In retrospect, the month of March seems like a grind with two WTA 1000 events, well more than 2,200 miles separating them in very different climates and little time to get adjusted.
But here we are. This year’s Sunshine Double is behind us.
In Miami, Petra Kvitova was a surprise champion. Nearly five years had passed since she won a tournament of this magnitude.
Miami Open reaction:
- Champions Corner: Gauff and Pegula not afraid of a little trash talk
- Gauff, Pegula win Miami Open doubles; fifth team title
- Champions Corner: How pacing herself has kept Kvitova motivated
- Kvitova snaps Rybakina's streak to win Miami; 30th career title
- Miami Open shining moments: Best OT performance, buzzer-beater and more
“I love the game,” she said afterward. “I think is the motivation to do something better, and because I had a lot of ups, that's always been the motivation to have them again.”
True, Kvitova has had plenty of high points in her career. But what were her prospects entering Miami? We answer that -- and more -- as we wrap up a memorable month of tennis.
If someone had asked you about Petra Kvitova’s prospects of not just winning, but making a deep run, before the Miami Open started, what would you have said?
Jason Juzwiak: I would have said “hope springs eternal,” but I don’t think I would have meant it. I’m a huge proponent of Kvitova’s game being successful on all surfaces, not just indoors or at Wimbledon. There’s something about the Sunshine Double that had always bemused her. She never had made a semifinal at either Indian Wells or Miami before this year, and her noted dislike of humid conditions seemed to entirely rule out Miami. And yet, her best form can appear without warning, and once again, she demonstrated it when I didn’t quite expect it.
Kevin Fischer: In this sport, you have to learn to expect the unexpected. In Kvitova’s previous 24 appearances across the Sunshine Double, she had not advanced beyond the quarterfinals. Now with 30 career titles to her credit, including nine WTA 1000 titles, it would not be a total surprise to see Kvitova on finals weekend.
Greg Garber: Before the BNP Paribas Open I would have said no chance. The 33-year-old Kvitova has never liked the conditions at Indian Wells -- and seemed to dislike them in Miami even more. But she advanced to the quarterfinals in the desert, taking Maria Sakkari to three sets. In Miami, with a far-faster court, her serve and forehand came alive. Kvitova doused a red-hot Sorana Cirstea in the semifinals and handled Rybakina nicely in the final, ending her 13-match win streak. No one saw it coming, but the elements for a deep run were certainly there.
Alex Macpherson: I wouldn't have necessarily predicted it -- nor would I have been surprised. Kvitova's peak form isn’t always on display, but she remains lethal. She was coming off a heartening run to the Indian Wells quarterfinals. Her results aren’t as tied to these conditions, as some might think. Over the course of her career, Kvitova has won big on every surface and on every continent when she's dialed-in, and it turns out that Miami's humidity was no obstacle, either.
Elena Rybakina came within one win of capturing the Sunshine Double. Do you think she can go on a tear similar to what Iga Swiatek did a year ago?
Garber: It’s possible, even likely, that no one will go on that kind of run for years. Swiatek won 37 consecutive matches and some monstrous titles in 2022. It’s unrealistic to expect Rybakina to do that. And yet … she’s already a serviceable player on clay and, with the improvements to her game, especially in coming to net more often, she could do some damage. Success in the grass season is already a given for the reigning Wimbledon champion.
Juzwiak: I think Rybakina’s rise into the three or four most dangerous players on the tour, regardless of ranking, is a real thing. I’m not sure she has proved her steadiness is at a similar level to what Swiatek pulled off last year -- both within a match and day-to-day. What Swiatek did a year ago was a rarity. I think a plausible goal for Rybakina would be to exit the clay-court season still holding -- or close to -- the match-win lead for the season. That would be an indication she has become consistent enough to challenge for the No.1 ranking.
Macpherson: Over February and March, Rybakina set a career-best winning streak of 13 matches. She's undoubtedly leveled up in terms of consistency. And though she might prefer faster surfaces, clay hasn't posed a significant problem for her. She won her first WTA title on it (Bucharest 2019) and made her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros 2021. So early exits would be a surprise, and a deep run at Roland Garros can be expected. But all of this is still some way off Swiatek's 2022 historic accomplishments.
