Welcome back to Sunshine Stories, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable matches from the North American spring over the past five years. Moving across the coast, we kick off our Miami countdown is Serena Williams' statement semifinal clash with Simona Halep at the 2015 Miami Open on the road to an astounding eighth title.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Long based in Florida, the Michigan-born Serena Williams has made a home out of Miami and the Miami Open, her house. The 23-time Grand Slam champion played her first final in Miami against sister Venus - the first all-Williams final - and collected her first Miami Open crown in 2002, the year she began her first of two Non-Calendar Year "Serena Slam" runs. In her next five appearances, she won four more titles, and by 2015 was in hot pursuit of title No.8 against a new generation of tennis talents.
"I definitely listen to the same music," she said when asked to compare herself to to some of her younger peers. "You know, I try to keep myself current. I say the current words, like fleek! I'm on top of it."
Halfway to a second Serena Slam with wins at the US and Australian Opens, Williams was very much on top of things that spring, even as she returned to Crandon Park under an injury cloud - one that halted her hitherto triumphant return to the BNP Paribas Open.
As the top seed she dropped just 11 games en route to the quarterfinals - including a 6-1, 6-1 win over then-15-year-old CiCi Bellis - and survived a second set hiccup to dispatch the always dangerous Sabine Lisicki to reach an 11th Miami Open semifinal.
Awaiting her there was Simona Halep, who had been set to play Williams in the same round two weeks earlier before the American's knee injury forced her to hand the Romanian a walkover. A finalist at Roland Garros in 2014, Halep had shaken off a disappointing quarterfinal defeat at the Australian Open to restart her season in style, winning the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and the BNP Paribas Open - her first Premier Mandatory victory.
Looking to be the first since Kim Clijsters in 2005 to capture an Indian Wells-Miami "Sunshine Double," the No.3 seed was similarly imperious through her first four matches, dropping a set to a resurgent former World No.7 Nicole Vaidisova and handling American rival Sloane Stephens to book a WTA Finals rematch with Williams where they played not once, but twice.
Making her Singapore debut, Halep scored her first win over the soon-to-be five-time WTA Finals champion in shocking style, losing just two games in their round robin clash. Williams ultimately got her revenge in the final, allowing Halep three games of her own.
"Tomorrow it's a big challenge for me again," she said before the match. "Every match against her is really important for me. I learn many things from it. I have just to play my chance. I don't want to think about if I can win or not, just to play my game and just to see how good I can be tomorrow against her."
WHAT HAPPENED: The two treated the Centre Court crowd - comprised of American and the vocal Romanian fans that would soon become Halep's courtside signature - to over two hours of thunderous all-court action.
While Halep tried to match Williams' power early with a running forehand winner, Williams was game to the challenge, striking a forehand return that commentator and 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli quipped was "faster than [Halep's] serve!" She soon moved ahead by a break and with another standing between her and the opening set, Williams engineered a set point with a backhand down the line.
Halep saved the first with a forehand putaway but Williams was undaunted, soon earning another and stepping in to crunch a forehand return to clinch the first set in 32 minutes flat.
The second set saw both women dig their trenches on serve, moving to four games apiece without either side ceding a break point. Twice two points from a 5-3 deficit, Halep held on and capitalized on some loose shots to score her first break of the match in the all-important ninth game.
With Williams suddenly on the backfoot, Halep saw her opportunity to press, swiping an inside-in forehand - her first winner of the set - to level the match as the Romanian crowd roared.
Serena took the start of the final set to swiftly reset, moving into net and clicking into some big serves as her baseline game came back online. Another backhand winner earned the American the first break and she was soon ahead 5-2 after some audacious swing volleys.
Halep made the most of her last stand, breaking Williams as she served for the match and weathering some huge shots from the World No.1 to bring the set back to five games all.
It came back to the Williams serve, which held firm under pressure as she moved within four points of victory. Looking to force a tie-break, Halep had too few answers for Williams indomitable return game, and the top seed soon held three match point. With a strong return forcing the Halep reply into the net, it was a well-earned victory for the once and future Miami Open champ.
WHAT THEY SAID: Epic as the match looked to those watching, Serena the self-described perfectionist wasn't as entirely amused with how she secured victory.
"I just made more errors than I did in my last match, which I thought was impossible," she said, referencing the three-setter against Lisicki. "I'm just not at my best level right now and it's a little frustrating.
"I'm not serving well. I am serving at 40%, so it hasn't been my best of times. That's just the only frustrating part."
Without the extra practice time given the knee injury, Serena could only be satisfied with the destination, if not the journey.
"Somehow I've improvised my way to the final. I don't know how, but I did. So if you look at it that way I can't be too disappointed, even though I am really disappointed. I really feel like I lost."
Halep, who did lose, was equally disappointed in her actual defeat, if encouraged by how close she kept things over three sets - their first match to go the distance since 2011.
"I was fighting until the end, and it's one reason to be happy now. I was close. I saw that I can win against her. I can play like until the end against her. I was a bit tired in the end, but it's normal. I have so many matches played already.
"It's okay. She was better than me. She is better than me because she's No.1 in the world and she's Serena. I have just to take the positive things from this tournament, this match, and just go ahead."
WHAT IT MEANT: Williams went on to dispatch surprise finalist Carla Suárez Navarro in straight sets to win her eighth title in Miami and her last at the Crandon Park venue - the tournament moved to the Miami Dolphins' Hard Rock Stadium in 2019. Her success continued in 2015, winning her first Roland Garros-Wimbledon double since 2002 to clinch a second Serena Slam and move within one major (ultimately two matches) of a Calendar Year Grand Slam.
Her Miami Open clash with Halep foreshadowed a series of tense matches to come, with two more three-setters coming at major tournaments like the 2016 US Open and 2019 Australian Open - the latter when the Romanian was World No.1.
While Halep came out on the losing end of those encounters, she swept Williams in their most recent meeting last summer.
Playing the biggest match of their rivalry, Halep stunned the American at the 2019 Wimbledon final, where the 23-time Grand Slam champ - having since broken Stefanie Graf's Open Era record - was looking to tie Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 majors, and win her first Grand Slam tournament since marrying and giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Jr.