(1) Ash Barty vs. (8) Bianca Andreescu: Bring it on! I think this is my favourite final match-up of the year so far because they’ve never played before and just don’t know how their games are going to stack up against each other. Since saving match points in her first match, Barty has been in excellent form. Where she’s dropped the middle set, she’s rebounded in style. Serve on. Forehand on. Backhand slice on. Andreescu’s had that kind of run, Toronto-esque, where each match you expect her to hit a wall physically but she keeps holding her own in these tough three setters.
I’m surprised Barty is the clear favourite with the bookmakers. I would have thought it would be closer to 50-50. I guess my natural inclination is Barty to win with the serve. As I said in the SF preview, write off Andreescu at your own peril. She’s such an incredible match player.
(1) Ash Barty vs. (5) Elina Svitolina: The first semi-final will be contested between the two players I have consistently underestimated at this tournament 😂. It’s an interesting head-to-head as Svitolina won their first five encounters. Barty won their most recent match in the final of the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, 6-4 6-3. I’d take Barty. I think she has the patience now to outlast Svitolina in the rallies and her serve has been pretty tremendous all week and all year really.
(8) Bianca Andreescu vs. (23) Maria Sakkari: Ring the bells for a first time meeting. Honestly not a clue this one. It’s become one of those tournaments where Andreescu keeps digging out these gritty three set wins. It feels like a match that Sakkari should win because she’s probably in a better place physically but Andreescu will probably find a second, third, fourth wind. Write off Andreescu at your own peril I guess.
Day 8 QF Preview
(1) Ash Barty vs. (7) Aryna Sabalenka: The two highest seeds have reached the quarter-finals from the top quarter but both players were on the brink, saving match points in their opening matches in Miami. From a selfish point-of-view, this match-up will always strike memory bells for me. Barty-Sabalenka on Laver at night was one of my favourite matches from my trip to Australia.
It’s a really interesting match-up with Sabalenka leading the head-to-head, 3-2. Their only three setter was that Oz Open clash. I remember from that match that Barty turned it around in the third set with the slice. It’s going to be a battle of whether Sabalenka can hit through Barty and not allow her to spin her tactical web. I’m going against Barty for the second time a row which is unheard of for me! Just rather sold on Sabalenka in Miami.
Manic Monday Miami Style R4 Previews
(1) Ash Barty vs. (14) Victoria Azarenka: I had my eye on this match-up when I saw the draw so am thrilled that it’s become an eventuality! The pair have played just twice; Azarenka won in Tokyo in 2018, 6-4 6-2, and Barty won in Fed Cup action in 2019, 7-6(2) 6-3. I don’t remember watching either match so I am fascinated to see how their games match up. Barty has the much better serve, yet Azarenka is one of the best returners. I tend to think Azarenka might have the patience to handle Barty’s slice, at least better than most.
Not sold on Barty’s level just yet. Noteworthy that she saved a match point in her opening match against Kucova and then did what she had to do but ultimately not tested against Ostapenko. I thought Azarenka was starting to find her rhythm in Doha before the back injury struck and she played a fine match against Kerber in her first outing in MIami. I fancy Azarenka to win this one.
(7) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (19) Marketa Vondrousova: Interested to learn that Sabalenka and Vondrousova have played each other three times before. I do recall their Indian Wells clash in 2018 now that I think of it and it was new and exciting as both starting to break through on tour. Their most recent match was one of Sabalenka’s rally-from-a-first-set-bagel-to-win triumphs in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Do not remember that match in the slightest! Sabalenka’s been in the wars this week. She saved two match points and came from 0-6 1-3 down to beat Pironkova in the most exciting match of the week so far. Sabalenka saved a set point and prevailed in the key moments to beat Kudermetova in two tight sets. Not vintage Sabalenka but I think she’s at her most dangerous when she gets through these tight matches.
Only saw patches of Vondrousova’s match in Bencic but it was the most convincing i’ve seen her play in a while. She was superb at the end of the match, going after the ball and using her delightful drop shot. The head-to-head is interesting because Vondrousova has generally played Sabalenka well. I’ve generally thought Vondrousova has been trending towards becoming overly passive but I didn’t get that sense in the Bencic match. I also think this is a good court surface/conditions for her? I’m slightly torn. I will stick with my initial instinct that Sabalenka is super dangerous with how she’s won her first two matches and is going to start to round into form. Note I went for Aryna as champ in my Draw Challenge!
