Sony Ericsson Open 2012: Men’s and Women’s draw preview and analysis
March 19, 2012 · Print This Article
Changing gears from the calm serenity in Indian Wells to the wild waves of South Beach has never been an easy transition for the guys and gals of the ATP and WTA.
The dry heat of the Palm Springs desert makes court conditions much slower than the humidity and quickness of the asphalt in Miami. Novak Djokovic didn’t seem to mind either venue last year en-route to capturing both titles; the Serb took momentum from the Aussie Open and road that to one of the greatest years in tennis history. Even though Djokovic hasn’t started 2012 with the same vigor he did last year, he still must be considered the unanimous favorite unless he falters early. Djokovic will of course be accompanied in Key Biscayne by Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray; the list of realistic contenders wants to get longer, but it’s tough to anticipate the winner not coming from a big four member.
The women’s field will welcome back Serena Williams to the draw, and perhaps more importantly her sister Venus, who’s been out of action since the US Open with an auto-immune disorder.
Still recognized as the faces of the WTA to the causal and even avid fan, the Williams sisters will have to cast aside a match-ready field, which includes world No. 1 and recent BNP Paribas Open winner, Vika Azarenka, finalist Maria Sharapova, and reigning Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova.
The results in Indian Wells were telling to say the least, and if there’s one thing we learned more than anything else it was never to overlook the top seeded players. We’ll certainly keep an eye on John Isner, Ana Ivanovic, Juan Martin del Potro and Julia Goerges as they navigate themselves through their respective draws, but I’m still hesitant to think that the winner of each event will come out of the woodwork.
With that in mind, let’s now take a look at the lively, and always entertaining draws for the men and women in South Beach.
Dropping his second match of the year to Isner in Indian Wells, Djokovic will have an even tougher go at it during the early stages in Miami. To start, the Serb could potentially face Marcos Baghdatis, with a third-round tussle looming with countryman Troicki. Gasquet and Feliciano Lopez could lurk in the fourth-round, and either Ferrer, del Potro or Tomic could be on deck in the quarterfinals.
The Djoker did look disturbed during his Palm Springs defeat; who could blame him with Isner’s 144 MPH serves being shoved down his throat?
I believe that this tournament will be key for the remainder Djokovic’s season. He’s already given up nearly 1000 points by not defending Dubai and Indian Wells, and with the clay season coming up shortly, his confidence could become fragile with another upset loss.
A man looking to creep back to the No. 2 spot in the world is Federer. With a chance at surpassing Nadal if he wins the event, Federer will look to nab his fourth straight title.
Ryan Harrison could be up first for Federer, and then maybe Roddick, however, one doesn’t get a sense that Monaco, Monfils, Almagro or Mardy Fish have the goods to derail the Swiss Express.
There is the factor of fatigue that could trouble Federer as he enters the tournament, but after his Dubai-to-New York-to-Indian Wells success, can we really call this 30-year-old tired?
The first few rounds will be revealing as always, but I’ll stay with Djokovic and Federer to set up a highly anticipated semifinal.
Picks: Djokovic, Federer
Losing meekly to Federer in Palm Springs couldn’t have left a good taste in Nadal’s mouth. He was well rested and healthy (Federer wasn’t), and he still came away with a convincing defeat.
Never winning the title in Key Biscayne, Nadal has three runner up finishes to reflect on. The courts are faster and his return game is less effective, and the Spaniard has never prospered in the second leg of back-to-back hard-court Masters.
Falling in a cushy quarter opposite the likes of Andujar and Granollers, Nadal likely won’t be challenged until a date with either Tsonga or Isner.
Tsonga did fall early in Indian Wells, while Isner will be playing his first match as a top tenner.
I like Tsonga’s game on a faster hard-court, but I do have some concerns regarding his new hairstyle? Is he looking for attention, or ways to improve his game?
Elsewhere, No. 4 seed Murray will barrel in fresh off of a second-round California loss. Winning the Miami title in the past, Murray definitely has the goods to shine here, but his recent form may have affected his confidence. A potential blockbuster with Raonic in the third-round would be interesting, and when you look at the way the young Canadian conducted himself against Federer last week, an upset is possible.
Berdych, Dolgopolov, Tipsarevic and Simon are also present, but none are in the kind of form that would make them a viable contender.
With that being said, Berdych has played well here before, and could make the final four based on talent alone. However, I like what I’ve seen from Raonic all year long, and a semifinal showdown with Nadal could be a barn-burner.
Side note: Former top five player Fernando Gonzalez will be playing his final event before retiring.
Picks: Nadal, Ranoic
Champion: Nadal d. Federer
Any takers on stopping a 23-0 streak? Not that she needed anymore comfort at an event this year, but top seed Azarenka is also your defending champ.
Looking hungry as ever and backing it up with the fierce footwork, Azarenka likely won’t be tested until a fourth-round match against Kerber or Cibulkova, and then potentially a quarterfinal contest against Kirilenko or Bartoli.
Other women that could make some noise in this half include Kvitova, Ivanovic, and Zvonareva, but when looking for a real threat to reach the semifinals, I’d have to go with Radwanska.
Possessing one of the most underrated games in the world, the cunning Polish player has the heart and shot-selection to push for a final four position.
Watch out for a potential Venus Williams vs. Kvitova second-rounder early on, but look for Azarenka and Radwanska to highlight the second weekend.
Picks: Azarenka, Radwanska
Stacked to the brim with a slew of former grand slam winners, the bottom half could be much harder to predict. We have Serena back in the fold, and we can’t forget about Sharapova, Clijsters, Wozniacki, Li Na, Kuznetsova, Jankovic, Stosur, and Sabine Lisicki.
From that aforementioned list, only Wozniacki and Lisicki are without a major. Could they be the hungriest of the bunch?
I still believe that Lisicki is bound for a breakout sooner rather than later, and Wozniacki is too good of a player (irrespective of that fact that she doesn’t hold a slam) to be thrown out of the contenders pile.
Sharapova did look good last week until she went toe-to-toe against Azarenka, and as I’ve mentioned before with her: we never really know when her serve is going to go off.
Even more to worry about for Sharapova here: she could be outclassed by either Serena or Clijsters.
Regardless of their current rankings, both Serena and Clijsters know how to win major events. They’ve proven that in the past, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it once again in Miami.
Picks: Sharapova, Serena
Champion: Azarenka d. Serena