Muguruza’s Love Of Miami Open Shows On Court

Garbiñe Muguruza (photo: courtesy Miami Open presented by Itaú video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, March 26, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

While the Miami Open presented by Itaú men’s draw may be devoid of many of its biggest stars – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem come to mind – the women’s draw boasts 27 of the Top 30 players. One of them is Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza, who earlier this month won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships for her first WTA singles title since early 2019. This season, she’s leading the WTA in wins with 19 and has already appeared in three finals.

“If I have the chance, I always want to play – not only because it’s a big event, it’s just because I love it here,” said Muguruza, who is one of four Spaniards in the women’s draw and is making her ninth Miami Open appearance. “The energy, being in Miami, Latin America, it’s a very special tournament for me. It was kind of my breakthrough. Why not? I don’t feel like I have nothing better to do at home. I love being here.”

On Friday, the World No. 13 Muguruza, who is seeded 12th in Miami, won 6-4, 6-1 over 150th-ranked wild card Wang Xinyu of China, who at age 19 is one of 10 teenagers in the women’s draw. Wang is also one of five Chinese women competing this week in Miami. Although Muguruza came from a set down to beat Wang when they met in 2020 at Shenzhen, China, this time the Spaniard controlled the tempo of her 66-minute victory. While Muguruza has never advanced beyond the fourth round in Miami, either at the tournament’s former home in Crandon Park or at Hard Rock Stadium, where the tournament moved in 2019, this time she has the chance to go deep and looks forward to the challenge.

“I was actually looking forward to playing and also quite nervous,” said Muguruza, who has now won seven consecutive matches and hasn’t lost since Petra Kvitova beat her in the Doha final earlier this month. “This is a tournament I love and after playing well in the Middle East swing, I wanted to continue keep the same energy and same quality of tennis. It was windy, which can make it tricky, but I was excited. I wanted to do well.

“Playing an unknown player, you never know [what to expect]. I wanted to get a win.”

Meanwhile, Wang, who has split her time between the WTA and ITF tours, has a 6-6 win-loss record. She won her first-round match, 6-2, 6-2, against Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson, her maiden win over a Top 100 opponent. Despite losing to Muguruza, Wang has won four of her last six matches, and is playing what can best be described as aggressive and decisive tennis. Miami is just her third main draw at the 1000 level, and each match is proving to be a learning experience for the Chinese teenager.

“She’s a great hitter who has so much strength, a great shot,” Muguruza told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference, in praise of Wang. “She was definitely tricky the first set. I had some set points early that I couldn’t convert. When you play somebody who plays so aggressive, it’s hard to do much. You have to wait for your opportunity. She played some incredible points; she also gave me some free points. That helped me out, too. There are so many players who are unknown to me, a next generation of young and powerful players coming up.”

Around the Hard Rock Stadium

Friday’s play began with a temperature of 26º Celsius (79º Fahrenheit) under cloudy skies and 80 percent humidity and shot up to 30º Celsius (86º Fahrenheit) by mid afternoon. Because of Covid-19 health and safety restrictions, this year the Miami Open is allowing only about 1,000 spectators onto the Hard Rock Stadium grounds and the crowds are mostly confined to matches taking place on the main show courts – the normal 5,000-capacity Grandstand, Court 1 and Butch Buchholz.

The first wave of matches starting from 11 a.m. on the order of play gave fans plenty to choose from: an all-American match between No. 22 seed Taylor Fritz and Marcos Giron began the day on the Grandstand, won by Fritz in straight sets, while No. 30 seed Reilly Opelka of the U.S. and young Aussie Alexei Popyrin were featured on Court 1, that Popyrin prevailed in. Play has been going on simultaneously over eight different courts.

Throughout the rest of the day and into the evening, the Friday schedule was packed solidly with interesting matchups, including Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann against No.14 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany versus #NextGenATP rising star Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland and the anticipation of seeing women’s No. 8 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada, make her first appearance in Miami in two years.

By mid-afternoon, men’s World No. 2 and No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev was on court in his first tournament action, where he needed just 56 minutes to defeat Taiwan’s Lu Yen-Hsun, 6-2, 6-2.

Meanwhile, women’s No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka preceded Medvedev on the Grandstand, in her first match since winning the Australian Open title last month. She defeated Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic, 7-6 (3), 6-4, to extend her winning streak to 22 straight matches.

