Fans are set to enjoy another ten days of topflight tennis at the Sony Open in Miami. There are many contenders for the women’s title, but three women in particular have something to prove at the “fifth Slam.”
The American legend is back at the top of the world rankings and returning to a tournament she has won five times. Having dominated the second half of 2012, the younger Williams sister secured the top spot with a run to the final in Doha last month. Yet Serena, who is famously hard on herself, is unlikely to be happy with her 2013 season so far. Aside from a win in Brisbane at the beginning of the year, she hasn’t won a title. Her quarter-final loss to Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open may have had a lot to do with Serena’s ankle injury, but she was within points of closing out that match, and failure to do so was a bitter disappointment.
Furthermore, her defeat to Victoria Azarenka in Doha has led to speculation that she may finally have a serious rival, and Serena likes to be the undisputed Queen Bee. Victory in Miami would bolster her number one ranking, freeze any discussion of legitimate challengers and bring her yet another major title.
The Australian Open champion is not perhaps in dire need of a strong tournament result, as she remains unbeaten in 2013 heading into Miami. But the Belarusian’s pullout at last week’s BNP Paribas Open was her third tournament withdrawal of they year, and 20th since the beginning of 2010. While no one is doubting the severity of her current ankle injury, some are starting to question her durability.
Moreover, following the infamous medical time-out against Stephens in Melbourne, Azarenka needs to be wary of continuing to disappoint the fans eager to see her play. If the world number two enters the Sony Open Tennis, she should be prepared to play until her last match, win or lose. And if she is in the draw, a potential clash with Serena will be the hottest ticket in town.
The 24-year-old Pole was unstoppable at the beginning of 2013, winning titles in Sydney and Auckland. Since then, her results have been consistent but unspectacular: she reached the quarter-finals at the Australian Open and in Dubai, and the semi-finals in Doha. However, she suffered her first letdown of the year in Indian Wells last week, narrowly losing a two and a half hour slugfest to Maria Kirilenko.
Radwanska has secured a firm footing in the world’s top four by regularly beating the players ranked below her, and she needs to keep doing that in order to maintain her elite ranking. That is especially important in Miami next week, as she was the champion at the 2012 Sony Open Tennis and has a lot of points to defend. If she can produce a standout performance, as she did when outfoxing Maria Sharapova in last year’s final, she will once again be talked up as a future Grand Slam champion.
Steven writes for Miami-Masters-Live.com. For all your, news, views and live streams.