Miami Open, 🇺🇸🌞🐬🌴 SF Preview 🇺🇸 (13) Sloane Stephens vs. 🇧🇾 (wc) Victoria Azarenka
A blockbuster semi-final clash at the Miami Open sees reigning U.S open champion Sloane Stephens take on 3-time former Miami Open champion Victoria Azarenka. Stephens and Azarenka have both played scintillating tennis in their last couple of matches on route to the final 4 stage, both enter this match desperate to reach a big final for the first time in a while. This promises to be a thrilling match, who will prevail?
This has been an important event for both Stephens and Azarenka. Sloane Stephens is into her first semi-final since winning the U.S Open last year whilst Azarenka will be competing in her first semi-final since her title run in Miami back in 2016.
Sloane Stephens has cruised past two quality opponents in a row to reach the semi-final stage in Miami. Stephens claimed straight set victories over Garbine Muguruza (6-3 6-4) and Angelique Kerber (6-1 6-2), back-to-back wins over top 10 opponents to ensure that Stephens herself will reach the top 10 for the first time when the latest rankings come out next week. Earlier in the event Stephens thrashed Ajla Tomljanovic in straight sets and came from a set down to defeat Monica Niculescu. This is clearly the best tennis Sloane has played since her heroics at the U.S Open last year.
Amazingly Stephens has a 22-5 win-loss record in North American over the past year whilst in any other country she has a 0-9 win-loss record. Clearly the reigning U.S Open champion saves her best tennis for her home continent…
Victoria Azarenka is on an 11-match winning streak in Miami. Alongside the Australian Open it would be fair to say that the Miami Open is the most successful tournament for the 3-time former champion. Like Stephens, Azarenka has ripped through two quality opponents in a row to reach the semi-finals. A 6-2 6-2 win over Agnieszka Radwanska and a 7-5 6-3 win over Karolina Pliskova. Azarenka’s return of serve has been particularly damaging, the Belarussian has consistently been at the top of the return points won standings this tournament.
Azarenka holds a 3-1 head-to-head record over Stephen. It was Azarenka who won the first three matches between the pair, all in straight sets at the Australian Open between 2013 and 2015. However, most recently it was Stephens who prevailed 6-1 7-5 just a few weeks ago in Indian Wells. There is certainly an underlying tension between these two, they do not particularly like each other and will both be desperate to win Thursday’s clash in Miami. Expect fireworks.
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Miami Open, 🇺🇸🌞🐬🌴 R1 Preview 🇺🇸 Catherine Bellis vs. 🇧🇾 Victoria Azarenka
Two-time former champion: Victoria Azarenka will begin her 2018 Miami Open campaign with a difficult opening round clash against American rising-star: Catherine Bellis. Azarenka made her much anticipated return to the tour in Indian Wells where she was eliminated in the second round. Azarenka will be keen to build on that result and have a better result in Miami but Bellis has generally been in good form of late and has shown that she is capable of defeating more credentialed opponents.
Bellis and Azarenka both arrive in Miami on the back of second round exits at the BNP Paribas Open. Bellis started her campaign with a comfortable straight set win over Sara Sorribes Tormo before giving up a 1 set lead to succumb to defending champion Elena Vesnina in 3 sets. Bellis has had some great results of late, most notably her run through the qualifying draw to the quarter-finals in Doha which included wins over Daria Kasatkina, Madison Keys and Karolina Pliskova. Still in her teens, it is understandable that Bellis is quite inconsistent.
Azarenka started her Indian Wells campaign with a commanding straight set win over Heather Watson in what was her first competitive match since Wimbledon last year. Unfortunately for Azarenka her level is the second round was far from her best as she suffered a straight set loss to Sloane Stephens. Overall, it was a mixed week for Vika, she showed some good signs but her convincing loss to Stephens was quite uncharacteristic. In general, I think Azarenka looked good and will quickly rise back up the rankings. Azarenka knows she has a lot to work on and is determined to climb back to the top of women’s tennis. Azarenka will head to Miami determined to make amends for that loss to Stephens as she continues this new stage of her career.
The only previous match between the pair took place at the opening round stage of Wimbledon last year, Azarenka claimed a 3-6 6-2 6-1 victory on that occasion.
