Women’s Top Three Agree: WTA Depth Has Risen

Ashleigh Barty (photo: Miami Open presented by Itaú video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, March 24, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Through the first two and one-half months of the 2021 WTA season, covering 13 tournaments, there have been 12 different winners on tour. The only repeat winner headed into this week’s WTA 1000-series Miami Open presented by Itaú in south Florida is World No. 42 Daria Kasatkina. She won the Phillips Island Trophy during the second week of the Australian Open in Melbourne last month, then returned home to her native Russia last week and won the St. Petersburg Open.

In addition to Kasatkina, the list of 2021 WTA tournament winners reads like a who’s who of contemporary players on tour: Aryna Sabalenka, Ashleigh Barty, Elise Mertens, Anett Kontaveit and Ann Li, Naomi Osaka, Iga Swiatek, Petra Kvitova, Clara Tauson, Garbiñe Muruguza, Sara Sorribes Tormo and Leylah Fernandez.

During Tuesday’s Miami Open media day, Tennis TourTalk asked the Top Three women’s players in the WTA Rankings – Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep – if they were surprised by the current abundance of depth the WTA is currently enjoying. The consensus was they were not surprised and suggested that the talent pool and depth has risen.

Tennis TourTalk asked women’s World No. 1 Barty of Australia, who has returned to defend her 2019 Miami Open title (since there was no 2020 Miami Open due to the coronavirus pandemic that began a year ago and shut down the pro tours for five months), about the abundance of winners and what it suggests about the depth of women’s pro tennis. One thing became evident from Barty’s comments: it surprised her that people (fans and media, alike) remain surprised. She said: “I feel like we’ve had this conversation over a number of years now, where it was almost a surprise to a lot of people that the depth was so good in the WTA.

“But to all of the players and certainly everyone that I speak to, it’s a testament to everyone who’s out here working their backside off, trying to be the best that they can be.

“It’s amazing to think there is so much depth. It makes for a really healthy competition knowing every single match. You have to be near your best level to compete. That brings out the best in everyone. It’s pushing everyone to continue to drive to be better.

“But, yeah, I’ve been asked this question quite a number of times over the last three or four years. To me, it’s quite surprising that everyone is still surprised, if that makes sense.

“I feel like the tour has an exceptional depth now. It’s really exciting for everyone moving forward.”

Tennis TourTalk asked the same question about the WTA’s abundance of depth of the reigning Australian Open champion Osaka, who is seeded second behind No. 1 Barty. She answered:

“I feel like everyone that you see doing well right now, you kind of see it coming. For example, [Jennifer] Brady, I could see that she was going to do well, sort of start going deeper in the draw. [Garbiñe] Muguruza, she’s won two Grand Slams. It’s not very surprising at all.

“I feel like the level of women’s tennis has really risen. Everyone is really strong. Everyone has the capability of winning matches. It might not look like it from the outside, like outside people might say it’s really random and whatever, but I think everyone is so strong so everyone has a chance to win.”

Finally, Tennis TourTalk asked the two-time Grand Slam champion Halep, who has been ranked no lower that year-end World No. 4 since 2014, her thoughts on the subject of depth in the WTA. She offered this assessment:

“Well, I think women in general struggle with a bit of pressure. Now I feel like this period is not easy for everybody. It’s tough to stay closed in the hotel, in the bubble, like every tournament. I don’t believe that all the players can perform at highest level that they can offer.

“But, you know, I always said that women’s tennis, the tour, it’s open and everyone can win a tournament in top 10 for sure and also outside of Top 10.

“I’m not very surprised. I know that tournaments are not easy for the players for every week in this situation. That’s why I feel like all the players have a chance to win the tournament that they play.”

Andy Murray: Withdraws from Miami Open

On Tuesday, two-time Miami Open champion (2009, 2013) Andy Murray, who received a main draw wild card to play this year, abruptly pulled out of the tournament with a groin injury.

The 119th-ranked Murray told The Miami Herald, “I had no issues while training, felt fine, did some gym work Friday, no problem. … Then I woke up about three in the morning, felt pain in the groin, not on the side I had my surgery, and when I got out of bed, I struggled quite a bit to walk. I have no idea what I did. It’s one of those freak things. Each day it has gotten progressively better, but it’s not enough. I have not practiced since Friday.

