Serena Williams is the tenth seed at 2019 Maimi Open but she has been an eight-time champion here and comes here this time too as one of the favourites, if not the favourite.
It was here that she made her tentative return to tennis after the maternity leave last year. She had lost to a then relatively unknown Naomi Osaka in straight sets in the first match. Little did we know then how these two were going to produce one of the most emotionally wrenching and controversial grand slam finals at the US Open later that year!
In the intervening year since then, Serena has been understandably very selective in choosing the tournaments to play in. She has played only eight tournaments after her return to tennis and has improved with time.
Even though she is yet to win a title thus far, she has produced the kind of tennis that she is known for and has come close to winning some of the biggest titles, only to falter in the summit clash, most notably at the US Open and Wimbledon Finals last year.
She may finally end her title drought at one of her most favourite tournaments, the Miami Open.
Here is a look at her potential route to an incredible ninth Miami title.
After a bye in the first round, she may face either the Swedish Rebecca Peterson or a qualifier, neither of whom is going to pose any real challenge to her. She is likely to face her first major challenge in the third round, either from the eighteenth seed Wang Qiang or the British Johanna Konta.
They are both tricky opponents. Even though the Brit’s form has dipped in recent times, it was she who had handed the American one of her most humiliating defeats at the Silicon Valley Classic tournament last year, where Serena could take only one game off her. But a fully fit and motivated Serena should be able to withstand that challenge.
In the fourth round, Serena may face the sixth seed Ukrainian Elina Svitolina. The Ukrainian is one of the best movers on the court, but on the fast courts of Miami, it is difficult to imagine her being able to match the firepower of the American.
Serena’s semi-final opponent could be the defending champion, Sloane Stephens if seeds hold good from that side of the draw. But Stephens is going through a rough patch, and it looks unlikely she may reach the semis.
So, the more likely semi-final opponent for Serena could be either the fifth seed Karolina Pliskova or a resurgent Belinda Bencic. The Czech Pliskova had scripted a come-from-behind victory over the American in the Australian Open quarter-final earlier this year. So, if that match comes to pass, then Serena has one more reason to give her absolute best. But whether it is Pliskova or Bencic, Serena will certainly have the edge in front of an adoring home crowd.
Naomi Osaka is the world number one and the top seed. She may not have had the best of times after her Australian Open triumph, but one can only write her off at one’s own peril. After a couple of disappointing outings at Dubai and Indian Wells, she will be raring to go at Miami. So, it could be either her or the Petra Kvitova who could make it to the final from the top half of the draw.
If Serena, who had retired due to illness before her match against Muguruza at Indian Wells is fully fit, then she is certainly the favourite to lift a ninth Miami Open title.
Prediction: Serena Williams will be crowned Champion for the ninth time at Miami.Published 20 Mar 2019, 17:20 IST