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 to the Miami Open, today's edition takes us back to the first-ever meeting between Victoria Azarenka and Garbiñe Muguruza in 2016.
2015: Serena Williams def. Simona Halep, semifinals
HOW THEY GOT THERE: In 2016, a resurgent Victoria Azarenka and a rising Garbiñe Muguruza were due for their first professional meeting, and it arrived at the Miami Open.
Muguruza soared into the Top 10 on the back of a breakout season in 2015, where she was the runner-up at Wimbledon, won the China Open and finished at a then-career-high World No.3. She arrived in Miami ranked and seeded No.4, while Azarenka also was back in the Top 10 despite being seeded No.13.
That bounce back in the rankings came courtesy of her first Premier Mandatory title in four years and second in Indian Wells at the tour's last stop, where she beat Serena Williams in the final to return to the winner's circle.
It was a contrasting path for both players to set up the round of 16 encounter: Azarenka surrendered just nine games across four sets to beat Monica Puig and Magda Linette, and despite a dominant, 6-1, 6-0 win against wildcard Nicole Gibbs in the third round, Muguruza was pushed to the brink in her opener by the unseeded and looming Dominika Cibulkova.
The former Australian Open finalist captured the opening set against the No.4 seed and led 3-0 in the final set before Muguruza rallied to win, 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-5.
WHAT HAPPENED: In near-identical fashion, Azarenka was the first of the two players to break in each set to set the tone of the fourth round match.
She broke for 2-1 in the first set, only to lose serve in the next game, and built a 3-0 lead in the second set on the back of two love holds and a competitive game in which Muguruza saved three break points before surrendering the break.
Muguruza stayed ahead for much of the first set from there, as the pair engaging in blistering baseline rallies that thrilled the Miami faithful.
Azarenka saved a break point in a pivotal eighth game - the lone break point either player faced in the set from 2-2 on - as the set ultimately wound through to its first tiebreak. Once there, Azarenka saved two set points and climbed out of a 6-4 hole to capture a first set that lasted more than an hour.
Azarenka won 12 straight points on serve to begin the second set, as her earlier service break stood up until the set's latest stages.
After holding from 0-30 down to lead 5-2, the former World No.1 seemed on course to successfully serve out the match, as she saved two break points and held two match points serving at 5-3.
Undaunted, however, Muguruza sprung a surprise - and scored her first break of serve since the fourth game of the opening set - and stayed within touching distance of sending the match to a final set.
Entering the tiebreak with momentum after holding to love in the 12 game, the No.4 seed proved unable to escape another deficit. Azarenka won four of the first five points, and though Muguruza fended off another match point at 6-3, ultimately surrendered to defeat in the over two-hour battle on her fourth match point, 7-6(6), 7-6(4).
WHAT THEY SAID: After running her winning streak to nine consecutive matches, Azarenka debriefed following the victory, recognizing the razor-thin margins by which the match was decided.
"I think it was a high-quality match for both of us. It was a lot of good striking, a lot of winners, and both of us taking opportunities," the former World No.1 said.
"I think today I served really well, and I played to win in important moments. Momentum shifting, I think I was a little better today."
In the midst of one of the best streaks in her career, comparable to the starts both of her 2012 season - in which she won 26 consecutive matches without a defeat or walkover - and her 18 completed match wins to begin 2013, the two-time Australian Open also reflected on her return to scintillating form.
"I think I'm a better player right now just the way I handle myself on the court. I improved a lot my serve and I'm just stronger in the tougher moments," she said.
"I feel happier on the court, so that's very important, to be able to go out there and perform in a difficult fight.
"I think my game is developing with pretty big progress right now, and that's what I'm most happy about, is being able to add a little bit more every time I play... Just to be able to give myself opportunities to grow."
WHAT IT MEANT: The match ultimately proved to be Azarenka's toughest on her way to history.
Without the loss of a set, the Belarusian captured her third Miami title in 2016, beating two Grand Slam champions in her last two matches.
She followed that up with a 6-4, 6-2 win over future Miami champion Johanna Konta, and beat reigning Australian Open winner Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova in the last two rounds to become the third woman in WTA history to complete the "Sunshine Double."
By winning Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back, she joined Stefanie Graf and Kim Clijsters as women to complete the illustrious achievement, and returned to the Top 5 in the WTA rankings as a result before announcing her pregnancy in the summer.
After reaching her first major final the prior summer at Wimbledon, Muguruza's 2016 season later turned a corner at the French Open, where she became the first Spanish woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in 1998.
After losing her first set of the fortnight against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Muguruza won 14 straight - including a win over World No.1 Serena Williams in the final - to hoist her first Grand Slam trophy.