The Miami Open is the last major hard-court tournament before the tour turns to European clay, and the women’s draw is replete with 2021’s most impressive performers. Compounded by next-to-normal COVID-19 conditions, a championship forecast is difficult as ever to make for Amazon Prime Video commentator Daniela Hantuchova.
“We are going through such strange times that it’s hard to even predict what will happen tomorrow!” the former world No. 5 said over the phone on Tuesday. “We are much better off just taking it one day at a time, whether that’s predicting tournaments, or the way we go about things.
“Ultimately, whoever stays mentally toughest will have the best chance. Jennifer Brady was such a great example of that, having the right approach in Melbourne and taking the quarantine without complaining about it. I still believe that’s the way to approach things this year. Acceptance is the word, and whoever can do that best will win the tournament.”
Hantuchova, who recently launched her eponymous DNA perfume, nonetheless saw three hopefuls stand out above the rest, and a trio of underdogs capable of causing upsets at the Hard Rock Stadium.
Naomi OSAKA (JPN)
Winner of the last two hard court Grand Slam tournaments, it looks as though Naomi has almost forgotten what it feels like to lose. She has won her last 21 matches, and seems to be on another level, not only with her tennis, but also with her mentality.
What impresses me the most is how, in the big points and big moments, she has the capacity to step it up and hit the ball even harder. So many other players will get tight and slow down in those situations; Naomi goes the other way, and that’s a great sign of a champion, to be able to come up with her best tennis when she really needs to.
Her maturity impresses me so much. For such a young woman, she handles incredible pressure in a spectacular way. She’s going to win so many Grand Slams and be one of the best players we’ve ever had because of her ability to perform under pressure. The whole world is watching her, and she gets a ton of attention everywhere she goes, but she’s been able to step up and show why she deserves to be where she is.
Garbiñe MUGURUZA (ESP)
I think a lot about Osaka’s match against Muguruza at the Australian Open, how Garbiñe had match points against Naomi. Obviously, she is playing some of her best tennis as well, and Garbiñe is just one of those players where she can win any tournament she enters. She had great runs at the Middle East, won Dubai, and appears she’s also enjoying her life off the court, as well.
The conditions in Miami can be humid and heavy, and from what I’ve seen, the ball bounces quite high. She’s a tall and powerful girl who can handle that.
I think Conchita Martinez is one of the best coaches on tour, and she commands a huge amount of respect from Garbiñe because of what a great champion she was. Whatever Conchi says, Garbiñe listens, but at the same time, she’s so relaxed and chilled outside of tennis, that translates to Garbiñe’s mentality as well. She’s lent a huge amount of emotional stability to Garbi, both on and off the court.
She could play Osaka again in the semifinals. If she plays the same as she did last time, all she’ll need to do is win one more point! Conchita may suggest some new tactics, but the main objective will be to overpower Osaka—which won’t be easy to do, but she has the capacity to do so.
Simona HALEP (ROU)
I’m such a huge fan of Simo’s game that I always want her to do well; she was my pick to win the Australian Open! It seems like she’s in a really relaxed mode. The combination of the high bounce and her not being as tall won’t make things easy. She’ll have to defend well, which she always does at her best.
I honestly liked how she played throughout the fortnight in Melbourne; even in the match against Serena, there wasn’t too much she did wrong there. She’ll come to Miami hopefully feeling confident, as well. As an opponent, she’s not someone who’ll have you freaking out before the match because of her power or serve, but once the match starts, you start to really feel the effects of her game.
From the very first time I played Simona, what impressed me was how she could come up with winners from unexpected positions. I would hit an unbelievable cross-court shot, but she would respond with a backhand up the line, from an angle I couldn’t have thought possible. She’s got that beautiful touch and feel for the ball, and that makes her so much fun to watch. It’s definitely not as much fun to play, but she uses the court so well, incorporating her movement and accuracy.
Iga SWIATEK (POL)
Iga could play Halep in the fourth round, and has been very impressive, mentally, especially when you think that she’s only a few weeks away from defending her Roland Garros title. That’s something that should add more pressure, but it’s just been such a good couple of months for her. She’s been able to prove herself as mentally prepared as she is from a technical standpoint. I think she’s done such a good job of confirming that Roland Garros was no accident; she’s a top-quality player. I feel that she’s even hitting the ball heavier now than she was last fall. That can only help her in Miami, where she can navigate the bounce with her mix of spin and power.
Anett KONTAVEIT (EST)
Anett is in Osaka’s section of the draw, and narrowly lost to Naomi last summer in New York. From my vantage point, she needs to bring more belief to these big matches. She’s doing all the right things, working hard on and off the court. She’s working with my old coach, Nigel Sears, so I don’t worry about her preparation or discipline. I know I needed to be patient before I had my big breakthrough; luckily for me, it happened fairly early in my career, but you need that belief that it’ll all come together one day because when it does, she’ll be very dangerous.
Belinda BENCIC (SUI)
I just think she’s worked so hard, physically; she has a great fitness coach. She has such similar technique to Martina Hingis, and she’s so refreshing to watch when compared to the other players. Her game depends so much on having that timing that it all comes down to confidence for Belinda. If she’s feeling mentally strong, she’s nails on the court, and dangerous for anyone in the draw.