Not long after the beleaguered winner of the BNP Paribas Open hoists that 40-pound chunk of crystal -- after six draining matches in the fickle conditions of the Coachella Valley -- invariably, the question arises:
So … in five days or so, can you summon the strength to do it all over again?
“Well,” said Elena Rybakina on Sunday, “I will try to focus just on every match, because I think that it’s really tough. I know Iga [Swiatek] did this. Big respect, because I think it’s still kind of long trip to Miami. It’s completely different conditions.
“So I think that that’s the goal in the end of the day.”
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Rybakina ran through the field at Indian Wells, defeating No.1 Swiatek and No.2 Aryna Sabalenka in the last two matches. If she manages to win the Miami Open, Rybakina would become only the fifth woman to perform that rare card trick.
All hail Graf the Great!— wta (@WTA) March 20, 2023
In 1994, Stefanie Graf became the first woman to capture the so-called Sunshine Double by winning back-to-back titles at Indian Wells and Miami. The German legend did it again in 1996 and remains the only WTA player to achieve the feat twice.#WTA50 pic.twitter.com/Ii9Wtl3SIh
Ah, the daunting Sunshine Double -- wait, is that redundant?
For a number of reasons, it’s the most difficult back-to-back achievement in tennis today -- navigating a path through two grueling Hologic WTA Tour 1000s without once putting a foot wrong.
“Hopefully, I can maintain the level in Miami,” Rybakina said. “But I also know I need to get there. Here is a big change for myself, to be consistent. For sure it’s something to adapt. Yeah, I will see how it’s going to go, and hopefully I can adapt quickly.”
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Something Swiatek mastered a year ago.
She won six matches in 10 days at Indian Wells, including three consecutive three-setters to start the tournament. The last was a 6-4, 6-1 triumph against Maria Sakkari. After traveling more than 2,600 miles across three time zones, Swiatek had only four days to rest, rehabilitate and adjust to a completely different set of atmospheric conditions, both on the court and off.
It was in that stretch that Ashleigh Barty announced her retirement, and Swiatek assumed the No.1 ranking and all the pressure it carries. And then she won six more matches, defeating Naomi Osaka 6-4, 6-0 in the final. That works out to 12 match-wins in a tidy span of 23 days.
Indian Wells and Miami both feature a 96-player draw with a bye for the 32 seeded players. The other two doubles -- Madrid and Rome, as well as Montreal and Cincinnati -- require only seeded players to win five matches each. The distance between Madrid and Rome (1,200 miles) and Montreal and Cincinnati (714) is far less and those two bundled events happen to share the same time zones.
After reaching the 2022 final at Indian Wells, Sakkari promptly lost her first match in Miami, to Beatriz Haddad Maia.
“When I flew from California to Florida, I found the three hours difference does affect your game, your sleep -- and everything,” Sakkari said in advance of this year’s BNP Paribas Open. Because you only have three days to prepare and get ready. Different conditions, obviously, very humid [in Miami], but that’s a good problem to have.
“If you go deep here, it means that you’ve done well in this amazing tournament. I really hope that I have that issue again this year. We’re used to changing and adapting all the time because that’s our life. We travel from place to place, tournament to tournament and it’s just how we live.”
Jim Courier was the first to snag the Sunshine Double, back in 1991. Three years later, Stefanie Graf was the first woman to do it and was followed by Kim Clijsters (2005), Victoria Azarenka (2016) and Swiatek. Novak Djokovic accomplished it four different times, including an ethereal three-peat from 2014-16.
Clijsters was only 21 years old when she did it.
The secret, she explained, was staying focused on the little things in Miami.
“I didn’t look ahead,” she told wtatennis.com last year. “If I put myself in the position of, ‘Oh, I won Indian Wells, I’m one of the favorites,’ I’m putting that on myself. Sports doesn’t work that way.
The stadium inside the stadium 👀— Miami Open (@MiamiOpen) March 20, 2023
We can’t wait for matches to begin at Stadium Court on Wednesday 🙌 pic.twitter.com/nvBEOwWplF
“I was eating the same things, workouts the same, recover the same. There was a calmness in knowing that I did everything I could to put myself in a good position.”
Although it can be hot in both places, Indian Wells’ temperature can really dip at night, creating completely different conditions. The courts in Indian Wells were gritty and slow. They’re much faster in Miami. Even the crowds are different. Indian Wells is appreciative but generally restrained. Miami? Not so much.
Jessica Pegula, ranked No.3, is more comfortable playing in Florida, but that’s probably because she lives about 30 minutes north of Hard Rock Stadium, in Miami Gardens.
“For me, it’s always about the conditions,” Pegula said. “You come out here, it’s dry, the ball is kind of flying a little bit, it’s windy. And then Miami is completely different. You don’t have a lot of time to go straight to the Miami Open and feel super comfortable in those conditions.
“And that makes it very difficult to go from one to the other, especially if you did well here.”
A year ago, Pegula lost her first match in Indian Wells to qualifier Marie Bouzkova -- then advanced to the semifinals in Miami before losing to Swiatek.
Coco Gauff, another local, grew up in nearby Delray Beach.
“I like it super-hot, I like the [Florida] hard courts,” Gauff said last week. “I like it when the ball is moving pretty fast; it helps me on my serve. But here [in Indian Wells], it’s a different speed. So when it comes to playing at different times and experiencing -- today is not windy, but tomorrow could be a sand storm.
“You never know here. That’s what I like about it, the variables in tennis. That’s what makes the game fun.”
If not daunting.