By Mario Sarmento
As the 2014 Sony Open Tennis tournament comes to a close, it’s been another two weeks of high-level tennis contested by the best players in the world. And as we say good-bye to this year’s winners and shining lights, let’s take a brief look back at the highlights of this year’s event:
Serena Williams becomes greatest Sony Open winner. The world’s best female player completed another dominant run in Key Biscayne with her record seventh Sony Open title, vaulting her past Andre Agassi as the winningest player in tournament history. Williams rallied from 2-5 down in the first set to beat No. 2 Li Na 7-5, 6-1, improving her Sony Open record to a ridiculous 67-7 all-time.
Djokovic takes his fourth title. Novak Djokovic won his fourth Sony Open men’s singles title with a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 1 Rafael Nadal. Only Agassi has more singles titles than Djokovic, who is now 30-5 lifetime in Key Biscayne.
Hingis comeback ends with fifth title win. Martina Hingis returned to the Sony Open with doubles partner Sabine Lisicki and embarked on a dream run to the women’s doubles championship. The duo were a wildcard in the tournament, and proceeded to beat No. 5 Cara Black and Sania Mirza in the semifinals, then rallied from a set down to beat No. 2 seed Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 4-6, 6-4 (10-5) to claim Hingis’ fifth title in Key Biscayne (three doubles, two singles).
Bryan brothers lift trophy again. The Bryan brothers also added to their record haul as the most accomplished doubles team in history, earning their 96th doubles title and third at Key Biscayne with a thrilling 7-6 (8), 6-4 win over Colombians Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal.
Semifinal walkovers. For the first time in the Open era, both men’s semifinals matches were not played. No. 20 seed Kei Nishikori was forced to withdraw from his match against No. 2 Djokovic with a left groin injury, and later, No. 7 Tomas Berdych had to do the same when he could not face world No. 1 Nadal due to an attack of gastroenteritis.
Emerging stars. Nishikori was one of several rising stars who made an impact at the tournament. On successive days, he upset No. 4 seed David Ferrer and No. 5 Roger Federer. He beat Ferrer in three sets in the match of the tournament, holding off four match points in the process. The next day, he rallied from a set down to beat the formerly untouchable Federer. Also, 12 seed Milos Raonic blasted his way into the quarterfinals with one of the biggest serves in the tournament, and actually was a set up on Nadal before ultimately falling. Tenth seed Dominika Cibulkova reached the Sony Open semis for the first time in her career, knocking off No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarters. And finally, qualifier American Coco Vandeweghe beat three straight opponents, including an upset of No. 16 Sam Stosur, to reach the quarters, where she fell to eventual champion Williams. It was a great run for some new stars.
Fan-friendly events. Whether you were roaming the food court or watching the stadium scoreboard, there was always something going on at the Tennis Center. Top-ranked players like Berdych and Richard Gasquet took the entertainment stage to answer questions from their fans, there were autograph sessions in the Sony Zone, and events like Michelob ULTRA Night at the Michelob ULTRA Beer Garden, where fans got to interact and win signed towels and box seats to night session play from No. 26 seed Marin Cilic. Also, there was FILA Friday Night, also on the entertainment stage, where American Sam Querrey answered questions and signed autographs for fans. And live music entertained the fans on a nightly basis. Fans also got to hang out at the Moet & Chandon Champagne and Sushi Bar and the Bombay Sapphire Lounge.
Passionate fans. The fans contributed mightily to the experience, particularly in doubles, where the passionate Colombian fans helped energize Cabal and Farah in their run to their first Sony Open final.
Unique player fashions. The Sony Open is always a good stop for fashionistas, and they weren’t disappointed this year. From Serena’s aqua-and-orange dress (a homage to the team she’s part-owner of, the Miami Dolphins), to Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ high white socks and pink top, the women came ready to play in Miami. On the men’s side, Nadal thrilled fans with his tight shirts, and Federer showed a little pizzazz with bright orange sneakers to complement his boldly-colored shirts. Lleyton Hewitt even unveiled a neon outfit during his second-round match against Nadal.