March 24, 2010

Miami's Vice

It's turned chilly again in New York, and I can think of nothing better than the sights, sounds and sands of South Beach to distract me from the sudden return of winter. And maybe it's the draw of all that nigthlife and entertainment that's keeping players out of the Sony Ericsson Open this year. For weeks, it seems, we've been hearing of withdrawals from the Premier event.

Two-time finalist Maria Sharapova and former world #1 Dinara Safina were both early drop-outs on the women's side while 2008 champ Nikolay Davydenko and U.S. Open titlist Juan Martin Del Potro pulled out of the men's bracket. And on Friday, five-time winner Serena Williams said her plaguing knee injury would keep her out of the tournament.

And while that might make some people feel the draw is wide open, let's not forget the slew of powerhouses that remain in the draws. Both Andy Murray and Victoria Azarenka will be back defending their trophies, and of course you can't discount the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. With all these guys and gals in -- and out of -- the mix, the stakes are even higher, and the fields -- especially on the women's side -- are rife for surprises.

Three tournaments into her comeback Justine Henin enters Miami with her first global ranking in almost two years. But at thirty-three in the world she falls just out of seeding territory and so will play veteran Jill Craybas in the first round. The fact that she's never won this tournament and that she lost so early in Indian Wells suggests she's going to bring it extra hard this week. But she has a rough draw, potentially facing a second-round rematch against Elena Dementieva -- and the runner-up in Kuala Lumpur will be looking for revenge.

In the same half of the draw, last week's champ Jelena Jankovic looms as a revived threat. She should have a much easier time advancing, though she might have to battle Azarenka for a spot in the quarters. Then again Vika has drawn another early match with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, the woman who surprised her in the California desert, and could face 2005 champ Kim Clijsters one round later. Clearly nothing is certain here.

Then there's the lovely Ana Ivanovic, who held on to the twenty-fifth seed despite now being ranked fifty-eighth in the world. She wasn't rewarded for her luck either as Aggie Radwanska and Flavia Pennetta both live in her section. They're all in the same half of the bracket as two more former champs, Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova -- and if either of them play up to standard, it will be hard for anyone else to get through.

There may be less drama on the men's side, but that doesn't make it any less exciting. Defending Murray will have to avenge his loss last week to Robin Soderling if he's going to make the semis in Florida. And Federer, who admittedly has a much easier quarter, still could face perennial threat Marin Cilic or Indian Wells break-out Marcos Baghdatis before the final four.

In the other half of the draw, last week's finalists in Indian Wells could potentially meet much earlier than the chmapionship game as Andy Roddick and Ivan Ljubicic are both in the same eighth. Rafael Nadal, interestingly, probably has the easiest section for himself as he's already faced -- and beaten -- the "biggest" challenges of Ivo Karlovic and John Isner this year.

With so much on the line, the remaining players need to keep their heads in the game -- there's a huge opportunity for anyone who can advance well into their draws, an even bigger one if they can win!

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