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BNP Paribas Open, 🇺🇸🌴 Indian Wells R1 Preview 🇧🇾 Victoria Azarenka vs 🇬🇧 Heather Watson
Victoria Azarenka will make her much anticipated return to the WTA tour with an opening round matchup against Britain’s Heather Watson at the BNP Paribas Open. Azarenka is a two-time former champion in Indian Wells having won the event in 2012 and 2016. The former world number 1 will be in action for the first time since Wimbledon last year after a lengthy custody battle kept her away from the game. It will be interesting to see what level the Belarusian can bring to the court in her return in what has historically been a good matchup for Azarenka.
Azarenka has a great record in Indian Wells, the gritty hard court surface really suits the Belarusian’s game. Azarenka has been preparing for her return for months, she is fit and ready to go. It would not be surprising to see Azarenka have a deep run at the BNP Paribas Open.
Heather Watson arrives at the BNP Paribas Open with 3 consecutive opening round losses to her name. Watson was in action last week in Acapulco where she was beaten in the opening round by Beatriz Haddad Maia in 3 sets, a match Watson would have expected to win. Prior to that Watson was beaten by Roberta Vinci in the opening round of qualifying at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy and suffered a very disappointing opening round loss to Yulia Putintseva at the Australian Open. Watson’s results at Indian Wells have generally been modest, her best result was a run to the fourth round in 2015.
Azarenka holds a dominant 5-0 head-to-head record over Watson, on a hard court that record is 3-0, all 3 wins were in straight sets, most recently a 6-2 6-4 win at the Rogers Cup in 2014. The most recent match between the pair took place last year at Wimbledon, Azarenka won that match 3-6 6-1 6-4 in what a very competitive match.
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Wimbledon 🇬🇧💂🍓🎩 R4 Match Preview: (2) 🇷🇴 Simona Halep vs 🇧🇾 Victoria Azarenka
The pick of the fourth round matches at SW19 sees the second seeded Simona Halep take on a resurgent Victoria Azarenka. Halep has cruised through to the second week in London without dropping a set whilst Azarenka has already overcome a few tight battle in her progression to the second week. The most recent match between these two has an epic at the U.S Open a few years ago, which Halep won in a tight third set. Azarenka will be desperate for revenge here in what should be another memorable match between two very evenly matches combatants.
Wimbledon 🇬🇧💂🍓 Day 5, R3 Match Preview: 🇧🇾 Victoria Azarenka vs (wc) 🇬🇧 Heather Watson
Victoria Azarenka is building momentum nicely at SW19. Azarenka overcame a tough early round test against Catherine Bellis where she came from a set down before cruising past the 15th seeded Elena Vesnina in straight sets. Azarenka will come up against Britain’s Heather Watson on Friday, an opponent the Belarusian has a perfect record against.
Wimbledon 🇬🇧💂🍓 Day 3, R2 Match Preview: 🇧🇾 Victoria Azarenka vs 🇷🇺 (15) Elena Vesnina
Victoria Azarenka claimed her first win at a Grand Slam since the 2016 Australian Open to book her spot in the second round at Wimbledon. The Belarusian says she is fitter than ever at the moment and is looking to play better tennis than she ever has, a real warning to the rest of the tour. Given the openness of the draw, Azarenka looms as a dark horse at SW19. After surviving a tough opening challenge against Catherine Bellis, Azarenka faces another tough test on Wednesday when she comes up against the 15th seeded Elena Vesnina.
Madrid R3: (5) Victoria Azarenka vs (Q) Louisa Chirico
Victoria Azarenka is the top seed remaining at the Mutua Madrid Open heading into third round after Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza were all eliminated from the event in the opening days. The Belarussian will be hard to stop from here given her outstanding form, Azarenka in on a 17 match winning streak, finally playing at her dominant, consistent best. Azarenka will be the strong favourite in her third round clash with American qualifier Louisa Chirico
Victoria Azarenka is a two-time former finalist in Madrid, the Belarussian has made a strong enough start to suggest that she can go one step better in 2016. Azarenka started her 2016 Mutua Madrid Open campaign with a 6-4 6-2 triumph over Laura Robson before recording a commanding 6-3 6-2 win over Alize Cornet. Azarenka was challenged by Cornet but was always too good for the Frenchwoman at the important moments.
