Where do I start? This week’s draw is the most exciting women’s draw for quite some time and I will try to summarise it without rambling 😉
QUARTER 1 – Victoria Azarenka (1) v Marion Bartoli (7)
Victoria Azarenka continued her fairytale start to 2012 with another dominating victory over Maria Sharapova in the final of Indian Wells, 6-2 6-3. Azarenka had a particularly tricky draw in Indian Wells but on early thoughts, I would say the draw has been much kinder in Miami. Azarenka will take on Michaella Krajicek or a qualifier in the second round. The first seed she is projected to play is Lucie Safarova before a potential rematch of her Indian Wells semi-final with Angelique Kerber in the fourth round. Kerber demonstrated her superb defensive skills in Indian Wells as she came back from the brink in two matches where she saved match points. She will have a difficult second round match against the winner of Zheng Jie and Lucie Hradecka, but based on her current form, you cannot bet against her reaching the last 16 in Miami.
Azarenka is projected to meet Marion Bartoli in the quarter-finals. The highlight of this section, without doubt is the return of Alisa Kleybanova, who makes her competitive return to tennis following a long fight with Hodgkins Lymphoma. I’m surprised, but equally delighted at how quickly she has managed to get back in shape and she has a very winnable first match against the Swedish youngster, Johanna Larsson. It is hard to predict how Kleybanova will get on, but if she can win (which I think she will!!!) then she will play Maria Kirilenko in the second round. Nadia Petrova and Francesca Schiavone are the other two seeds in this section and both are vulnerable in my eyes, to early upsets.
QF Prediction – I think that this quarter will go with seeding (boring, I know!) and that Victoria Azarenka and Marion Bartoli will square off in the quarter-finals.
Dark Horse – I think Maria Kirilenko will back up her quarter-final run at Indian Wells with a 4th round showing in Miami. I also fancy Ksenia Pervak to continue her steady progression with a victory over Francesca Schiavone in the second round. Pervak was going toe-to-toe with Schiavone in the first round of Brisbane earlier this year when she had to retire due to a migraine… this time, I think she can finish the match with a win.
1st round matches to watch out for – I have already discussed Kleybanova v Larsson as my top pick, but I also like the look of Simona Halep against Carla Suarez Navarro; their last two matches have gone to three sets and I would bet this would be another tight one with Halep just edging it.
QUARTER 2 – Petra Kvitova (3) v Agnieszka Radwanska (5)
Petra Kvitova struggled to find her form in Indian Wells as she laboured to a third round loss against Christina McHale. She will have to hit the ground running as she could face Venus Williams in the second round. I am still a little uncertain as to whether Venus will take to the court, but if she does, she will face off against Kimiko Date Krumm in the first round. Last year, the two veterans fought out one of the highest quality matches of the year at Wimbledon under the roof of Centre Court. I think Williams will get the win in much easier fashion as this one will take place on the slower hard courts of Miami; however I would back Kvitova to take out Venus in the second round.
I am still not convinced by Kvitova, who has been recovering from a virus and will have to combat the humidity in Miami. Daniela Hantuchova and Ana Ivanovic, who are projected to meet in the 3rd round, will have a great chance to go far this week. I tipped Hantuchova to reach the semi-finals in Indian Wells, but she fell at the first hurdle to Klara Zakopalova as she fell victim to the terrible bug that hit many players in Indian Wells. I’m going for Hantuchova to prevail once again as I don’t think Ivanovic can maintain her impressive Indian Wells form because of the worrying injury that forced her out of action against Maria Sharapova in the semi-finals.
The bottom section of this quarter is much weaker and looks like a stroll in the park for Agnieszka Radwanska. She has yet to lose a match to anyone other than Azarenka this year and has the likes of Kaia Kanepi, Vera Zvonareva and Flavia Pennetta to contend with. Pennetta and Zvonareva are set for a third round clash and both have lost their last three matches to the Pole so everything points towards her consistent start to 2012 continuing…
QF Prediction – The top section is a tricky one, but I do not fancy Kvitova to do well in Miami… therefore i’m going for a quarter-final between Daniela Hantuchova and Agnieszka Radwanska.
Dark Horse – My dark horse is a long shot, but i’m going to say Aleksandra Wozniak. Wozniak has been steadily improving throughout 2012 and won the ITF title in Bahamas last week. She has struggled to get across the finish line on the big matches, but I think this title will give her the confidence to beat Petra Kvitova in the third round… a bit out there, I know but I like to take some risks 😉
First round matches to watch out for – Venus against Date Krumm is the stand-out match from this section.