(5) Elina Svitolina vs. (9) Petra Kvitova: This will be a tenth meeting between Svitolina and Kvitova. Kvitova leads the head-to-head, 7-2, but Svitolina did beat Kvitova in their most recent meeting in Singapore, 6-3 6-3, and on a slow hard court. Kvitova has been sensational in her first two matches. Both matches were at night which was favourable for Petra because she’s not a fan of the heat and humidity. As well as Petra played against Konta and it was probably the performance of the tournament, i’m still not entirely convinced that she’ll instantly replicate that form against Svitolina. I think the scheduling of this match could have an impact. If it becomes a battle then tend to think Svitolina will have the edge. Petra in 2 or Elina in 3.
Day 6 R3 Previews
(8) Bianca Andreescu vs. (28) Amanda Anisimova: My favourite match-up for Sunday, mainly because I have no inclination as to how it’s going to play out. I was impressed with both Andreescu and Anisimova in their opening matches in Miami. Same kind of applies to some of the day 5 previews in that there isn’t much data to go on. This is only Andreescu’s third tournament of 2021 after that long lay-off so still very early days. It’s also Anisimova’s third tournament of 2021 and only fifth match of 2021. Anisimova has the more obvious bludgeoning power and is playing ultra aggressive these days. Andreescu has the more subtle facets to her game, still with the power but the variety too. In this particular clash, I think there’s more that could go wrong for Anisimova, particularly if Plan A isn’t working. But if Plan A is working, then beware. I’m torn.
(6) Karolina Pliskova vs. (29) Jessica Pegula: Hysterical that Pliskova and Pegula will play each other for the third straight tournament. Pegula won 6-3 6-1 in Doha and 6-0 6-2 in Dubai. They weren’t even kind of close and complete Pegula beatdowns. I’m intrigued to see what Pliskova does differently for this match and whether she can bring her serve into play. I guess if Pliskova can start well then it could change things. I can’t ignore those two previous matches where Pegula had a read on Pliskova’s serve and thoroughly outplayed her in the rallies. Pegula for the hat-trick.
(16) Elise Mertens vs. (22) Anett Kontaveit: After the tour resumption, Mertens and Kontaveit were the two most consistent and reliable performers. I normally lump them into the same category in that they both have become pretty good at beating players you would expect them to beat, especially Mertens who has taken that to the next level, but up against top ten opposition, the best players, they struggle to make an impact and score the big giant-slaying wins.
I like both players, especially Kontaveit, and it’s a shame they have to meet in the third round. Mertens leads Kontaveit, 2-1 in their head-to-head and has won their last two matches on hard courts for the loss of eight games combined. The safe choice is definitely Mertens who I thought a showed a new edge to her in Dubai. Even in that Muguruza loss in the semi-final, she was very positive and very nearly forced a third set.
Day 5 R3 Previews
(14) Victoria Azarenka vs. (24) Angelique Kerber: Yes please. 2021 is continuing to deliver on the match-ups! Azarenka-Kerber is one of my favourite match-ups on the tour and it has featured three times in my Best Matches countdown. Azarenka and Kerber’s games just seem to gel together to make pretty awesome tennis. My expectations are lower than normal because of recent circumstances. Kerber did score a double bagel win (!) over Zarazua in the second round but I don’t think this masks what has been a challenging start to the season with a 4-4 W-L record. Azarenka has pulled out of her last two tournaments with a back injury and has yet to play in Miami following a walkover in the second round.
Azarenka leads Kerber, 8-1 in their head-to-head. Three of those losses for Kerber have come in three sets including their most recent meeting in Monterrey. Kerber’s lone win over Azarenka at the Oz Open was a huge win, arguably the defining match of her title run because of her previous woes playing Azarenka. There are few data points to go on in Miami for either player and uncertainty around both players so not much more to add. I’d go for Azarenka simply based on the match-up and court speed/conditions.
