By Daniel Perissé
Two years ago, Ashleigh Barty claimed her first title at the Miami Open presented by Itaú. After becoming World No. 1 a couple of months later in 2019 and keeping that performance up to this week, the Australian returns to Hard Rock Stadium ready to defend her title against a group of players that include eight of the current top ten in the WTA Rankings.
This list includes World No. 2 Naomi Osaka, former No. 1 Simona Halep, 2019 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova – who lost to Barty in the 2019 Miami Open final –, Aryna Sabalenka, Bianca Andreescu and Petra Kvitova.
The only absence – and a major one – is Serena Williams. The 23-time Grand Slam champion will not be able to capture her ninth title in Miami this year due to a recent oral surgery. She is currently ranked No. 7 in the WTA list.
Although Serena’s withdrawal may sound like good news for Barty, she knows the path to another Miami Open title is far from easy. Osaka comes fresh from her fourth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open this year, while Halep has reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne.
American players will be represented in Miami by Kenin, a Pembroke Pines, FL, native currently ranked as number four in the world and a Grand Slam champion at age 21; Seven-time Grand Slam winner and Serena’s older sister Venus Williams; and Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady.
Other players to watch outside of the top ten are 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek, Spaniard Garbiñe Muguruza, who comes from winning in Dubai this year, three-time Miami Open winner Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Ostapenko and veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova, a former finalist in Miami.
Seeded number one in the draw, Barty awaits the winner of a match between qualifiers. Osaka is the second seed and faces Australian Alja Tomljanovic or Russian Anastasia Potapova, while Halep plays against Caroline Garcia, from France, or a qualifier.
The Miami Open Women’s main draw starts on March 23rd, the same day of the second round of the qualifying – 12 spots are at stake.