WASHINGTON, March 19, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
The Miami Open presented by Itaú has a fresh, hipper look as it begins a new era for professional tennis in South Florida at Hard Rock Stadium, home of professional football’s Miami Dolphins of the NFL. It will also offer equal prize money for both men and women.
The ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier Mandatory tournaments kick off today with 12 first-round women’s singles matches, highlighted by No. 67 Andrea Petkovic of Germany taking on No. 73 Amanda Anisimova of the United States to christen the 5,191-seat Grandstand court.
The new-look Miami Open features a centerpiece 14,000-seat stadium court built within Hard Rock Stadium that is “designed for intimacy, luxury and an improved fan experience,” according to the Miami Open website. The main stadium includes a state-of-the-art shade canopy and four high-definition video boards. Adjacent Is a permanent tennis campus that spreads across a total of 30 Laykold hard courts.
In its 35th year, the Miami Open has evolved into one of the top combined events of the season. The new Miami tennis footprint at Hard Rock Stadium replaces the tournament’s previous home at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, south of downtown Miami. Now, it’s moved about 20 miles north up Interstate 95 to embark on a new journey in Miami Gardens.
South Florida resident and World No. 1 Naomi Osaka is the top seed in the Miami Open’s 96-player women’s singles draw and will be a marquee attraction. She’ll try to improve upon her round of 16 finish at last week’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, won by 18-year-old Canadian sensation Bianca Andreescu. Meanwhile, the top seed in the men’s 96-player singles draw is World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Although Osaka compiled wins over Kristina Mladenovic and Danielle Collins, as she began defense of her Indian Wells title in the California palm desert, a resurgent Belinda Bencic ousted her in straight sets.
The top women’s seeds for Miami are similar to Indian Wells since the draw took place on Sunday evening, using last week’s rankings instead of the updated March 18 rankings. Besides Osaka, the top eight seeds include: No. 2 Simona Halep, No. 3 Petra Kvitova, defending champion and No. 4 seed Sloane Stephens, No. 5 Karolina Pliskova, No. 6 Elina Svitolina, No. 7 Kiki Bertens and No. 8 Angelique Kerber. Eight-time Miami Open winner Serena Williams, another South Florida resident, is seeded No. 10 and could oppose Halep in the quarterfinals.
It’s too bad that the tournament fell back on old rankings to seed the draw because it meant that Andreescu, who was ranked No. 60 last week, was not seeded despite moving up to No. 24. Still, it will be exciting to see her chase after the Sunshine Double – the feat of winning both Indian Wells and Miami in the same year. Andreescu begins her Miami run with a first-round match against No. 70 Irina-Camelia Begu, the same opponent she faced at the beginning of Indian Wells. If she wins, she would face No. 32 seed Sofia Kenin in the second round. Then, Andreescu could meet Kerber in a third-round rematch, No. 9 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the fourth round, Osaka in the quarterfinals, Kvitova in the semifinals and Halep in the title match. Improbable? Maybe. Impossible? Not after seeing her crush the competition at Indian Wells.
During her press conference after she won the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, Andreescu revealed, “I do a lot of creative visualization, where I picture myself in tough situations and how I’m able to handle them, and also lifting the trophy at the end.”
En route to winning her first WTA Premier Mandatory title, Andreescu knocked off four straight Top 20 opponents to improve her win-loss record in all competitions to 28-3. Throughout, she displayed the confidence of a tour veteran.
“I really do believe that I deserve to be here and I think I proved that this week. So, hopefully, a lot of other good things can come in my career,” Andreescu said.
Looking back on her remarkable run at Indian Wells, Andreescu said, “I’ve watched these players on TV so many times, so it’s surreal to be able to play against them. It’s beyond crazy.”
While the unseeded Andreescu will need to win seven matches to lift the Miami Open trophy, all 32 seeded players received byes into the second round. It means that Osaka will have a few extra days to prepare for her first match against a qualifier. Her path to the final could include matches against No. 27 seed Su-Wei Hsieh (third round), No. 13 seed Caroline Wozniacki (fourth round), Kerber (quarterfinals), Kvitova (semifinals), and Halep (final).
Meanwhile, No. 2 seed Halep could face No. 14 seed Daria Kasatkina in the fourth round, and either Svitolina or Williams in the quarterfinals, with Stephens or Pliskova looming as a semifinal opponent. Then, perhaps, a championship match with No. 1 Osaka?
If the seeds go according to plan – never a sure thing over a fortnight’s journey – the quarterfinal parings could shake down like this: No. 1 Osaka would face No. 8 Kerber, No. 3 Kvitova would play No 7 Bertens, No. 4 Stephens would face No. 5 Pliskova, and No. 2 Halep would play No. 6 Svitolina.
Looking back, Stephens broke into the Top 10 by winning last year’s Miami Open title. Now, it’s the start of a new fortnight and a new era for the Miami Open. There’s 1,000 WTA rankings points and a $1.3 million payout awaiting the winner. Anything can happen.