2014 Miami Sony Open Will Set the Tone for Rest of the WTA Season

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2014 Miami Sony Open Will Set the Tone for Rest of the WTA Season
Alan Diaz/Associated Press
Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams at trophy ceremony at last year's Sony Open in Miami

The 2014 Miami Sony Open should sort out the mix-bag of results produced on the WTA Tour so far this season.

The Australian Open, the first Grand Slam, comes and goes so quickly it's rarely a true barometer for the rest of the season.

Because Serena Williams, the tour's best player, skips Indian Wells, that tournament loses its luster as a prelude for things to come.

However, the Sony Open, with its treasure trove of points, can provide the missing pieces in the puzzling picture atop the WTA. 

Last year Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova made it to the final. They would go on to meet in two more finals before that wacky Wimbledon.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Sloane Stephens, who had upset Serena Williams at the Australian Open, lost in the third round in Miami. She then went on a miserable slump. 

Miami provides the benchmark to assess which players are true contenders. It will either rewrite or solidify the narratives that have taken shape early in the season.

By the end of the tournament we will know if surging players like Simona Halep and Flavia Pennetta are for real. Eugenie Bouchard could justify the hype or raise more doubts among her critics. 

Miami will tell us if Serena Williams can come anywhere close to the dominance she showed in 2013. Miami was were she began her run last year. If Williams defends her title in Miami, she will remain the favorite to win every match this season. 

Likewise, Li Na can establish herself as the player to beat. Last year Li lost to Serena in the quarterfinals. Until she defeated Dominika Cibulkova at Indian Wells, Li Na had not faced a player in the Top 20. She's yet to face a player in the top 10.

Yet Li continues to lead players in points earned this season. She has set her sights on the No. 1 ranking. Although Serena Williams has a sizable lead in points, Li has been chipping away at it. If she wins her first Sony Open, Li would emerge from this tournament with a real chance at overtaking Serena Williams at No. 1.  

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Bigger questions lie ahead for Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. Sharapova, like Williams, has many points to defend. Last year she reached the finals in Miami, Madrid and the French Open. She also won Stuttgart. Her early exit at Indian Wells sent her out of the top five, to No. 7. A good showing in Miami can help steady Sharapova's shaky start. Another early-round loss and she could be headed out of the Top 10.

Azarenka continues to battle a foot injury. Her withdrawal from the Sony Open is the latest setback for the former No. 1. She took time off after the Australian Open, but lost to Lauren Davis at Indian Wells. Azarenka accumulated enough points to remain at No. 4, but with Halep and Jelena Jankovic closing in on her, Azarenka can't simply hold onto her top-five spot for long. 

After the Sony Open, shifts in the top 10 could go from subtle to seismic. By the time the sun sets in Miami, there will be a clearer picture as to what's on the horizon for the rest of the WTA season. 

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