March 24, 2014

So Far, So Good...

Things have gone a little smoother for the seeds this week in Miami than they did at Indian Wells, with just a couple of the top ten on the women's side making earlier-than-expected exits at the Sony Open. But there's a lot of play left before the trophies are awarded, and at a tournament like this, certainly anything can still happen. And the way things have gone recently, nothing should take us by surprise.

Serena Williams wasn't in the draw in the desert, so the six-time former champion doesn't have to rebound, per sé. Still she's survived a couple tough matches, even dropping a set to rising star Caroline Garcia on Saturday before regrouping in the decider. And Maria Sharapova, having failed in her Indian Wells defense, eked out a win over always feisty Kirsten Flipkens earlier today, her second straight three-setter. Perhaps the biggest opportunity in the top half of the women's bracket lies with twelfth seeded Ana Ivanovic -- the one-time French Open champion managed what's nevertheless the biggest win of her career in Melbourne, and while she still has to get past the likes of Petra Kvitova today and then Sharapova -- who she hasn't beaten since 2007 -- she might just be playing the kind of ball to get her there.

The bottom half of the ladies' draw could also see the resurgence of a couple former #1's. Yes, the highest seeds have been progressing with little drama -- Na Li benefited from a walkover in her opener, and after being pushed to a tiebreak against Madison Keys, ultimately closed out that match in just over ninety minutes. And Aga Radwanska, so clearly struggling with injury during the Indian Wells final has so far seemed in good shape -- she delivered a bagel set to Romina Oprandi on Friday and after taking out Elena Vesnina in the third round, she's rewarded with another non-seeded opponent for a spot in the quarter. Even Dominika Cibulkova, a stone's throw from the top ten after a semi run in California, has been uncharacteristically consistent, dominating Yvonne Meusburger and then fighting back against spunky Alize Cornet. But her next opponent Venus Williams, champion here at the turn of the century, has been strong too, and Caroline Wozniacki, who slaughtered Sloane Stephens in last night's late match looks poised for a comeback. If they keep their games in tact, either could be a spoiler in this half.

The men have a little less play in the books so far, but Rafael Nadal, Stanislas Wawrinka and even Tomas Berdych have passed early tests. The problem in the top half of their draw, though, is that Alexandr Dolgopolov, the Cinderella story of Indian Wells, is still alive and kicking, having just scraped out a win over world #89, lucky loser Dusan Lajovic. But in a field that might have been made tentative by recent losses, perhaps the confident Roberto Bautista-Agut will come out on top. Already a winner over Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro this season, he knocked off big-serving Jerzy Janowicz to start this week off. He's got a pretty tough road forward, of course, facing Fabio Fognini later today and likely Rafa down the road, and making a real play for the title might be asking too much. But this seems to be the Spaniard's year, and I wouldn't put a couple more big wins past him.

There are quite a bit fewer holes in the bottom half of the men's draw. Only three seeds failed to win their opening rounds, and Kei Nishikori caused the only on-paper upset in the third taking out fifteenth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets. Meanwhile, all the favorites have done just fine -- Richard Gasquet bounced back from his early Indian Wells loss and David Ferrer, who skipped the trip to the desert, dropped just a handful of games in his two matches to date. Even defending champion Andy Murray, coachless in Miami since splitting with Ivan Lendl, took out Feliciano Lopez yesterday in just his second straight-set win in nine matches. But the player to watch here might just be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who battled back after losing his first set to veteran Marcos Baghdatis yesterday. The eleventh seed has had an up-and-down season so far, reaching the final in Marseille, but also getting ousted in the second rounds of Rotterdam and Indian Wells. He'll square off against Murray next, a man he's only beaten once, way back in 2008, but if he can take advantage of the Scot's spotty play, he could make a move to change that history.

Of course, odds lie with the favorites, and they'll all certainly do their part to make sure they stay at the top of their game. But there are more than a few opportunities for some upsets to sneak through, and any of these guys has the opportunity to really shake things up when things get most interesting.

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