Miami Open’s Elite Eight — Quotes from the 305

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, March 26, 2024

Howdy, y’all, and Happy Tennis Tuesday! The Miami Open has entered the second week and we have a quarterfinal lineup nobody expected, but one I’m actually excited for:

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(14) Ekaterina Alexandrova vs. (5) Jessica Pegula
(23) Caroline Garcia vs. Danielle Collins
(8) Maria Sakkari vs. (4) Elena Rybakina
(27) Victoria Azarenka vs. Yulia Putintseva

I can see either side winning each matchup given current form, how Miami plays, etc. but we’ll lean in with our gut and break down each of the quarters.

Q1: Alexandrova’s decisive straight-sets win over No. 1 and Indian Wells champion Iga Swiatek was the biggest shock and the Russian’s level was simply out of this world. It was a career-best win for the No. 14 seed, who scored her first No. 1 scalp with the 6-4, 6-2 victory. Alexandrova now awaits No. 5 Jessica Pegula, who has yet to drop a set in her three matches. The No. 5 seed has looked solid, with a few blips of struggles nonetheless. However, to me, her fourth round victory over No. 20 Emma Navarro was a great victory not only on paper, but mentally given the dip Pegula has had so far this year. Pegula won their only previous encounter in straight sets on the Rome red clay and I see a repeat here.
Prediction: Pegula in 2 sets

Q2: In my opinion, this is the match to tune in for. The tennis will be powerful and if there’s one thing to expect, it’s some flair and emotion from both players. Garcia is producing her best tennis of the season, knocking out Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff back-to-back to reach the quarterfinals. On the other hand is Collins, who first broke through in 2018 with a run to the semifinals and is in her third quarterfinal in Miami. After dropping her opening set to Bernarda Pera in the first round, she’s only dropped 14 games in 8 sets. The American is having a super solid 2024 campaign, which is unfortunately going to be her swan song. The way she’s been playing, the Danimal stan in me is wondering if the perfect storybook ending will include the big title. She leads Garcia 3-0 in their head-to-head, all on hardcourts, and I expect to see the same here.
Prediction: Collins in 3 sets

Q3: If you told me there would be only one quarterfinal that would live up to their seeding, I don’t think I would have predicted Sakkari vs. Rybakina. Sure, Sakkari is coming off of a high with an Indian Wells final in her first event with coach David Witt, but Rybakina had been struggling with an illness that forced her to withdraw from defending her 2023 Indian Wells title. The Kazakh has had a tough road so far in Miami, but did have her best match of the tournament in the fourth round against Madison Keys. Meanwhile, Sakkari won her first two matches in straight sets and then received a walkover over Anna Kalinskaya. ‘m chronically a picker of Rybakina to at least make the semis and I did predict her to make the final here. However, I think the coaching change to Witt will continue to help Sakkari in the Sunshine Double. Rybakina leads their head-to-head 2-1 that includes a wild 6-0, 6-7, 7-6 win at the WTA Finals in Cancun last year and I do expect another three-set tussle.
Prediction: Sakkari in 3 sets

Q4: If there’s one thing you could bet on, it’s Azarenka enjoying her time in Miami. The Miami Open is the Belarussian’s best WTA 1000 event in her career with over 40 wins and 3 titles to her name. She had a really entertaining epic against Peyton Stearns in the second round, but scored two quality straight setters over Zheng Qinwen and Katie Boulter to land herself in a sixth quarterfinal in South Beach. On the other side of the net is Putintseva, who followed up a fourth round finish in Indian Wells with at least one better here. She took advantage of Aryna Sabalenka getting knocked out in the third round, but has had to win three of her four matches in three sets. Sure, she’s fit and she doesn’t lack confidence, but Azarenka is scary to play when she plays into form and she’s getting better with every match. Azarenka leads their head-to-head 2-0 — both in three sets, which was a shocker to me. Don’t expect that again, though.
Prediction: Azarenka in 2 sets

I won’t give my predictions for the semi-finals and beyond, but I will say I’m hoping we can see a Collins vs. Azarenka final. The drama, tension and passion alone in that matchup could create world peace — at least in my heart.

Now, onto links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

Perhaps the best story of the week came from Ghana when Auburn sophomore Angella Okutoyi stunned the world to claim the gold medal at the African Games. As long as she rises into the Top 400 by June, she will represent Kenya at the Paris Olympic Games.

Former pro and USTA high performance coach Jose Higueras penned an open letter to the American tennis community to denounce the organization, specifically USTA Board members Brian Vahaly and Vania King, and their decision to cut funding and jeopardize the future of tennis in the country.

WTA Insider spoke with Simona Halep after her first round loss to Paula Badosa, discussing the emotions of her CAS-reduced doping suspension, coming back and where she goes from here. They also sat down with Peyton Stearns, who feels she’s finding some form after a little bit of a sophomore slump following her breakout 2023 season.

Tara Moore shared her intentions to return to pro tennis after finally being vindicated for tainted meat in Colombia causing a positive doping test. The ITIA also announced that 2023 saw a decrease in suspicious matches with betting activity.

The difference between Indian Wells and Miami is huge for a lot of players for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s the weather and others, it can be the balls.

Last week, I showed the tweet discussing Storm Hunter’s saga to get from Indian Wells to Miami and it’s the perfect example of the hectic schedule we don’t think about when we dream about professional tennis.

Yuan Yue was without a coach and her last option agreed to join her in Austin. A week later, she was a WTA titlist and continues to trust the process.