QUARTER 3 – Sam Stosur (4) v Caroline Wozniacki (6)
The third quarter, like the Australian Open is completely packed with big names and some potentially juicy encounters. Sam Stosur‘s first couple of matches look to be relatively straightforward on paper; however things are likely to get much tougher in the 4th round where she could face Serena Williams in what would be their first encounter since the dramatic US Open Final. Serena is making her first appearance since competing in the Fed Cup in February and has been steadily recovering from the ankle injury she picked up in Brisbane. I do not fancy Serena to have a successful week and I am backing Stosur to rejuvunate her season after a disappointing third round exit at Indian Wells.
The bottom half of this quarter is even tougher; things are not going well for Caroline Wozniacki at the moment and the draw has compounded her misery even further. Her first projected seed is Christina McHale in the third round, who beat the former world number one in Cincinnati last year (although she did manage to exact revenge a week later in New Haven). In the fourth round, she could play Kim Clijsters or Julia Goerges, both who have had success over the Dane in recent match-ups. Kim Clijsters will make her return to the tour after taking some time off with the ankle injury she picked up at the Australian Open. Clijsters opens up against Jarmila Gajdosova in the first round before a potential second round clash with Julia Goerges. Goerges has had some favourable draws this year, but will be the outsider if Clijsters prevails in the first round…
QF Prediction – This is by far the most difficult section to predict… i’m going for Sam Stosur against Kim Clijsters in the quarter-finals.
Dark Horse – Christina McHale made a name for herself with another big win in Indian Wells, this time against Petra Kvitova. I’m predicting McHale will take out Wozniacki in the third round and hold her ground in a challenging section of the draw.
First round matches to watch out for – There are quite a few interesting matches in this section – I would watch out for Christina McHale v Galina Voskoboeva, Chanelle Scheepers v Irina-Camelia Begu and the highlight, Kim Clijsters v Jarmila Gajdosova.
QUARTER 4 – Li Na (8) v Maria Sharapova (2)
Maria Sharapova played a solid tournament to reach the final in Indian Wells, but I still feel she has not reached her top form in 2012. She is in the final quarter of the draw, which features a host of out-of-form players. Sharapova is projected to meet Sara Errani in the third round, before a potential clash with Jelena Jankovic and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who were both early losers in Indian Wells. However, I think neither will make the fourth round and instead, it will be the rising talent, Mona Barthel who will take out both Jankovic and Pavlyuchenkova.
In the top section, Li Na will play Alberta Brianti or a qualifier in the second round. Li could meet Svetlana Kuznetsova in an interesting third round match. Neither of these two have been in top form recently so although this sounds like an exciting match-up on paper, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an error-strewn encounter if both reach this stage. The other projected third round clash in this section is between Sabine Lisicki and Peng Shuai, who both fell in the second round at Indian Wells. This is a great opportunity for one of them to rediscover some form and I believe it will be Lisicki who seizes it. I think she will play Sofia Arvidsson in the second round; if she can get past that difficult challenge, i’m confident she can reach at least the last 16.
QF Prediction – I always seem to predict against Li Na, but this time i’m staying loyal to the seeding and predicting that she will meet Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals.
Dark Horse – If you have read my previous blog entries, you will note I am a big supporter of Mona Barthel… so no surprises, i’m backing her to reach the 4th round in Miami!
First round matches to watch out for – I would look out for Elena Vesnina against Iveta Benesova, and Ekaterina Makarova against Jelena Dokic. Benesova has been in excellent form in 2012, but did choke in her first round match against Sorana Cirstea in Indian Wells. This match should be a tight baseline tussle, but I would back Benesova to come through against Vesnina…
FINAL PREDICTIONS – Victoria Azarenka d. Kim Clijsters
I originally felt that Azarenka’s unbeaten record would end in Miami… however after watching her annihilate the field in Indian Wells and looking at her favourable draw in Miami, i’m sticking safe with Azarenka to prove herself even further in front of a world class WTA field. I have no idea why i’m going for Clijsters as the finalist… it’s a complete gut feeling because on paper, she has a mountain to climb as she makes her return from injury in the most difficult section of the draw by far! But Clijsters it is 😉
This two weeks could be a great one for the WTA… the draw has potential to really set the season alight and I hope that it doesn’t fail to deliver like so many “potential” draws have done so in the past, most notably in Montreal last year. My full predictions for Miami will follow soon and I will update the blog when they are up 🙂