Angelique Kerber plays her first tournament since returning to World No. 1 when she leads the WTA field at the upcoming 2017 Miami Open presented by Itau - read on below for draw, analysis and predictions!
After a thrilling fortnight of tennis in the Californian desert, the WTA’s leading stars descend on the Crandon Park Tennis Centre in Miami as the jam-packed American spring hard-court season continues. Angelique Kerber, under pressure as she once again plays with the No. 1 next to her name, headlines a field which also includes Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza and surprise Indian Wells champion Elena Vesnina.
Only three former champions are present in the draw - Radwanska, Indian Wells runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams, who won her first Miami crown in 1998. Will a fresh face emerge triumphant, or will an older name repeat former glory? Another pulsating week of tennis awaits in Miami!
Angelique Kerber (1) vs Svetlana Kuznetsova (7) - H2H: Kuznetsova leads 4-3
Kerber and Kuznetsova were both conquered by Indian Wells champion Elena Vesnina in the desert - and they will both have to navigate some dangerous rivals if they are to meet for the first time since Miami in 2015. Kerber will open against either Ying-Ying Duan or compatriot Laura Siegemund but could run into Daria Kasatkina in the third round - the rising Russian who has defeated her twice already in 2016.
Kuznetsova could face the improving Kristyna Pliskova - twin sister of World No. 3 Karolina - in her first match, but has a more comfortable third round seeded opponent in veteran Roberta Vinci. However the Round of 16 is looming as a tough barrier to overcome for the Indian Wells runner-up, with either three-time champion Venus Williams or the in-form Kristina Mladenovic, a semi-finalist in the desert, potentially waiting.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Kuznetsova, who was the runner-up in Miami last year, is playing some tremendous tennis, but can she back up her Indian Wells run? Kerber meanwhile has yet to really get going this season and remains vulnerable. Venus looked bothered by elbow problems in California, but was fearsome off the ground. Mladenovic continues to improve, while maybe this is the tournament Kasatkina makes a big breakthrough with consecutive scalps?
As usual, this is an extremely unpredictable quarter…
Predicted semi-finalist: Venus
Simona Halep (3) vs Madison Keys (8) - H2H: Halep leads 5-1
Yet to win back-to-back matches this season, Halep is in big need of a deep run in Miami. The Romanian will have to be switched on from the outset however, as powerful youngster Naomi Osaka will be standing in her way if the Japanese can win her first round match against Kristina Kucova. Ekaterina Makarova is her seeded third round opponent, while the likes of Caroline Garcia, Eugenie Bouchard, Peng Shuai and Samantha Stosur could be Round of 16 rivals.
Simona Halep (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
On the other side of the quarter, Keys plays her second tournament of the season after falling victim to Caroline Wozniacki in the Indian Wells fourth round last week. Keys looked solid in the desert, and Wozniacki was always going to be a tough-match up for her first event of 2017. She’ll begin her campaign against Tsvetana Pironkova or Viktorija Golubic, with Irina-Camelia Begu the first seeded player she can run into. A potential fourth round showdown with Johanna Konta could be an electric affair.
I think this quarter comes down to Keys vs Konta, and after sinking her teeth into the season last week, I’ll back Keys to win through to the semis.
Predicted semi-finalist: Keys
Dominika Cibulkova (4) vs Garbine Muguruza (6) - H2H: Muguruza leads 3-0
Muguruza and Cibulkova squared off in an epic Miami battle last year, with the Spaniard edging the second round contest 7-5 in the third. Cibulkova, returning as the 4th seed after a stellar 2016, hasn’t been able to produce that sort of form so far in 2017, while Muguruza hasn’t really set the world on fire either. Cibulkova has a decent little section, opening against a qualifier or Misaki Doi, with erratic young gun Ana Konjuh a possible Round of 32 opponent.
Muguruza could be tasked with a tough opener against Christina McHale, if the American can get past Annika Beck. Belinda Bencic or Shuai Zhang are names that could be waiting in the third round, while Caroline Wozniacki, Monica Puig and Anastasija Sevastova are all lurking deeper into the draw.
Dominika Cibulkova (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Also present in this section is Indian Wells winner Elena Vesnina, who could play teenage sensation CiCi Bellis in her opener.
I quite like the look of Wozniacki here. She made consecutive finals in the Middle East and was only edged in the Indian Wells quarter-finals by an on-fire Mladenovic. I think the Dane can remain solid and emerge from this quarter.
Predicted semi-finalist: Wozniacki
Karolina Pliskova (2) vs Agnieszka Radwanska (5) - H2H: Radwanska leads 7-0
Radwanska will be very confident if this quarter goes to seeding - she’s toppled Karolina Pliskova in all seven of their previous meetings, winning all 14 sets in the process. But Radwanska is in poor form, failing to win consecutive matches since Sydney, suffering early exits at the Australian Open, Doha, Dubai and Indian Wells. And she could face one of the players she lost to as early as the third round - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, the 26th seed in Miami. The in-form Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elina Svitolina are also shaping as fourth round opposition for Radwanska.
Karolina Pliskova (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Elsewhere, another Australian Open rematch is on the cards, with Jelena Ostapenko needing to overcome a qualifier to set up a second round meeting with Karolina Pliskova. CoCo Vandeweghe, a semi-finalist in Melbourne, is also lurking near Pliskova, who is coming off a semi-final finish at Indian Wells. Out of all the top players, it’s been Pliskova who’s been the most consistent this season, so I’ll back her to continue that form in Miami.
Predicted semi-finalist: Pliskova
The 2017 Miami Open presented by Itau is live from Miami between March 20 and April 2.