria Azarenka, a two-time champion and the current champion is trying to do just that. She won her first title in 2009 when she defeated Serena Williams. After a dominating win at Indian Wells, Azarenka is the favorite to win here in Miami. She is perfect on the year at 23-0 and has won four titles. She has become the convincing number one player on the women’s tour.
Roger Federer has won two titles in Miami, defeating Rafael Nadal in 2005 and Ivan Ljubicic in 2006. Federer is the definite favorite to win here after his red-hot start to the year. He is currently on a 16-match win streak, winning three titles in Rotterdam, Doha, and last week in Indian Wells. This was his 19th Master Series 1000 title tying Rafael Nadal for the most all time. Since a semifinals lost to Novak Djokovic at the US Open last year, Federer has won 39 of his past 41 matches. Could Roger Federer become the number one ranked player again this year? If he can continue his hot play at the Grand Slam, he very well could.
Novak Djokovic is a three-time finalist and the defending champion in Miami. He has won two titles here in 2007 and 2011. Djokovic will try to rebound from his semifinals lost to John Isner at Indian Wells and try to defend his title here in Miami. He was able to pull off the double last year, however I am not convinced that Novak Djokovic will be able to repeat. He simply has not been playing like he did last year. After his epic final win in Australia over Rafa, he has struggled in his last two tournaments (both semi-final exits). He has a tricky draw with a possible matchups looming against Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals and Roger Federer in the semifinals. Djokovic’s number one ranking could be in serious jeopardy if he does not start winning tournaments again.
How will American John Isner, the new number ten player in the world do in Miami? He had an amazing two weeks in Indian Wells, making it to the finals in both singles and doubles. He is playing with a lot of confidence. Can he continue his run here in Miami? He is in Rafael Nadal’s section of the draw and could make life tough for Nadal if they should meet. I predict he will be the number one ranked American very soon and could rise as high as number five before the summer.
Rafael Nadal has to be relieved he does not have to deal with Djokovic or Federer on his half of the draw and should play well here. I like his chances of making it back to the finals, but he will have to keep playing well to do so. His potential quarter-final opponents are John Isner or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (in the quarterfinals) and a potential semi-final matchup with Andy Murray if the Scot can rebound from his disappointing Indian Wells showing.
Miami will welcome the return of the Williams’ sisters to the tour at their home tournament, with Venus receiving a wild card because of her low ranking due to illness and Serena seeded 10th with a first round bye. The sisters will relish the opportunity to challenge the new number one and the most dominant player on tour, Victoria Azarenka. Venus is on the same half of the draw as Azarenka and could meet in the semifinals if Venus can regain her championship form. She has the tougher draw of the sisters with a potential match-up with the number three player Petra Kvitova in the second round and the number four player Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals, but when healthy and if fit, she could produce great tennis here in Miami. Venus enjoys playing in Miami and has won the title on three different occasions (1998, 1999, 2001). Serena is on the bottom half of the draw and she could only meet Azarenka in the finals, a match-up I would relish. But before she gets there, she would potentially have to face three former number one’s: Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters, and Maria Sharapova. I like Serena’s chances of getting to the finals since she has had great success in Miami winning five times here.
We will also see the return of Kim Clijsters, who has not played since the Australian Open because of a bad ankle. She has won the title twice in 2005 and 2010, and is on the bottom half of the draw where she could be a quarter-final opponent of Serena. Alisa Kleybanova, a very talented young Russian, will return to the tour after ten months following a triumphant battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A very inspiring story which gives true meaning to courage and perseverance. I for one will be rooting for her to do well here and in the future.
With all the top players both on the men’s and women’s side playing well and so many comeback stories of former champions, this tournament promises to be exciting and action packed. No disrespect to Indian Wells, but Miami is in essence the fifth Grand Slam, and we are in for some exciting tennis over the next two weeks.
Men’s Final: Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer
Winner: Rafael Nadal in 3 sets
Women’s Final: Victoria Azarenka vs Serena Williams
Winner: Victoria Azarenka in 3 sets
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.