Taylor Townsend continues to find her career-best form as a mother, scoring a huge win in Miami over Elise Mertens.

I love when tennis players give back, but when there’s puppy content?! Sign me up!

Brad Gilbert, former pro and coach of Coco Gauff, was the tennis consultant for Challengers, the tennis movie starring Zendaya that will hit theaters April 26.

Iga Swiatek was the latest edition of the WTA Insider podcast following her second Indian Wells title.

2016 Olympic champion Monica Puig has found a love for ironman races following her retirement and she recently scored a personal best time in her homeland of Puerto Rico.

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Tweet of the Week

Damn, am I going to miss her

Five at The IX: Miami Open Week 1

Q. I want to talk about you and Venus being out there as wild cards still in the game. Former No. 1s coming back and still at it. Could you comment on Venus at her age coming back, doing what she’s doing. Not a comeback really, but… For you, how is it different having two kids and doing what you do? Have you changed, do you feel?

CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: I’m going to start with the first question.

I think it’s amazing to see Venus still out there. I mean, she’s 43 years old. She’s a legend of the game. She’s won so much. Really she’s earned the right to do whatever she wants to do. If she wants to play another 10 years, that’s great. If she wants to never play again, that’s also great.

I think it’s just an inspiration to see her playing and fit out there competing against all these youngsters. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of hard work behind the scenes and practice and taking care of your body.

I think it’s always great to see her, see her in the draw. She obviously still loves playing. I think as long as she wants to play, I’m all for her playing where she wants and when she wants.

For me, having two kids, I took a long break, and I’m back playing. It’s nice. It’s a different perspective for me. I didn’t think I was going to be here again. For me to be out and competing against the best players in the world, it’s a lot of fun.

I definitely think I don’t put as much pressure on myself. I think having that perspective of I have my family and they are there and they don’t really care. I win or lose, they’re still there and want mom. It’s great.

For them still to be able to see me put the work in, it’s a great way also for them to learn. And for them to travel with me and my family, it’s great. I think we’re getting closer even in a different way. They have to adapt, but I think it’s fun for them.

Olivia is always excited about getting on a plane and going to meet new people and see new places. She still talks about Paris. I don’t know why Paris. I mean, I guess a lot of people love Paris. But that’s one that kind of sticks out to her. She talks about all the places we’ve been. I think it’s great. She’s so young. James is even younger. But I see her really take everything in, and that’s pretty cool.

Q. You’re in the midst of an incredible career. Sometimes when you’re in that career it’s hard to kind of look back and look forward and get perspective, but what have you learned in this journey and what do you look forward to learning and what do you hope to accomplish moving forward?

SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, it’s been obviously a difficult journey, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of heartbreak, a lot of strong, incredible performances on incredible stages and great trophies and just very low lows.

It’s definitely been a journey in itself, and I think obviously when I started playing tennis I would have never even dreamed of winning a Grand Slam or being No. 3 in the world. I think I was playing because I really enjoyed it and I loved it.

Somebody asked me this the other day, like, does it matter that you were never No. 1 in the world? I’m, like, absolutely not. I maxed out what I had, I won a Grand Slam, I had a great career-high ranking, played the Olympics, done all these amazing things.

I think when you start a sport, you can have a dream, obviously something that you really want to do, and if you do that, you get there, it’s always incredible, right? But when you do that and then you do so many other things on top of it, it’s just like icing on the cake.

I feel like I have done so much, but there is still a lot left. Again, today I’m 31, but who knows how much longer I will play, but there is still a lot left. Hopefully some more, like, accomplishments and fun things to come.

Q. Slightly unrelated, but if you reflect on trying to do something for the first time versus doing something you have already done and trying to do it the second, third, fourth time, how do you contrast the differences? Which one is more difficult, in your experience?

NAOMI OSAKA: Hmm. Honestly probably trying to do it the first time. I think you, I guess, don’t know you’re able to achieve it yet, and then when you finally do, it’s kind of like a surprise and also a relief all in one.

I guess when you’re aware that you have already achieved something, you have this inner confidence in yourself. While it is a little bit, I guess, negative to think, like, if you have already achieved something, why is it so difficult to do it again, I do feel like it’s, I don’t know, every day is a new day, and there are so many new faces on the tour that I see, like, doing so amazing, and it’s incredibly inspiring.

So I’m glad that I have achieved a couple things in my career, and I hope that I’m able to do it again.

Q. You’ve had some amazing highs in your career. Despite the result today, where would you rate this day, coming back and playing a first match?

SIMONA HALEP: I would rate it as a special day, honestly, considering the period I had. Playing so well, feeling so well on court, feeling so well outside of the court with so many people that are very nice to me and giving me the love, I would say that this day is going to stay very special for me.

Of course, I had many results in the past, big results. But here it’s something more than tennis, it’s something personal. I really love to see that people are appreciating me beside tennis and beside everything that happened.

Q. What are the positives you take away from an intense victory on your way to another Sunshine Double?

IGA SWIATEK: As you can see, it’s not like we can take everything for granted. You can be in trouble at the early stages of the tournament. No sense to talk about Sunshine Double.

For sure I’m taking just experience from this match and I know what I have to focus on little bit more because it wasn’t like I felt 100% comfortable all the time. I mean, I thought it’s going to be easier to get used to the new conditions and new balls, but it’s been tricky today.

I know I kind of changed my mind after yesterday’s press, but now I know that I still have some things to figure out and I know what to focus on.

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By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
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Written by Joey Dillon