Fischer: Rybakina will face a challenge in the next couple of months. She reached the quarterfinals at only one of her past nine clay-court tournaments. Granted that one came in 2021 in which she defeated Serena Williams. For the current World No.7 to go on a deep run would be surprising on clay. I'd expect to see more results like she did this spring at Wimbledon, where she is a two-time champion or make another deep run during the summer hard-court season.
Sorana Cirstea was arguably the biggest surprise down the stretch of the Miami Open? What other under-the-radar player impressed you?
Fischer: Anastasia Potapova. A title winner at Linz in February, the 22-year-old defeated American Coco Gauff in the third round and reached the quarterfinals, where she lost to Jessica Pegula in a third-set tiebreak. It was Pegula who also halted Potapova’s run at Indian Wells in the third round (also a three-set match). After starting the year ranked No.43, Potapova now sits at No.25 and is in position to earn her first Top 32 seed at a Slam. With a return-games win percentage of 43.4% this year, the sixth best on tour, she should be poised to continue to make noise on clay.
Garber: The 22-year-old Varvara Gracheva began the season ranked No.100. On Monday, she rose to No.46 after qualifying and reaching the fourth round at both Indian Wells and Miami. Gracheva made the third round of the Australian Open and the final in Austin before these impressive back-to-back efforts. She looks like she’s going to be a player.
Juzwiak: Gracheva is going to get a lot of plaudits here, so I’ll make a case for Ekaterina Alexandrova, who came into Miami ranked inside the Top 20 but was only 4-6 on the season. Alexandrova beat Belinda Bencic for her first Top 10 win in 10 months, then gritted out a hard-fought first set against Bianca Andreescu (before her unfortunate injury). Alexandrova matched eventual champion Petra Kvitova shot for shot in their hard-hitting quarterfinal. Alexandrova is another player who can pick up her form by summoning power at a moment’s notice.
Macpherson: Gracheva is making an early case as one of this season's most improved players. She backed up her first WTA final in Austin a month ago by reaching the last 16 of both Indian Wells and Miami after qualifying for each, defeating Daria Kasatkina and Ons Jabeur along the way. Gracheva has now won 14 of her past 17 matches and rocketed from No.100 in January to a Top 50 debut -- a far cry from the 10-match midseason losing streak she had in 2022.
And just like that, we move on to a long clay season. What name that we haven’t heard a lot of lately will make her mark in these next couple of months?
Macpherson: It's been more than a decade since Sara Errani made the 2012 Roland Garros final, and nearly five years since the 35-year-old Italian had been in the Top 100 when she re-entered it last month. But she's already back up to No.78 after reaching the San Luis Potosi final last week -- the latest of several strong results at WTA 125 level over the past year. Errani's touch is still fine and her tennis acumen still sharp. A last hurrah on clay can't be ruled out, possibly this week in Bogota or next month at home in Rome.
Juzwiak: Daria Kasatkina, this is your moment. The World No.8 has struggled since reaching the Adelaide International 2 final in January. She’s had some tough draws but has converted only three of her past 10 hard-court matches into wins. However, Kasatkina is a former Charleston champion and reached the semifinals at Rome and Roland Garros last year. With clay under her feet, maybe she can flip a much greater percentage of those challenging meetings into victories.
Fischer: Paula Badosa has had a quiet start to 2023, winning only six of her 10 matches to start the year, including two losses to Elena Rybakina. But let's not forget, last year the former World No.2 reached the quarterfinals in Charleston and semifinals in Stuttgart. Since the start of 2020, Badosa owns a 31-10 record on clay. Only Ons Jabeur (33) and Iga Swiatek (37) own more match wins on clay in that time period. It certainly would not be far-fetched to see Badosa return to form on clay.
Garber: The clay season will come as a relief for Jil Teichmann. After losing her first match in Miami, a surface better suited for her game looms. A year ago, she made the semifinal in Madrid, the quarterfinals in Rome and the fourth round at Roland Garros. I’ll be surprised if the 25-year-old from Switzerland doesn’t go deep into these draws again.