Day 1 at the Miami Open presents a great opportunity to see players up close on the tournament’s outer courts. This year’s qualifying draw is a good mix of veterans, tour regulars, and newcomers.
The first match on Court 3 was an all Belgian affair between the top seeded qualifier Elise Mertens and Alison Van Uytvanck. I have been keen on tracking Mertens’ progress since her surprise title run in Hobart. However, the Belgian has struggled with some disappointing losses in her last two tournaments (l. to Kerkhove in Kuala Lumpur, l. to Vickery in Indian Wells). On the other side of the net, Van Uytvanck is a player on the road to recovery after having struggled with injury.
I arrived to the match as Mertens was taking a medical timeout for what seemed like a back issue. Already down a set, the higher-ranked Belgium seemed to be struggling to find the form that saw her take out Niculescu, Bertens, and Mladenovic in Tasmania. Mertens seems to be a player who relies on taking the ball early in order to put pressure on her opponent. Unfortunately, her timing seemed to be put off by Van Uytvanck’s variety. Hitting with more pace and variety, Van Uytvanck managed to hit through her opponent to claim a closely contested second set and the match.
On Court 1, Donna Vekic took on American up-and-comer Kayla Day (with Stan Wawrinka in attendance). There has been a lot of buzz around Day after her third round run at Indian Wells. However, the teenager seemed unable to re-capture the tennis that saw her beat Australian Open semifinalist Lucic-Baroni and take a set of Garbiñe Muguruza. While she won the first set, that was largely due to the erratic play of Vekic rather than her good form. Day seemed to be struggling with the pace of the Croatian, and I am curious as to how quickly her game will adjust to the intensity of the tour.
Donna Vekic played the match in her typical fashion. She sometimes found brilliant angles of the court, but more frequently found the net. Even though I have an irrational love for Donna, I am not so confident that she will be able to break out of the 80-100 range unless she makes major changes in her game. Due to her limited movement, she seems to crowd a lot of her groundstrokes. However, the Croatian is piecing together a semi-consistent season, which has seen her advance to the second round in her last three tournaments. I’m hoping she can use Miami as a springboard into a strong couple of tournaments (Monterrey and Biel) before transitioning into the clay court season, as that surface seems to really expose her games weaknesses.
With Vekic beginning to find her rhythm at the start of the second set, I left Court 1 in order to watch the match between junior standout Anastasia Potapova and Maria Sakkari. I was excited to see the young Russian after she recently won her first ITF 25k title on the clay of Curitiba, Brazil (against fellow 15 y/o Anisimova). This was the best match of the day, as both girls played with a great amount of intensity and purpose. After arriving, the fifteen-year-old reeled off three straight games in order to take the first set 6-4. I am seriously impressed by the power which Potapova is able to generate off the ground, especially on the backhand, and her ability to construct points. After having won the first set, adrenaline seemed the get the better of the Russian: the teenager became increasingly frustrated, making many more unforced errors and playing extremely quickly. Sakkari wrapped up the second set in no time, taking it 6-0.
Expecting the third set to follow the same pattern of the second, I was extremely impressed to see the teenager pick herself up and re-focus on the task at hand. Potapova raced out to a 4-0 lead before losing a long back and forth game. Sakkari played a spectacular point down a match point at 5-2 and went off to win the next 4 games. I thought this would be the end for an emotional Potapova, however the teenager upped her level to impressively take the match in a final set tiebreak. One thing that continually struck me during the match was Sakkari’s inability to deal with Potapova’s lobbing. After seeing a top 90 player struggling with the lob, I’m sort of curious as to why that strategy isn’t employed by more players as a way to mix up the pace.
I am extremely impressed with Potapova’s game, and think that if she stays healthy and continuous to improve she can one day see herself at the top of the women’s game. Right now the glaring holes in her game seem to be her serve and the way she spends her energy. By the latter, I mean her frequent vocal outburst, pacing the court in between points, and getting up from her chair long before the umpire has called time during the changeovers. I think that these changes will come as the Russian begins to spend more time on the ITF and WTA tours. Her ability to manage defense and offense (coupled with the mental outbursts) remind me very much of a young Victoria Azarenka. I am looking forward to seeing if Potapova can recover from the emotional high of her first quasi-main tour win and remain consistent against Cepelova tomorrow.
Seen on the Practice Courts:
Carla Suárez Navarro and Elina Svitolina
Alison Riske and Monica Puig
Amanda Anisimova and Nicole Gibbs
Samantha Stosur and Ashleigh Barty
Garbiñe Muguruza and Dominika Cibulkova
Sara Errani and Ajla Tomljanovic (Nick Kyrgios on the sidelines)
Katerina Siniakova and Casey Dellacqua
Belinda Bencic vs. Sara Errani
Kristina Kucova vs. Naomi Osaka
Lara Arruabarrena vs. Natalia Vikhlyantseva
Donna Vekic vs. Ana Bogdan
Anastasia Potapova vs. Jana Cepelova