From Tennis Paradise To Home Of The Dolphins, Venus Williams Finds Her Way

MIAMI, March 22, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Three-time Miami Open presented by Itaú champion Venus Williams always finds her way when she’s playing close to home. The Southern California native from Compton (south central Los Angeles) felt at home playing in Indian Wells last week and reached the quarterfinals. Now, Williams resides in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, about an hour’s drive north of Hard Rock Stadium, where she made a successful debut on the new Stadium court Thursday afternoon. With one win down, she needs just six more to win her fourth Miami title.

The 38-year-old Williams, ranked 43rd, defeated qualifier Dalila Jakupovic7-5, 6-3, in one hour and 18 minutes, in her first meeting against the 80th-ranked Slovenian. It improved her season record to 9-3 and it was her 784th career victory.

Williams played aggressively when needed and kept most of her points short. She took advantage of her opponent’s weaknesses, namely Jakupovic’s inability to hold serve. Williams broke Jakupovic six times in 12 opportunities, including four times in the first set alone. It added up to a good win.

“I’m feeling good right now, playing tennis at home in the Dolphins’ stadium,” said Williams during an on-court interview after her win. “I felt the crowd behind me every single time, especially on those (four) match points.”

Later, during her press conference, Williams said, “Growing up in my home, we weren’t allowed to be weak, so it just wasn’t an option. The only option was to be strong. You had a choice of being strong or being strong, so we were strong.”

Next, Williams will face No. 24 seed Carla Suárez Navarro, whom she owns a 6-3 head-to-head advantage, in the second round on the Grandstand court Friday afternoon.

Bianca Andreescu: A Blossoming Star

Canadian teen sensation Bianca Andreescu, who just on Sunday won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells and boosted her world ranking to No. 24, can be forgiven for giving everyone a good scare. After all, she’s just 18 and showed her vulnerabilty against Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu, whom she beat two weeks ago to start her run at Indian Wells. Maybe, there was a natural letdown because Andrescu’s match against Begu was originally scheduled to be the Stadium’s featured match under the bright lights Wednesday night. However, it was postponed by rain, and pushed to a smaller venue.

For most of two sets on Thursday afternoon, Andreescu didn’t show the same spark she did during the recent California palm desert fortnight and was nearly ousted in the first round by No. 70 Begu, who is 10 years her senior. Down a set and 5-1, she faced match point. Then, all of a sudden, Andreescu turned things around. She regained her focus to save match point, and reeled off five straight games. At 6-all, Andreescu dominated a second set tie-break 7-2, much to the delight of many flag-waving Canadian fans that filled Butch Buccholz Court. Finally, she broke Begu in the opening game of the final set and coasted to a 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 victory to move into Friday’s second round against No. 32 seed Sofia Kenin, the last player to beat her (last month in the Acapulco semifinals).

Tennis Channel analyst Lindsay Davenport, who formerly coached No. 17 seed Madison Keys, said after Andreescu’s victory, “She had every reason to lose, but she refused to lose.”

Andreescu’s win was her 29th in all competitions this season. She has won eight straight matches and 11 of her last 12.

Naomi Osaka: “I’m just me.”

World No. 1 Naomi Osaka is featured in the April issue of Vogue, in a story written by Louisa Thomas, “The New Number One: Naomi Osaka Is Playing to Win” that is illustrated with photos of Osaka wearing haute couture fashion by Madison Alaïa and Dior. Here’s the story’s opening paragraph: “On a warm Saturday evening in Boca Raton, Naomi Osaka sits back in her chair on the deck of a fish restaurant and gently sparkles. She’s wearing a glittering silver sweatshirt with long gray ribbons dangling from the sleeves, bought at a boutique in Tokyo. Osaka was born in Japan and represents the country as a tennis player, but she lives here in Florida, and her sense of style lands somewhere between the two places – “a bit too wild for America, but too tame for Japan,” as she describes it before noting that in Tokyo, women often seem dressed for a movie premiere. ‘I find that really cool,’ Osaka says. She’s drawn to Japanese designers, like Comme des Garçons, with edgy, sculptural sensibilities. Tonight, though, she’s adapted to local customs and wears clean white sneakers and faded jeans, with a pair of gold-rimmed aviator-style glasses from Coach resting on her nose.”

Sam Stosur: Still a big game player

Sam Stosur, one of the fittest and most experienced players in the Miami Open draw, rolled into Thursday’s second round against 17th seed Madison Keys with an impressive 6-4, 6-2 win over Evgeniya Rodina on Wednesday afternoon. Then, against Keys, she showed a lot of fight and determination – and won, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, coming from down 2-4 in the final set.

Although the 34-year-old Australian has an uphill journey to lift this year’s Miami Open singles trophy – she would likely need to beat (in order) No. 12 seed Ashleigh Barty, No. 7 seed Kiki Bertens, No. 3 seed Petra Kvitova and No 1 Naomi Osaka just to reach the final – Stosur is a consummate professional who enjoys what she does.