Qualifying draw play concludes

Men’s and women’s qualifying draw competition concluded on Tuesday and there were four American men who advanced, led by No. 1 seed Mackenzie McDonald plus Ernesto Escobedo, Bjorn Fratangelo and Emilio Nava. Others reaching the main draw include: Brazil’s Thiago Seyboth Wild, Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia, Liam Broady of Great Britain, and Paolo Lorenzi from Italy. Also, Alejandro Tabilo of Chile, Mischa Zverev of Germany, Thomas Fabbiano of Italy and Shintaro Mochizuki from Japan.

McDonald advanced past 42-year-old Croatian Ivo Karlovic, despite 18 service aces, while Fratangelo lost just one game in defeating Marc-Andreas Huesler of Switzerland, 6-0, 6-1. In an all-American battle, Escobedo defeated Brandon Nakashima, 6-4, 7-6 (4). In one of the biggest upsets of the two-day qualifying draw, No. 556 Nava beat Renzo Olivo of Argentina, 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 to reach his first ATP Tour-level main draw.

Among the women advancing are: 19-year-old American Hailey Baptiste, Nina Stojanovic of Serbia, Tsvetana Pironkova of Belarus, Aliona Bolsolva of Spain, Oceane Dodin of France, Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, Olga Danilovic of Serbia, Tereza Martincova of the Czech Repubic, Kristina Kucova of Slovakia, Renata Zarazua of Mexico, Elisabetta Cocciaretto of Italy and Mihaela Buzarnesu from Romania.

What they’re saying at Miami Open media day

Here’s a sampling of the many highlights from Tuesday’s Miami Open media day …

Women’s No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty, who won the 2019 Miami Open, and is making her first trip outside of Australia since returning home from Qatar in February 2020:

“Nice to be back competing, doing what we love. Obviously, a tournament we have so many good memories. This week for me a couple of years ago was one of the best of my career where I played consistent tennis throughout the whole week.

“Looking forward to challenging myself once against to try to bring that tennis.”

Men’s No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev:

“Definitely being top seed for a Masters [1000] event, especially this one in Miami, being No. 2 in the world, I’m enjoying the moment. I don’t feel the pressure except for the pressure that I like to win matches and I want to win every tournament I play.

“Since I was young this pressure always stays with me, but I feel like it’s a good competitive pressure. I don’t really feel pressure from the outside because I know that if I play good, I have my chances to win the tournaments and that’s the most important.”

Sofia Kenin:

“Right now, I’m just grateful to have fully in a way recovered after my [appendix] surgery. I’m playing well. Given the circumstances, I still don’t feel 100 percent with my tennis-wise since I took a few weeks off and everything. I’m just happy that I’m able to play Miami Open. It was my eye, that was what I was planning to shoot for, start again my tour. I’m super happy.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas:

“I would be thrilled to walk away with a Masters 1000 title. The opportunity hasn’t presented itself, but I feel like I’m getting really close. I really want it a lot and the desire is there. It always has been. I’m always working to get better, and I think that’s what’s going to help me get to that point of winning Masters 1000 events. I feel also I just need more opportunities to get there.”

Victoria Azarenka:

“I’m feeling excited to start this tournament. There was a bit of a challenging beginning of the year for me where I felt I was playing good, but I felt that I kind of wasn’t prepared – not prepared, but some things were kind of catching, like little injuries. I felt that I wasn’t getting on the right track.

“I took couple weeks off where I had tournaments planned to try to get back on the right track. It was a bit challenging where I felt a lot like I’m playing a bit of a catch-up game, trying to compensate for what I kind of lost a bit in Australia. It didn’t feel that I was kind of making the right decisions.

After Doha, I took some time and I really put myself in a much better situation physically and mentally to be able to be here.”

Andrey Rublev:

“I cannot control if I’m going to lose [in the] second round or not. In the end, it doesn’t matter which pressure you have, you cannot control it. If you win, you’re going to win it anyway. If you lose, it doesn’t matter what you’re going to do, or how much you’re going to think about it, you’re still going to lose. In the end, it’s just [important] to try to focus on yourself, on the things that you need to improve to do your best and that’s it.”

What they’re writing