Friday’s Miami Open results – WTA

Friday’s Miami Open results – ATP

What they’re saying

• No. 22 Taylor Fritz of the United States, speaking to Tennis Channel following his 6-2, 6-2 win over fellow American Marcos Giron: “I played a good match, no complaints. The wind has been blowing in the same direction every day, so I’ve had a few days to get used to it. Some other matches I’ve played, in Australia and Qatar the wind was all over the place and made it tough for me. It got a little breezier in the second set.”

Asked how he feels about where his game is headed, Fritz said: “I feel great about where my game is. I think the courts are great for me, not too fast. I get a good amount of time to set up for my shots. I’m serving well, my forehand feels good. I feel I’ve improved on my return a lot lately, stepping in and attacking more with my backhand. I’m very critical of my game, but I’m very happy with where it’s at.”

Martina Navratilova, who has been analyzing matches for Tennis Channel recently spoke glowingly about Coco Gauff, noting she thought that the American teenager’s game has no limit and that she’s looking forward to seeing her game evolve. Thursday night, following her 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 loss to Anastasija Sevastova, in which she dropped the final five games of the match, Gauff was asked about the Hall of Famer’s comments. She said: “Definitely makes me feel good. Obviously, she was a great player herself and has a lot of accomplishments, and I’m sure she has a good eye for the game. So, for her to say good things about me makes me feel good, and hopefully I can keep improving on that and keep improving in the future to even get better.”

• British qualifier Liam Broady, ranked 158th, who recently reached the finals of the Biella Challenger in Italy – and is 15-5 in all competitions – was asked after his 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-1 Thursday loss to No. 46 Miomir Kecmanovic, about the different tempo he’s faced between playing on the ATP Tour versus the Challenger Tour. “I think the speed the guys play at, the intensity they play at, I mean, it’s not a lot but maybe five or 10 percent higher to what I’m used to, myself and the players that I’m used to playing against play at.

“At the futures there is a little bit of a tempo change, and at the challengers there is a step up and then obviously the main tour level these guys are at the top intensity. And it’s where I want to be. But, you know, I can’t help but be happy with the week I have had to have qualified, to have come through two close matches in quallies and then to have come reasonably close.”

Alexi Popyrin of Australia on his 6-4, 6-2 win over American Reilly Opelka, whom he out-aced (13-12) in the match: “Reilly is not an easy player to play, especially when his serve is on. He served pretty well today. I kept focusing on my serve and when the opportunities came on the return to capitalize them and stay consistent.”

The victory was Popyrin’s 11th in 14 outings this year. He’s 8-1 since the Australian Open.

Asked about his level of confidence after winning a title in Singapore, the 86th-ranked Popyrin said, “I just think it’s the hard work that I’ve been putting in since preseason. It’s kept me even and level-headed through tough matches this season. I proud of the way [my season] has gone so far.

“Every time you get a career-high ranking it’s a good feeling; it’s a good achievement. It shows the work is paying off. But that’s not the goal. Being 80th in the world, or 70th in the world isn’t the goal; it’s always to keep climbing … playing Top 10, being No. 1 that’s the goal I’ve had since I was a kid. I’m going to keep going for that goal and I think I can get it. It’s going to take a lot of tough work, tough matches, tough years to get there.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Garbiñe Muguruza, who was scheduled first on court today at 11 a.m., on the advantages of being first on and first off the court: “There always a good side and bad side of things, first match. I actually like it that I can control the time I am going to start the match, the time more or less that it’s going to be over. It’s true you have to wake up early and your body isn’t as awake as a night match, but I kind of like it. Wake up, do your match, and then you have time to rest and think about something else.”

• After her Thursday evening victory, Tennis TourTalk asked Simona Halep to describe the challenges she faced when she was home in Romania and her primary coach, Darren Cahill was in Australia, seemingly worlds apart from one another: “I have [a] Romanian coach, as well [Artemon Apostu-Efremov]. They get along very well together. They talk a lot. I talk a lot with Darren even if he’s in Australia and I’m home.

“It was a little tough to be like three, four months without him, but you know, if we understand each other well, then I have a big plus to keep going. Also, he was watching me on the camera when I practice back home and [it] makes it easier. So, we are in a good place for the moment.”