Asked by Tennis Channel analyst Chanda Rubin why she keeps playing, Stosur, a nine-time winner on tour, said, “I love it. I’ve always enjoyed playing. You keep doing it long enough and obviously, you have your ups and downs in your career. You ask yourself, ‘should I keep going?’ But, you also get that fire and desire to keep going, too. I love what I do and I know when I hang it up, there’s not going to be any coming back at my age.”

The No. 83 Stosur, who won the U.S. Open in 2011 for her only Grand Slam singles title (beating Serena Williams in the final), is one of only five active players who have played in 60 Grand Slam main draws. Although injuries have slowed her in recent years after reaching a career-high No. 4 in singles in 2011, she’s remained an outstanding doubles player, with 26 career doubles titles – 20 of them with Lisa Raymond – as well as three Grand Slam titles in mixed doubles.

Although she is unseeded in singles at Miami, Stosur is seeded No. 6 in doubles with Zhang Shuai of China, with whom she teamed to win this year’s Australian Open doubles title. “We’re great friends and we’ll keep going as long as we can. As long as I stay healthy … having success in doubles is great fun.”

Around the women’s draw

• Friends and rivals: Last year’s U.S. Open girls’ doubles champions and Roland Garros junior finalists, 15-year-old Cori Gauff (ranked No. 456) and 17-year-old Cathy McNally (ranked No. 221), earned wild cards into the main draw of the Miami Open and faced each other in a first-round match on intimate Court 7 Thursday afternoon. The match was won by Gauff, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, in two hours and 23 minutes. Before the match, the ITF tweeted, “The next chapter of many battles to come, no doubt …”

• In another match of wild card entries, No. 205 Whitney Osuigwe, 16, earned her first tour-level WTA main draw victory with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 338 Mari Osaka, older sister of Naomi.

What they are saying

During a WTA All-Access Hour on Wednesday afternoon for the media, No. 4 seed Sloane Stephens waxed nostalgically about the Miami Open’s former venue, Crandon Park, in Key Biscayne. She was quoted by the WTA website, wtatennis.com, as saying, “I’ve been going there since I was 14 years old. It’s sad times, and we’re going to miss it, but they worked really hard on this venue, and it looks great so far. Hopefully, there’ll be more good tennis played here.” 

As for No. 3 seed Petra Kvitova, who played her first match at the new complex on Thursday afternoon and beat No. 49 Maria Sakkari, 6-1, 6-4, in a second-round match for her tour-leading 18th main draw win of 2019, she described the main court inside of Hard Rock Stadium as “a stadium within a stadium.” (Later, when asked if she liked Crandon Park or Hard Rock Stadium better, she admitted in a separate interview with Tennis Channel that “I like this one more.”)

Meanwhile, No. 7 Kiki Bertens, who advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 190 wild card Wang Xiyu Thursday night, said she looks forward to enjoying the wide open spaces at the Hard Rock Stadium complex. “I like having a lot of space, where you’re not in one building all the time. When we would have lunch in Key Biscayne, everyone was so close together that you really had to fight for your spot. It’s so much bigger here!”

Other women’s results

First round
Q-Yanina Wickmayer d. Q-Sachia Vickery, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1
Alison Riske d. Q-Kaia Kanepi, 6-2, 6-2
Q-Monica Niculescu d. Tamara Zidansek, 6-1, 6-2
Aliaksandra Sasnovich d. Viktorija Golubic, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4
Ajla Tomljanovic d. Anna-Lena Friedsam, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0
Q-Karolina Muchova d. Q-Nao Hibino, 6-3, 6-3
Victoria Kuzmova d. Daria Gavrilova, 6-4, 6-2
Petra Martic d. Zhang Shuai, 6-2, 6-1
Alizé Cornet d. Vera Lapko, 7-5, 6-7 (7), 6-1
Tatjana Maria d. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-4, 6-1
Ons Jabeur d. LL-Kristyna Pliskova, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4
Yafan Wang d. Kristina Mladenovic, 6-3, 6-3
Rebecca Peterson d. Q-Laura Siegemund, 6-1, 5-7, 7-5
Q-Misaki Doi d. WC-Wang Xinyu, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3
A-Taylor Townsend d. Johanna Larsson, 6-1, 6-2
Johanna Konta d. Jessica Pegula, 6-1, 6-4

Second round
No. 12 Ashleigh Barty def. Dayana Yaztremska, 6-4, 6-1
No. 15 Julia Goerges d. Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-4, 7-5
No. 19 Carolina Garcia d. Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 6-4
No. 26 Donna Vekic d. Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-3, 6-3

Notes

• On Friday, both No. 1 seeds, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic, headline the day and night sessions on the Stadium court. Osaka faces qualifier Yanina Wickmayer at noon local time (4 p.m. London, 5 p.m. Central European), while Djokovic takes on Bernard Tomic not before 8 p.m. local time (midnight London, 1 a.m. Saturday Central European).

• Day session attendance at the Miami Open on Thursday reached 21,825, the highest-attended session ever for a weekday afternoon. It ecclipsed the previous record attendance of 18,910 set in 2007.