While the stars of the men’s game have mostly taken a pass on the Miami Open, the women have been happy to make the trip and step into the spotlight at Hard Rock Stadium. Of the WTA’s Top 10, only Serena Williams will be absent. Which means, over the next two weeks, we should get a good look at the state of the women’s tour as the Grand Slam season approaches.
When Ashleigh Barty took over the No. 1 ranking in 2019, her biggest wins came at Roland Garros and in the WTA Finals. But her breakout season first took off with her title run in Miami. If the top seed is looking for a place to put her disappointment Down Under behind her and play like the No. 1 she still is, this might be it. She’ll start against a qualifier, and could play either Alison Riske or Jelena Ostapenko in her second match. Farther on, though, Barty might have to face back-to-back Belarusian bombers: Victoria Azarenka in the round of 16, and Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals. Barty is 1-1 vs. Azarenka, and 2-3 vs. Sabalenka.
Speaking of Sabalenka, can she rebuild some of the momentum she had at the start of the season, when she was on a 15-match win streak? She should be happy, at least, that Garbiñe Muguruza, who knocked her out of Doha and Dubai, is in the other half of the draw.
First-round match to watch: Danielle Collins vs. Kiki Mladenovic
Looking at recent Miami results, it’s a little surprising to discover that Simona Halep has never reached the final. She’s always liked North American hard courts, and she won in Indian Wells in 2015. The No. 3 seed will do her best to rectify that record this year, but it may not be easy. Halep could open against Caroline Garcia, play hometown favorite Coco Gauff after that, face either Madison Keys or Iga Swiatek in the round of 16, and go up against either Petra Kvitova or Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals.
Of interest in this quarter: Gauff has shown improvement on her forehand side so far this year; can she continue that against top competition in Miami? Swiatek could get an interesting test from Keys in the third round. Shelby Rogers has had a promising start to 2021; she’ll start against fellow American Madison Brengle. And how about Kvitova? She just won a title in Doha, but has never made the final in Miami.
Sofia Kenin is the top seed in this section, but that may just be a function of the slow-moving pandemic-era ranking system. In reality, Garbiñe Muguruza has to be considered the favorite to reach the semifinals; with a title and a runner-up finish in Dubai and Doha, she has played as well as anyone other than Naomi Osaka in 2021. Muguruza’s draw in Miami looks manageable: She’ll start against either Rebecca Peterson or Wang Xinyu, and the first seed she could face is Petra Martic. If everything goes as planned, Muguruza would meet Bianca Andreescu, who began to look like a semblance of her old self in Melbourne, in the fourth round.
As with Muguruza, Jennifer Brady’s seeding—No. 13—doesn’t match her results this season. The Australian Open finalist could play Elena Rybakina in the third round, and Kenin in the round of 16.
Potential second-round matches to watch: Sloane Stephens vs. Amanda Anisimova; Ons Jabeur vs. Jil Teichmann
Naomi Osaka may be the No. 2 seed, but with Serena away, she’ll be the marquee name in Miami. How will she hold up as the favorite and the biggest fan draw? Osaka hasn’t won many non-major events, but she says she doesn’t want to be someone who “pops up randomly and wins Grand Slams.” A win in Miami, near where she grew up, would seem to be a good place to start changing that reputation. Osaka will start against either Ajla Tomljanovic or Anastasia Potapova; the first seed she could face is Yulia Putintseva; and the second-highest seed in this section is Karolina Pliskova.
Player to Watch: Jessica Pegula. Despite being on a tear in 2021, she’s seeded just 29th. But the Buffalo native has landed in a promising section of the draw—i.e., near Karolina Pliskova. Pegula rolled over Pliskova in both Doha and Dubai earlier this month.
Wild card of interest: Katrina Scott. The 16-year-old Californian plays Sorana Cirstea in the first round.
Semifinals: Barty d. Halep; Osaka d. Muguruza