(9) Petra Kvitova vs. (17) Jo Konta: This will be a sixth meeting between Kvitova and Konta. Their H2H is rather curious as Konta has won two of their three meetings on grass and Kvitova has won their two meetings on hard court. Arguably you could expect it to be the other way around although Konta is a brilliant grass court player. Both Kvitova and Konta won their first matches in Miami in straight sets. Kvitova dropped just three points (!) in a first set bagel of Cornet. Very few data points on Konta in 2021 so not really sure what to expect with this match. In a sense, it’s similar to Azarenka-Kerber. I don’t think the Miami conditions with the heat and humidity suit Kvitova so i’m always wary for her at this tournament. Kvitova the favourite on form but I wouldn’t be surprised if Konta won, especially if the match is scheduled in the heat of the day and it became a physical contest.
(1) Ash Barty vs. Jelena Ostapenko: Surprised to learn that Barty and Ostapenko have played each other three times before. I don’t remember any of their previous match-ups! Without remembering those matches (Barty dropped just nine games in their last two meetings), I would have guessed that this was a good match-up for Barty because Ostapenko loves rhythm and Barty can break that up very effectively with her backhand slice. Barty also has a far superior serve. I’m undecided on Ostapenko right now. She has been pushed to three sets in her two matches in Miami which I actually think is quite positive in that she’s battling to these wins. Barty herself had a wild opener, saving a match point against Kucova. Going with the match-up, Barty for the win.
(5) Elina Svitolina vs. Shelby Rogers: The head-to-head record may be deceiving. Svitolina has won all three previous matches against Rogers. However, two of them went the distance and they haven’t played each other since 2017. Rogers played well in her opening round win over Brengle and has developed a very solid base level. I’m definitely aboard the Shelbs bandwagon. I don’t think I have a great track record with predicting Svitolina upsets… still, i’m convinced by Rogers’s game and she has all the common traits that trouble Svitolina. Just about executing the gameplan. Rogers is perhaps my slightly wild pick to the quarters of Miami.
(15) Iga Swiatek vs. Barbora Krejcikova: This is a niceee sounding match-up. I enjoy watching these two strike tennis balls. Krejcikova is playing the best singles tennis of her career and built on a finals run in Dubai with a hard fought opening round win over Blinkova, reseting to win in three sets. I didn’t really know what to expect from Swiatek this year. I think she’s surpassed my expectations with how she has handled this new attention and target on her back. Tend to think Swiatek will have time to settle into this match and overcome an in-form, Krejcikova.
(21) Elena Rybakina vs. Kaia Kanepi: Helmets at the ready… i’d bought back into Rybakina when I watched her play in Abu Dhabi and she looked so sharp. The sound of the ball off her racquet was rather delightful. However, her form since the Oz quarantine has kind of unravelled and her game been error-strewn to say the least. Kanepi, on the other hand, has been on an absolute tear and won her 10th match of the year in the first round of Miami against Lauren Davis. Always will be a 50-50 kind of match-up because of how their games stack up with it simply coming down who plays better on the day. In this case, I am more inclined to go for the confidence player, Kanepi.
Danielle Collins vs. Kristina Mladenovic: My favourite first round match purely because it feels like one that could bring the drama. Collins hasn’t played since Australia where she was having some back issues. From her social media, it looks like she stuck around in Oz for a while which sounded like a smart move! Mladenovic’s form has been marginally better of late as she has won back-to-back matches at two of her last five singles tournaments. Doesn’t sound like much but it was something she hadn’t achieved in nine tournaments before the Australian Open. I’m still thoroughly unconvinced by Mladenovic, particularly her mentality with a lead or in challenging situations. Despite having not played for a month, I’d favour Collins.
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Alizé Cornet: The pair have split their six previous meetings and not played each other since Wuhan in 2017. Kuznetsova had a couple of decent wins in Dubai and reached the semis of St. Petersburg. Cornet hasn’t won back-to back matches since the US Open. One of those matches where I’m going against my instinct. Kuznetsova seems to be in the better form so naturally i’m going for Cornet 😂.
Venus Williams vs. Zarina Diyas: Nice to see Venus back. After that piercing scream and visible pain when she rolled her ankle against Errani at the Australian Open, I didn’t think we’d see her on a tennis court for a while. Diyas is a really solid competitor. I’d just question whether Diyas believes she can win this match because Venus has such an aura on court and won’t give anything away for free.