If you’re looking for a dual-gender tennis tournament where a woman, rather than a man, has been the most consistent and bankable star over a long period of time, Miami is the place. This week Serena Williams will return to what she calls her home event, where she is already an eight-time champion. On Tuesday, she penned a testimonial about the troubled tournament, and why it should stay where it is, for The New York Times.
The rest of the WTA will return to Miami with her, of course. In Indian Wells, the tour’s upper tier seemed re-energized—particularly Victoria Azarenka—after a slow start to the season. Can anyone keep Serena from title No. 9? Or will her loss to Vika on Sunday motivate her to set things straight and win her fourth title in a row at Crandon Park? Here’s a look at the draw.
It will obviously take a special effort to knock Serena off; she hasn’t lost here since Caroline Wozniacki beat her in 2012. Wozniacki is in Serena’s section this time as well, but the Dane has been less than great lately, and is seeded just 23rd.
Serena will start against either Christina McHale or Misaki Doi. Either way, that’s not a bad tune-up; McHale in particular has had a surprisingly good start to the season. If the seeds hold, Serena would get Daria Gavrilova, then Svetlana Kuznetsova, and then Petra Kvitova in the quarters. The latter matchup would be fun, but Kvitova’s presence there is, as always, a long shot.
Second-Round Match to Watch: Elina Svitolina vs. Shuai Zhang
Semifinalist: S. Williams
Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep are the top two seeds in this section. So far this year, they’ve traded ranking positions: After semifinal runs in Melbourne and Indian Wells, Radwanska is up to No. 2 (though that isn’t reflected in her No. 3 seeding here), while Halep, after a series of early losses, is down to No. 5. Each has played well in Miami in the past: Radwanska was the last winner other than Serena, in 2012, and last year Halep pushed Williams to the brink in a classic semifinal.
At some point Halep will right the ship; she traditionally has slumps—think of her early losses at the French Open and Wimbledon in 2015—and just as traditionally bounces back from them. But it won’t be easy to do it in Miami. She starts against the tour’s newest hot shot, Daria Kasatkina, and could play Sam Stosur after that.
Also Here: Ana Ivanovic, Lucie Safarova, Timea Bacsinszky, Sloane Stephens
Second-Round Match to Watch: Halep vs. Kasatkina
Seed-wise, this is the zone of opportunity. That’s because in theory, Garbiñe Muguruza, as the world No. 4, is supposed to reach the semifinals. But Muguruza has struggled mightily with new coach Sam Sumyk this season, and might consider it a triumph just to reach the third round. Like Halep, though, she’s had her slumps before, and she’s come out of them before. She’ll try again to get back on the right track against either Dominika Cibulkova or Johanna Larsson.
The real player to beat in this section, of course, is Azarenka. She’s seeded just 13th, but she’s coming off a possible career-changing win over Serena in Indian Wells. Can Vika do the spring double? It’s not out of the question; in 2009, she beat Serena in the final here in straight sets, and she won the event again in 2011. This year Vika will start against either U.S. wild card CiCi Bellis or Monica Puig.
Also Here: 2015 Miami finalist Carla Suarez Navarro, Venus Williams, Johanna Konta, Jelena Jankovic
Second-Round Match to Watch: Nicole Gibbs vs. Kiki Mladenovic. The American is coming off a strong run in Indian Wells.
Halep, Muguruza, now Angelique Kerber: Who will come out of her funk first? Kerber is 1-3 since winning the Australian Open. The adjustment period is understandable, but also disappointing for those of us who like her game and want to see it on more big occasions. The German reached the quarters here in 2014, but she has a tricky opener this time around against Barbora Strycova. If Kerber passes that early test, her draw looks manageable.
Belinda Bencic, the second-highest seed in this section, is also a question mark at the moment. She played poorly in losing to Magdelena Rybarikova in Indian Wells, but she has also cracked the Top 10 for the first time in 2016, and hardly has plans to stop there. Like Kerber, on paper Bencic has a fairly smooth path to the quarters if she can play something close to her best.
Players to Watch: Karolina Pliskova, Eugenie Bouchard, teen wild card Naomi Osaka and Madison Keys, who is now working with Mats Wilander. There’s room for Keys, if she can get hot, to do some damage; the closest seed to her is Roberta Vinci.
Semifinals: S. Williams d. Radwanska; Azarenka d. Bencic
Final: S. Williams d. Azarenka