The Miami Open got underway beneath glorious blue skies on Monday with the qualifying rounds, and the women’s main draw begins Tuesday at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne.
Even though the tournament will be without headliners Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – all of whom withdrew with injuries – the marquee names still include resurgent Roger Federer, fresh off a title at Indian Wells, Calif.; Spaniard Rafael Nadal; top-ranked Angelique Kerber; and Indian Wells runner-up Stan Wawrinka, who enters as a top seed in a master’s-level tournament for the first time in his 16-year career.
Wawrinka’s best finish in Miami was fourth round in 2009 and 2014. If he gets through the first three rounds, he would likely face either American John Isner or rising Russian Alexander Zverev in the fourth round. Looming in the semifinals might be his Swiss friend and nemesis, Federer.
Federer enters as the No. 4 seed, and could see Argentine star Juan Martin del Potro in the third round. Federer has a 15-5 record over DelPo, and they haven’t played since 2013.
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Nadal is on the other side of the draw as the No. 5 seed. Hard is it may be to believe, Nadal has never won a title in Key Biscayne. He has made four finals, but the trophy has eluded him. He would face a qualifier or Israeli Dudi Sela in the second round, and could get powerful Canadian Milos Raonic or upstart American Jack Sock in the Final Eight.
On the women’s side, the absence of Williams and defending champion Viktoria Azarenka (maternity leave) opens the door for several other women, including last year’s runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Elena Vesnina, who at 30 just won her first big title at Indian Wells. Vesnina beat Kuznetsova in the final, and knocked off Kerber and Venus Williams along the way.
The top eight seeds for the Miami Open are Kerber, who reclaimed No. 1 from Serena Williams last week, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Dominika Cibulkova, Aggie Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza, Kuznetsova and American Madison Keys, who has played just three matches in 2017 following a wrist injury.
ESPN commentator Chris Evert said “it’s disappointing” that no woman has challenged Williams to take hold of the No. 1 ranking for any extended time in recent years.
“Azarenka stepped up last year; she really did,” Evert said. “She won Indian Wells, she won Miami. She really started to show signs that she may be able to compete with Serena, and then she -- fortunately for her has a baby, got pregnant and has a baby, so it's all good, but she got out of the game.
“I feel that when you look at Simona Halep or you look at Radwanska, even if you look at Kerber to a certain extent, those players don't have the power to blow people off the court. So, I think it's going to be tough -- I think it's going to be tough for Kerber even to keep the No. 1 ranking with how power is taking over the sport.”
Kerber is almost guaranteed a tough quarterfinal opponent as she would face No.11 seed Venus Williams, No.22 seed Kristina Mladenovic, or Kuznetsova.
In qualifying matches Monday, 19-year-old Stefan Kozlov of Pembroke Pines beat Nicola Kuhn 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 and next faces fellow American Jared Donaldson, 20, of Glocester, R.I. Donaldson won his opening match 6-2, 6-2 over Yibing Wu. Tour veterans Mikhail Youzhny and Benjamin Becker were among those who advanced. In an All-American women’s qualifying match, Madison Brengle beat Sachia Vickery 6-1, 6-2.