Action gets under way this week in Miami for the ladies at the Sony Ericsson Open.
The absences of Serena Williams, world No. 1, and Dinara Safina, currently ranked No. 3, pave the way for other top players to add a unique piece of glassware to the mantle—as well as all those requisite ranking points that go along with such a substantial victory.
Certainly, all four of the top seeds must have a special place set aside to display the splendid Sony Ericsson championship trophy.
Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters are situated elsewhere, ready to give the top seeds in those quarters headaches.
The other top-10 seed in the Russian’s quarter is Na Li, who delighted fans with her fantastic run during the Australian Open to reach her first Slam semifinal. Soon after, Li became the first Chinese woman to be ranked in the WTA top 10.
Hardcourts are Li's surface of choice, and she is relentless during rallies, running everything down. Unfortunately, the Chinese tiger met defeat early in Round Two at Indian Wells.
Other top-seeded players await Kuznetsova: Agnes Szavay, potentially a third-round matchup; Marion Bartoli, seeded No. 13; or No. 21 seed Alona Bondarenko, who would face the Russian in the fourth round.
Should Kuznetsova make it to the quarterfinals, the No. 8 seed would be waiting for her. But the feisty Li first needs to make it past the Belgian Wickmayer, No. 18 seed Aravane Rezai of France, or Canadian Aleksandra Wozniack, seeded No. 31.
The No. 1 seed Kuznetsova has far to go before the quarterfinal match is set.
Quarterfinal Winner: Kuznetsova
Dark Horse: Wickmayer
Venus Williams' Quarter
Venus Williams boycotted the event in Indian Wells but has made the most of her early season. She reached the quarterfinals at the 2010 Australian Open, where she lost to Na Li. From the Australian Open, Williams went on to win championships in both Dubai and Acapulco.
Seeded No. 3 in Miami, Venus’ quarter is filled with many more potential pitfalls than Kuznetsova’s. The elder Williams' third-round matchup could conceivably find Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain waiting on the other side of the net should the seedings hold.
The fourth round might bring either Nadia Petrova, seeded No. 16, or Daniela Hantuchova, seeded No. 19.
In other half of Williams’ quarter are the No. 6 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, the No. 10 seed Flavia Pennetta, No. 25 seed Ana Ivanovic, and German Sabine Lisicki sitting as the No. 23 seed.
Unless the German Lisicki finds her impressive serving game, Radwanska appears the most likely to meet Williams in the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinal Winner: Williams
Dark Horse: Penneta
Victoria Azarenka’s Quarter
The lady from Belarus has quite a challenge ahead of her as defending champion. In 2009, she defeated Serena Williams to win the trophy in Miami by playing sterling tennis throughout the tournament.
This year, she is seeded No. 4 and is the top-ranked player in her quarter. But her section of the draw is packed with potent players who can all make it to the quarterfinal match and beyond.
Sitting at the opposite end of her quarter is Jelena Jankovic, seeded No. 7. She just won Indian Wells, surprising everyone—most of all, her severest critics—with her steady, dependable, and precise ground strokes.
For Azarenka, getting to the quarterfinals means first getting by Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and then either Shahar Pe’er or Kim Clijsters—neither of these ladies are what we would call “pushovers” on court.
That would pave the way for a quarterfinal match with Jankovic—should she survive—or No. 28 Elena Vesnina, No. 20 Jie Zheng, or No. 9 Samantha Stosur, all of whom are seeded in Azarenka’s quarter.
Each has the ability to upset Jankovic before she reaches the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinal Winner: Clijsters
Dark Horse: Shahar Pe’er
Caroline Wozniacki’s Quarter
Wozniacki played very well to make it through the draw in Indian Wells. But she was summarily dismissed by Jankovic in the final.
The Dane appeared to show up for the championship match without her game. It was a disappointing outing after Wozniacki played such great tennis throughout the tournament.
Now that she has learned how to fight her way into the big finals, her next step is to learn how to win one of them. It could start here in Miami. To get to a final here, however, she has to get by some very strong competition.
The top seed in the bottom of Wozniacki’s quarter is Elena Dementieva. You have to feel for Dementieva, who must face Justine Henin in her first match. The Russian was awarded a first-round bye while Henin won her opening match against Jill Craybus.
That placed the two of them on a collision course for Round Two. You must keep in mind that neither Dementieva nor Henin did all that well in the California desert. They will each be itching to do better this week.
Whichever one wins will face No. 26 seed Dominika Cibulkova, if she gets by Sofia Arvidsson. That would lead to a fourth-round matchup with either Vera Zvonareva, seeded No. 11, or Alisa Kleybanova, seeded No. 24.
That's a lot of “ifs” before either Henin or Dementieva makes it to the quarterfinal match.
Wozniacki would face her first seed in the third round—Maria Kirilenko of Russia. Assuming Wozniacki survives, she would face either No. 22 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia or No. 15 Francesca Schiavone of Italy in Round Four, assuming the seeding holds.
Quarterfinal Winner: Dementieva
Dark Horse: Henin
As we discovered in Indian Wells, seeding does not offer much protection nor predictability when it comes to figuring out who will stand and accept the trophy once the finals have concluded.
A win here will mean a great deal, as players put aside hardcourt gear and ready themselves for a steady diet of clay in the weeks ahead.