Louisa Chirico’s impressive start to the clay court season has continued in Madrid. The 19-year-old American is having the best week of her young career, coming through the qualifying draw to reach the third round of a premier mandatory level event for the first time. Chirico has beaten a pair of difficult opponents on route to the third round, a 7-5 6-1 win over Monica Niculescu before claiming the biggest victory of her career, a 5-7 6-3 6-1 win over Ana Ivanovic. Chirico did impressively well to bounce back from the disappointment of losing a tight opening set to ultimately run away with the match.
This will be the first career match-up between Azarenka and Chirico. On paper, this looks like a massive mismatch. This is probably the biggest match of Chirico’s career; the American is likely to find life difficult against the form player on tour but will enter this clash with nothing to lose which is always a good position to be in. Azarenka should continue her winning ways and a pretty comfortable win here.
Prediction: Victoria Azarenka to defeat Louisa Chirico in 2 sets
2-time former finalist Victoria Azarenka will continue her quest for her first title in Madrid on Monday where she will take on Alize Cornet in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open. Azarenka is the form player on the tour right now, the Belarussian is on a 15 match winning streak and will be a strong favourite to continue her winning ways against Alize Cornet, an opponent Azarenka has never lost to.
Azarenka made a solid start to her 2016 Madrid campaign on Sunday, recording a relatively comfortable 6-4 6-2 win over Laura Robson. Azarenka was not at her best but was still solid enough to claim a straight set win. Clay has always been considered Azarenka’s worst surface, but there seems to be an opportunity for Azarenka to thrive on the clay in the next couple of months given some of her greatest rivals seem quite vulnerable at the moment.
Alize Cornet’s form is in complete contrast to Azarneka’s. The Frenchwoman has generally struggled in 2016, an injury set-back forced Cornet to miss a couple of months of tennis and her form since her return to the court has been quite poor. Cornet was lucky to advance to the second round in Madrid, Cornet was in trouble against Spanish wild card Paula Badosa Gibert after conceding the first set, but would ultimately progress thanks to her opponent being forced to retire due to injury in the final set. Cornet will need to improve dramatically if she is to claim her first career victory over Azarenka on Monday. Azarenka has a perfect 4-0 head-to-head record over Cornet. However, the last three matches between the pair have been very close, requiring a third set. Their most recent clash was in Montreal back in 2014, Azarenka claimed a 6-4 2-6 6-4 victory on that occasion.
Azarenka is clearly in a better position heading into this match. Azarenka is in great physical shape at the moment and is extremely confident, whilst Cornet is currently deprived of confidence and match fitness. This is usually a tough match-up for Azarenka, Cornet certainly has the ability to trouble the Belarussian (especially on a clay court) however given the current form of the two, this should be comfortable win for Azarenka.
Prediction: Victoria Azarenka to defeat Alize Cornet in 2 sets
Miami Final: (15) Svetlana Kuznetsova vs (13) Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka is just 1 win away from completing the Indian Wells-Miami double, the Belarussian would be the first woman to do so since Kim Clijsters in 2005. Sunday’s Miami Open final will be a battle between 2 former champions when Azarenka takes to the court against a resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova. This promises to be a fascinating final between two players that have displayed an extremely high level of tennis over the last couple of weeks, both are very motivated.
Svetlana Kuznetsova’s run to the final in Miami has come as a surprise given the Russian arrived in Miami having lost 6 of her last 7 matches since she claimed the Sydney title in January. Kuznetsova has defeated a host of quality opponents on route to the final in Miami, most notably Svetlana recorded a huge 6-7 6-1 6-2 victory over Serena Williams in the fourth round. The former champion in Miami backed up her shock win over Serena with impressive victories over Ekaterina Makarova and Timea Bacsinszky. Svetlana has once again proven that she has the game to trouble any opponent when she is at her best. The Russian will know that this could be one of her last opportunities to claim such a big title and will therefore leave nothing to chance and will be very tough to beat.
