Three To See, Miami: Osaka-Tomljanovic, RBA-Harris, Anisimova-Stephens

Three To See, Miami: Osaka-Tomljanovic, RBA-Harris, Anisimova-Stephens

How will Naomi Osaka fare against Ajla Tomljanovic in her first match since capturing a fourth major title at the Australian Open? And who will prevail in an all-American meeting between Amanda Anisimova and Sloane Stephens?

Before each day's play at the 2021 Miami Open, we'll preview three matches to look out for.

[2] Naomi Osaka vs. Ajla Tomljanovic

This tournament is a home away from home for both players, given their close ties to nearby Boca Raton. The last time Osaka appeared at the event, she was No. 1 in the world and had difficulty owning that label on court following her first triumph at Melbourne Park. Ranked No. 2 two years later, there’s no denying that Osaka is the best player on the WTA Tour right now. The Japanese carries a 21-match win streak into a first-time meeting with Tomljanovic, and is motivated to advance beyond the third round here for the first time in five attempts.

For Tomljanovic, her 2019 Miami appearance yielded her first Top 10 victory in nearly five years when she ousted then-No. 9 Aryna Sabalenka. Can the Aussie give herself another shot at taking down a Top 3 opponent? She failed to close out Simona Halep at this year’s Happy Slam, but looks to be feeling the ball well, winning the last nine games of her first-round victory over Anastasia Potapova.

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[7] Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Lloyd Harris

If recent form is anything to go by, this should be an excellent contest. At two of his past four events, Bautista Agut reached the final. In Doha, he secured successive Top 10 victories by outclassing Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev. Like the Spaniard, Harris also has a runner-up effort to his name, one that required playing eight matches over eight days in Dubai. There, qualifier Harris scored his own Thiem takedown, and added solid wins against Kei Nishikori and Denis Shapovalov.

In Miami, Bautista Agut has enjoyed highs that include qualifying for his first Masters 1000 main draw in 2012 and beating world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in 2019. But he’s also endured lows, like a loss to 176th-ranked Michael Mmoh in 2018. Harris never won a main-draw match on the 1000 level until defeating Emilio Nava Wednesday, so with that off his back, and the Top 50 in sight, the South African has plenty of inspiration going for him.

[28] Amanda Anisimova vs. Sloane Stephens

This season has been anything but easy for the pair of Americans. In January, Stephens announced she lost her grandmother and aunt to COVID-19, and her grandfather passed away a week after she shared the news. Anisimova tested positive for coronavirus in Abu Dhabi, forcing her to miss a month of action—unable to travel to Australia in time. Anisimova played two matches in Dubai, where an unstoppable Garbiñe Muguruza abruptly sent the 19-year-old back to the drawing board.

On Wednesday, Stephens battled back to defeat Océane Dodin for her first win since September—ending a five-match losing streak. Afterwards, the 2018 Miami champion revealed on court, “there have been so many times where I was like, 'I can't do this. I want to quit. I want to give up,' and I think it's not quite time yet. I think I still have a lot of tennis left in me.” For whomever comes through this inaugural battle, one can’t help in wanting to see the victor turn it into a deep run.