Serena Williams set to defend Sony Open title

03/05/2014 12:01 AM

03/05/2014 12:35 AM

Serena Williams captured the paparazzi’s attention with a daring gown at the Vanity Fair Oscars party in Los Angeles on Sunday night. In two weeks, she’ll be back to making headlines on the court as she returns to the Sony Open in Key Biscayne in hopes of defending her title.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion plays her first match during the day session on March 20. Her opponent will be announced after the draw on March 16. Williams has won the tournament six times, and always draws big crowds. She says it is one of her favorite places to play because it is so close to her Palm Beach Gardens home and a lot of her friends and family show up.

The Sony Open, which features most of the top 96 men and women in the world, runs from March 17-30 at the Crandon Park Tennis Center.

On Friday March 21, world No. 2 Novak Djokovic plays his first match, and No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who missed the Sony last year with injuries, is scheduled to be back and opening play Saturday March 22. Roger Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam champion, returns, as does defending champion Andy Murray and Australian Open winner Stanislas Wawrinka.

Other top women in the field include four-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, Australian Open winner Li Na, and two-time Sony winner Victoria Azarenka.

With back-to-back events in Indian Wells, Calif., and Miami, Djokovic and Murray — and other players entering both —- will be tested.

“Back-to-back [ATP World Tour] Masters 1000 events are definitely not easy on the bodies, but with a four- or five-day rest in between it helps us to recover and get ready,” Djokovic said at a news conference in New York City for World Tennis Day. “The best-of-three-sets [format] always helps. Of course it is very physical now, so you have to be ready to perform at the top of your physical condition.”

Djokovic has been in a bit of a funk, having failed to reach a final before March for the first time since 2006.

Williams, 32, won her sixth Key Biscayne title last year, passing Steffi Graf for most by any woman and tying Graf’s husband, Andre Agassi, for most by any player. She won the French Open and U.S. Open last year, and became the oldest No. 1-ranked player in history.

She has spent 178 weeks atop the rankings, which ties Monica Seles for fifth-best of all-time. Only Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Martina Hingis were on top longer. Williams took over No. 1 on Feb. 18, 2013.

In recent months, Williams lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January and on Feb. 21 lost 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals at Dubai to Alize Cornet of France.

In 2013, Murray defeated David Ferrer for his second Sony Open title, and Williams knocked off Sharapova to capture her sixth title in Miami. Sony Open tickets can be purchased online at www.SonyOpenTennis.com or by phone at 305-442-3367.

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