Bracket Busting

Friday, March 22, 2013 /by

Good things come to those who wait, isn’t that what they say? That’s half-true in my current case. For three days, with Victoria Azarenka mulling a withdrawal from Key Biscayne, I held off on writing a preview of the women’s draw—Vika’s presence, or lack thereof, was obviously going to have something of an effect on what I wrote. Finally, at 10:30 this morning, with Azarenka scheduled to play at the top of the hour, I thought it was safe to begin. Turns out I wrote too soon: 20 minutes before she was supposed to walk on court to face Madison Keys, Azarenka pulled the plug. An ankle injury that she suffered in Doha is still bothering her.

So without further delay, here’s my breakdown of the women’s bracket in Miami. Predictions should, theoretically, be made easier, considering that the event has already reached the third round. Should—we’ll see. You never know how the second half of a hard-court double-header is going to play out.

*****

First Quarter

Miami still has one thing going for it over Indian Wells, and that’s the annual presence of Venus and Serena Williams. Especially Serena—this time she returns to South Florida as the No. 1 player in the world. She looked the part in her 1-and-1 opening-round win over Flavia Pennetta. Serena faces Ayumi Morita this weekend in her next match.

Who can threaten her? Most likely to succeed in this half is No. 5 seed Li Na, who is playing her first tournament since reaching the Australian Open final in January. She’ll face Varvara Lepchenko next. Li is the strongest player on this side. She’s 1-6 against Serena, but their seven matches have featured six tiebreaker sets—that’s kind of a triumph in itself against the world No. 1.

Of more immediate interest, though, is the head to head between Li and Caroline Wozniacki; the two are scheduled to meet in the fourth round. They’re 3-3 against each other, and Wozniacki won their last match, in Tokyo in the fall. Wozniacki also won a match last year, here, against Serena, and she made the final in IW this weekend.

Semifinalist: S. Williams

*****

Second Quarter

Defending champion and No. 4 seed Agniezska Radwanska leads this section. It will be an uphill climb for her to repeat as champ, though the mountain got a little less imposing with the withdrawal of her former friend and current nemesis, Azarenka. Aga plays Magdalena Rybarikova, who knocked off Mona Barthel, in the third round. 

The marquee matchup of this round, though, is the weekend face-off between veteran and newcomer, Venus Williams vs. Sloane Stephens. The two have never played, and each is coming off a near-loss experience in their last match. Stephens recovered from a 6-0 first set defeat to win in three, while Venus and Kimiko Date-Krumm restaged their Wimbledon 2011 classic. It ended the same way, with entertaining tennis and a narrow Venus win. 

While it’s not as high-profile as that, the third-rounder between Petra Kvitova and a rising Kirsten Flipkens should also be of interest. Kvitova, who is 4-1 against Radwanska, has an opportunity to make the semifinals here.

Also here: Andrea Petkovic

Semifinalist: Kvitova

*****

Third Quarter

How will Maria Sharapova follow up her Indian Wells title? Fist-clenchingly intense on every point, she can struggle to win back to back, but she did reach the finals of Indian Wells and Key Biscayne last season, losing in both. 

Her draw looks helpful this time. Sharapova starts with Eugenie Bouchard, and would then play Elena Vesnina. The second-highest-seed in this quarter is Sara Errani, who Sharapova straight-setted last week in Indian Wells (though the first set did go to 8-6 in a tiebreaker).

Also here: 

—Urszula Radwanska and Ana Ivanovic, who face each other next. The winner gets Svetlana Kuznetsova.

—Maria Kirilenko, last week’s semifinalist. She starts against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and could be heading for a rematch of her Indian Wells semi with Sharapova in the fourth round.

Semifinalist: Sharapova

*****

Fourth Quarter

Miami officials might not have enjoyed hearing about Azarenka’s pullout, but a whole quarter’s worth of players got a new lease on life this morning. Instead of seeing Vika at the bottom of their bracket, they currently see American Lauren Davis, who snuck past Keys in a third-set tiebreaker.

Who else has an opportunity? There’s No. 6 seed Angelique Kerber, a semifinalist last week who likes slow hard courts. There’s Nadia Petrova and Jelena Jankovic, former Top Tenners who aren’t gone yet. There’s 15th seed Roberta Vinci. And there’s still-young-after-all-these-years Laura Robson, who plays Alize Cornet next. The news about Vika didn’t lessen the pressure on any of these women.

Toughest result so far: Another young American, Allie Kiick, lost in the first round to Keys, love and love. I’ve been hoping Kiick would make some pro-tour inroads, if only because last year I heard her say to herself, after she missed a drop shot in a junior match, “Who does that?” I like that as a reaction to an error, even if it is a little hard on yourself. Kiick might be wondering right now: Who loses 0 and 0? Everyone, at one time or another.

Semifinalist: Kerber

*****

Semifinals: S. Williams d. Kvitova; Sharapova d. Kerber

Final: S. Williams d. Sharapova

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