Victoria Azarenka’s brilliant start to 2016 has continued in Miami, the Belarussian has extended her winning streak to 12 matches and has an overall 21-1 win/loss record in 2016. Azarenka has not dropped a set on route to the final in Miami, recording victories over high quality opponents such as Garbine Muguruza, Johanna Konta and Angelique Kerber. Azarenka secured her spot in Sunday’s final with an emphatic 6-2 7-5 win over Angelique Kerber, avenging her loss to the German at the Australian Open. Azarenka was at her dominant best from the baseline but did show signs of weakness towards the end of the match as her suspect serve let her down when she attempted to serve out the match for the first time. Azarenka's serve remains her biggest weakness and could be exploited by a disciplined Kuznetsova in the final.
The head-to-head record between Kuznetsova and Azarenka is split at 4 wins apiece. Kuznetsova dominated the early exchanges between the pair but Azarenka has won the 3 most recent meetings between the two. This will be the first match between Kuznetsova and Azarenka since the 2013 Australian Open, Azarenka won that match 7-5 6-1. Much has changed since their last match, making the head-to-head record somewhat deceiving as Kuznetsova was far from her best in some of those matches.
This is a tough match to call, Azarenka will start a clear favourite given her outstanding results in season 2016, however Kuznetsova has proven that she can beat anyone when she is motivated and at her best. The head-to-head record suggests that this is not a bad match-up for Kuznetsova, in fact these two are quite evenly matched when they are both playing well. Kuznetsova can match Azarenka from the baseline and arguably has a better serve however Azarenka’s ability to come forward and finish off the point could be the biggest difference here. It must also be noted that Azarenka has played a lot of tennis in the last 3 weeks and history has proven that it is very tough to claim the Indian Wells-Miami double. This looks like a 50/50 match, so I will side with the underdog.
Prediction: Svetlana Kuznetsova to defeat Victoria Azarenka in 3 sets
Miami SF: (2) Angelique Kerber vs (13) Victoria Azarenka
A blockbuster semi-final encounter at the Miami Open on Thursday night sees the two best players of the 2016 season collide when Angelique Kerber comes up against Victoria Azarenka. Kerber and Azarenka will number 1 and number 2 in the race to Singapore standings on Monday, confirming that these two have been the best players in the first couple of months of the year.
This will be the third meeting between Kerber and Azarenka in 2016. The Belarussian extended her head-to-head advantage over the German to 6-0 when she thumped Kerber 6-3 6-1 in the final of the Brisbane International in January. Kerber avenged that loss in stunning fashion, claiming a long-awaited first win over the Belarussian with a 6-3 7-5 quarter-final win on route to her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
Angelique Kerber understandably struggled in her first couple of events after her success at the Australian Open, arriving in Miami with a 1-3 record win/loss record since her triumph in Melbourne. Things have looked better for Kerber in Miami as she has advanced to the semi-final stage of the event for the first time in her career. Kerber started the week with an emphatic win over Barbora Strycova before fighting hard for three set wins over Kiki Bertens and Timea Babos. Angie’s ticket to the semi-final was confirmed on Wednesday evening when the German recorded a comfortable 6-3 6-2 win over an erratic Madison Keys. Kerber will now get a chance to prove that her win over Azarenka in Melbourne was no fluke.
Victoria Azarenka has amassed an incredible 20-1 win/loss record in 2016. The Belarussian’s only loss of the season was her quarter-final defeat to Kerber at the Australian Open. Azarenka is on an 11 match winning streak as she looks to claim the Indian Wells/Miami double. As a result of her great start to the year, Azarenka will move back into the top 5 in the rankings on Monday. Azarenka has advanced to the semi-final stage in Miami without dropping a set, claiming straight set wins over Monica Puig, Magda Linette, Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta. The Belarussian has been close to her fierce best over the last couple of weeks and will enter her semi-final clash with Kerber desperate to avenge her defeat to the German at the Australian Open.
This promises to be a really close encounter, the majority of the 7 previous meetings between the pair have been just that despite Azarenka holding a dominant 6-1 head-to-head record over the German. Kerber’s win over Azarenka was extremely important and will give her a new sense of belief whenever she steps onto the court against the Belarussian. There really is very little to separate these two, both are heading into this clash full of confidence and with a point to prove.
I’m going to side with Kerber in this clash. This is Kerber’s first ‘big’ match since her Australian Open triumph and is a good opportunity for her to regain the stunning form that she her claim her first Grand Slam title.
Prediction: Angelique Kerber to defeat Victoria Azarenka in 3 sets