Friday, April 2, 2021

Could Miami possibly get even better?

Probably not. The high-quality, entertaining, and outright thrilling matches have just kept coming at the Miami Open. Stand-outs this past week were:

Maria Sakkari--The impressive Greek woman with the impressive bun and shoulders has shown a lot of promise for some time, but she hasn't exhibited the consistency that she needed to win big matches. Things have changed, however and Sakkari's "new" game is more aggressive, and her serve has improved significantly. She took out Naomi Osaka in the quarterfinals, and thereby broke Osaka's 23-match winning streak.

Sara Sorribes Tormo--The Spaniard is a breakout star whose athleticism and fitness, combined with her craft and court savvy, has nowhere to go but up in the rankings. Her round of 16 match against Bianca Andreescu was simply breathtaking--I could watch it repeatedly.

Ash Barty--In Miami, the world number 1 has done what she always does--moved quietly and efficiently through the draw. And it was the draw from hell, which included the likes of Alona Ostapenko, Vika Azarenka, Aryna Sabalenka, and Elina Svitlina. Not only that--Barty's second round opponent, Kristina Kucova, took her to three sets and also held a match point.

Bianca Andreescu--Channeling Harry Houdini, the amazing Canadian star spent some time in Miami pulling herself out of tricky situations, sometimes at the last minute. Andreescu's Miami adventure has confirmed my theory that she is, at heart, a problem-solver, and does her best work if she has a problem to solve. 

She had a lot of problems to solve in her round of 16, quarterfinal and semifinal matches. In the round of 16, she faced Garbine Muguruza, who played brilliantly in the first set, which she won. Andreescu changed her strategy, however, and was able to overcome her opponent.

Against Sorribes Tormo, the world number 9 frequently looked like she was operating on fumes. Sorribes Tormo's returns were relentless, and she ran Andreescu all over the court. Andreescu had met her match, and the physicality and fighting spirit of the opponents brought back memories of the kinds of battles that Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova used to have. There were a lot of service breaks, and the Spaniard, who hits a heavy ball, looked like she could wear Andreescu down. But Andreescu came through, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, and--not surprisingly--the final rally of the match was as thrilling as so many of the others. 

Next came Sakkari, and once again, Andreescu had her hands full. Because of a rain delay, the match didn't start until 11 p.m. Sakkari, playing with obvious confidence, and took the first set to a tiebreak, in which she held two set points. But at the last moment, Andreescu simply would not be denied, and won the tiebreak 9-7. Sakkari let that pass, continued her aggressive and confident play, and won the second set 6-3, despite being down 1-3. In the final set, Sakkari served for the match, but she was broken at love, leading to a second tiebreak, which Andreescu won 7-4. Andreescu's ability to pop up at the last minute and snatch a victory is simply amazing.

Ana Konjuh--Injuries and surgery have plagued Konjuh's promising career for some time, so it was especially nice to see her do well in Miami. Konjuh defeated Katerina Siniakova, Madison Keys and Iga Swiatek, which is pretty impressive. She was stopped in the round of 16 by Anastasija Sevastova, but her upsets of Keys and Swiatek had to have boosted her confidence.

Here are the finalists' paths to the final:

Ash Barty (1)
round 1-- bye
round 2--Kristina Kucova
round 3--Alona Ostapenko
round of 16--Vika Azarenka (14)
quarterfinals--Aryna Sabalenka (7)
semifinals--Elina Svitolina (5)

Bianca Andreescu (8)
round 1--bye
round 2--Tereza Martincova
round 3--Amanda Anisimova (28)
round of 16--Garbine Muguruza (12)
quarterfinals--Sara Sorribes Tormo
semifinals--Maria Sakkari (23)

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