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20 Mar 2018

Miami Open preview and prediction: Seeding controversy as the WTA heads to Miami

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Who’s playing?

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First round matches to watch

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Prediction

(Photo credit: Christophe95)

As the WTA arrives in Miami to complete the Sunshine Double, the Tour finds itself mired in a controversy over seedings. At the centre of it is 23-time Major champion and former world #1 Serena Williams, who is widely and rightly recognised as the greatest player of her era. Usually, Williams would be amongst, if not the, top seeds but after a lengthy maternity leave she arrives at the tournament without a seeding.

Many have criticised this as unfairly penalising Williams for her period of maternity leave, including Miami’s tournament director. Indeed, the argument has been put forward that the WTA is actually discriminating against its players. No special exemption can be made for Williams to be given a seeding due to a WTA rule that enforces ranking-based seedings. It also should be pointed out that were Williams to be given a seed it could be unfair to the higher ranked player who loses out as a result.

It is also questionable as to whether Williams’ current level of play merits a seeding after she was well-beaten in the third round in Indian Wells by her elder sister Venus. It’s not a debate that’s likely to be resolved satisfactorily anytime soon, if indeed it can be. But it does provide an additional element of intrigue to a tournament that already looks fascinating with nearly all of the biggest names in the game ready and waiting to compete for the crown.

Who’s playing?

Top seed and world #1 Simona Halep leads the draw in Miami. She made the semifinals in Indian Wells only to be overwhelmed by eventual champion Naomi Osaka. Miami hasn’t been her happiest hunting ground though she did make the semifinals there in 2015. But she has found some much-needed consistency so far this season and can’t be discounted as a challenger in the Sunshine State.

Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki was a losing finalist in Miami last year, falling in straight sets to Johanna Konta. That was her best ever result in Florida, but now returning as reigning WTA Finals and Australian Open champion, she will surely be confident of going one better. Third seeded Muguruza has struggled for consistency so far, losing early in Melbourne and Indian Wells. But when the Spaniard gets on a roll she is difficult to stop and will likely be well supported by the local crowd.

Elina Svitolina, the fourth seed, won three times at Premier-level last season in a breakout year, but 2018 has not gone as the Ukrainian would have hoped. Despite making her first Slam quarterfinal away from the French Open in Melbourne and winning the title in Brisbane, like Muguruza her form has been patchy. But she’s capable of putting a big run together in Miami. As is fifth seed and former #1 Karolina Pliskova, whose fearsome serve makes her a match for anyone.

Venus Williams, seeded eighth, has seemingly been getting closer and closer to getting her hands on a big trophy of late. Last year she made finals in Melbourne and at Wimbledon, as well as reaching the last four in New York. She was narrowly edged out in a thriller in the semis last week in Indian Wells. But she has good memories of the event Miami, having won their three times early in her career and she also made it to the semifinals last year.

Seeded 11th is defending champion Johanna Konta. The Briton won the biggest title of her career in Florida last season during a purple patch that also saw her reach the last four at Wimbledon, her home Slam. She has struggled for form since that semifinal at the All-England Club, winning only a handful of matches. But her good memories of Miami could provide her with the boost she needs to get back to her best.

Serena Williams, who as mentioned above is unseeded, is also competing at the tournament, just her second since giving birth. She began brightly last time out in Indian Wells, but found her sister Venus, the world #8, a hurdle too high to cross at this stage of her comeback. There is little to suggest she will be a title threat this week, particularly after receiving a difficult draw. But she has proved over the  course of her career that she is capable of doing the almost impossible.

First round matches to watch

The standout clash of the first round pits recently crowned Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka against none other than Serena Williams. The two aren’t dissimilar players. Both can hit a huge ball, but also move well, making this a potentially thrilling clash. How Osaka deals with the newfound expectations on her will be interesting, and the match should also provide some further insight into where Serena’s game is at.

Viktoria Azarenka, who has also missed a lot of tennis over the past eighteen months due to her pregnancy and a custody battle, begins her Indian Wells campaign with an intriguing match against Cici Bellis. Bellis, still just 18, first came to prominence when she upset Dominika Cibulkova, the 12th seed, at the US Open as a 15-year-old amateur. She has continued to progress since then and is currently ranked world #45. She will certainly provide a test for Azarenka.

Prediction

WTA tournaments have been unpredictable affairs of late. Without the dominant force of Serena Williams, no one has quite been able to lay convincing claim to being pre-tournament favourite. And as Osaka and Kasatkina showed in Indian Wells, there is no shortage of young and fearless talent. But Wozniacki, who was last year runner-up in Miami, looks as likely as anyone to claim the title. She has the talent, the history and the confidence to go all the way in the Sunshine State.

Who do you think will triumph in Miami? Let us know in the comments below!