MIAMI, FL, USA - Reigning Miami Open champion Sloane Stephens won’t have a chance to defend her title on Key Biscayne, where she outlasted Jelena Ostapenko to win her first Premier Mandatory title.
Instead, she will kick off her campaign at the Hard Rock Stadium, a place with which the Florida-born American was admittedly unfamiliar.
“This is how much I knew,” she paused before explaining at the WTA All-Access Hour. “When I drove to the stadium this morning, I ended up at the Hard Rock Hotel. So…I really didn’t know.
“I thought that’s where it was, because that would make sense. But then I got there and it was like ‘No.’”
Once she found her way, Stephens, who celebrated her 25th birthday with a custom cake courtesy of the Buttercreamery Sweets Boutique, credited the site for its obvious upgrades from Crandon Park, and eagerly awaits the memories yet to be made.
“I’ve been going there since I was 14 years old. It’s sad times, and we’re going to miss it, but they worked really hard on this venue, and it looks great so far. Hopefully there’ll be more good tennis played here.”
While Stephens felt nostalgic, No.3 seed Petra Kvitova - who made just one quarterfinal on Key Biscayne - wasn’t as emotionally attached, and quickly took to the main court, what she described as “a stadium within a stadium.”
“I was just thinking yesterday, about how we have all these routines, and suddenly we’re out of it this week. We were in one place many years in a row, but for me, it’s great. You might have a connection with a place you’re playing at, a favorite tournament or a least favorite.
“Key Biscayne was beautiful, but it was never my favorite. For me, it might be a good thing that we changed, and we’ll see what happens here. It’s nice to be out of the routine.”
Kiki Bertens was equally enthusiastic, enjoying the site’s wide open spaces in what has been her first visit to an American football stadium.
“I like having a lot of space, where you’re not in one building all the time," said the Dutch star. "When we would have lunch in Key Biscayne, everyone was so close together that you really had to fight for your spot. It’s so much bigger here!”
“We have a lot of space here for everything that we want to do when it comes to warming up, going to the gym or the locker room,” Kvitova echoed. “It’s great. I could hide easily too, which is a good point for my coaches too.”
The space requires more walking - something Stephens jokingly called a drawback - but Elina Svitolina has found some fun out of the unexpected pre-meal exercise.
“I got a little bit lost!” she said on Wednesday. “The dining room is big, and you have to walk a lot, so you burn lots of calories before you even get food! It’s not easy to find your team either, but it’s nice.”
Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep practiced together before the tournament began, and both gave the site positive reviews.
“You’re still getting used to it, because we were at the old site for so many years,” Pliskova said. “Sometimes players might complain, and everything is so new that you can get a bit lost here.
"I think the court is nice. It didn’t look as big as I thought, and there was a big shadow because of the roof, but otherwise I think it’s perfect. I also hit on the outside courts for the first time. It looks a bit like a factory, with 10 courts in a row!”
“When you are on court, you don’t see everything,” Halep added, referring to the full stadium. “It’s good that you only see the normal stadium. When you warm-up, it’s huge, but you have plenty of space to train, warm-up, and nobody bothers you.”
One thing the top seeds agreed on? The bright blue color of each court.
“I love the blue,” Kvitova said. “It’s my favorite color, and it looks pretty.
“So far, there isn’t a tournament with this color, so it can be nice,” Pliskova said.
“Don’t ask me about the court speed, because I never know,” laughed Halep. “I felt that the color is different, and brighter, so I didn’t see the ball very well at first. I got more used to it after a week, and now I feel good.”
The Top 8 seeds will play their opening round matches at the Miami Open on Thursday and Friday.