¡Bienvenidos a Miami! — Swiatek claims BNP Paribas Open

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, March 19, 2024

Howdy, y’all, and Happy Tennis Tuesday! We’re halfway through the Sunshine Double and remember when I said Iga Swiatek wasn’t going to go far, but still had her deep in my predictions. Of course, the World No. 1 delivered in fine fashion to take her second BNP Paribas Open title with a one-hour victory over Maria Sakkari. When she took the 2022 title, she ended up sweeping in Miami but don’t fret, we’ll get to my predictions for the Miami Open‘s next two weeks.

Continue reading with a subscription to The IX

Get unlimited access to our exclusive coverage of a varitety of women’s sports, including our premium newsletter by subscribing today!

Join today

First, let’s discuss some news that broke Monday night — Konstantin Koltsov, the boyfriend of World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, has reportedly died in Miami at the age of 42. As of submission, Sabalenka hasn’t released any statement, but Koltsov’s hockey club confirmed the news on X. Whether or not the news is true and/or Sabalenka will play Miami is to be determined, though I will say that it does factor in how I see the draw unfolding.

Order “Rare Gems” and save 30%

Howard Megdal, founder and editor of The Next and The IX, has written a new book! This deeply reported story follows four connected generations of women’s basketball pioneers, from Elvera “Peps” Neuman to Cheryl Reeve and from Lindsay Whalen to Sylvia Fowles and Paige Bueckers.

If you enjoy his coverage of women’s basketball every Wednesday, you will love “Rare Gems: How Four Generations of Women Paved the Way for the WNBA.” Click the link below and enter MEGDAL30 at checkout.

With the singles draw being released, there are a lot of sections that seem to be copy-and-pasted — at least in potential second and/or third round matchups. Swiatek can face Linda Noskova in the third round, Zheng Qinwen and Victoria Azarenka are on a third round collision course and Sloane Stephens can play Sorana Cirstea in the second round and Daria Kasatkina in her next — an exact replica of Indian Wells.

Now, the Miami Open is a completely different beast compared to Indian Wells. The BNP Paribas Open is in a dry desert with super slow and gritty courts, while Miami has a quicker surface but stinging heat and humidity. It will be interesting how players — especially those who went deep this past fortnight — will adapt to those conditions.

There are quite a few first-round matchups that are tasty, including some that will be played today:

  • (WC) Simona Halep vs. Paula Badosa: The juiciest first rounder of the entire draw — if it happens. Halep is back from her doping ban and is looking to prove a lot of haters wrong. Meanwhile, Badosa had to withdraw from Indian Wells with her continuing back injury. The winner of this sets up a (current) showdown with Aryna Sabalenka, which I’m not sure will even happen. I’m also a bit surprised that Badosa was still in the draw and didn’t withdraw when it was revealed, but there’s still time.
  • (WC) Venus Williams vs. Diana Shnaider: Venus Williams first won this tournament in 1998. For a little context, Diana Shnaider was born in 2004. This is Williams’ home tournament and she’s produced some incredible magic over the years, but Shnaider won her first WTA singles title last month and is looking to become a mainstay in the Top 50.
  • (WC) Caroline Wozniacki vs. Clara Burel: Wozniacki had a great Indian Wells campaign, but had to retire in her quarterfinal against Iga Swiatek due to blisters and a nail problem from all of the tennis. She’s in the section of Halep/Badosa/Sabalenka and can sneak through another big run. That being said, Burel beat Jessica Pegula in Melbourne and lost to Coco Gauff in a third-set tiebreaker (having been up 5-2 in the third) in Indian Wells.
  • Sloane Stephens vs. Angelique Kerber: Stephens is the 2018 champion and did a lot of her development in the area. She also has Kerber’s number in their head-to-head. However, Kerber won their last meeting at the 2021 US Open and found some form in Indian Wells. The winner of this match should go a little far.
  • Donna Vekic vs. Karolina Pliskova: Two big hitters who have fallen from their best. Could be a super fun tussle.
  • Elisabetta Cocciaretto vs. Naomi Osaka: Cocciaretto just captured the WTA 125 event this past week in Charleston, but Osaka is Osaka who grew up in the area.
  • Daria Saville vs. Zhang Shuai: Saville had her first breakthrough here in 2015 and is looking to get back to her Top 25 form, while Zhang has recently come back from an extended break and is hoping to end her 18-match losing streak. Big match for both.

How will Miami unfold is the big question, but truthfully, this tournament usually produces some crazy runs and upsets. I feel like it’s almost mandatory for a wildcard to win a few matches and ruffle the feathers of the draw. This year, I expect the same with Simona Halep, who Tournament Director James Blake discussed giving her a wildcard into the tournament. She has a pretty solid draw to get the rust out, but if Sabalenka ends up playing and is focused? That can be a different story. Unfortunately, my gut says the alleged news might be too much for the second seed, especially after losing her father a few years ago.

Still, the tennis in South Beach should be just as hot as the sun at the Hard Rock Stadium and hopefully I don’t look like a fool with my predictions:

Round of 16
(1) Iga Swiatek def. (21) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
(5) Jessica Pegula def. (20) Emma Navarro
(3) Coco Gauff def. Naomi Osaka
Sloane Stephens def. Danielle Collins
(9) Jelena Ostapenko def. (8) Maria Sakkari
(4) Elena Rybakina def. (17) Madison Keys
(7) Zheng Qinwen def. (11) Beatriz Haddad Maia
(WC) Simona Halep def. (13) Liudmila Samsonova

(1) Iga Swiatek def. (5) Jessica Pegula
(3) Coco Gauff def. Sloane Stephens
(4) Elena Rybakina def. (9) Jelena Ostapenko
(WC) Simona Halep def. (7) Zheng Qinwen

(3) Coco Gauff def. (1) Iga Swiatek
(4) Elena Rybakina def. (WC) Simona Halep

(3) Coco Gauff def. (4) Elena Rybakina

Onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Don’t miss out WTA Insider’s Champions Corner episodes with Indian Wells champions Iga Swiatek and Hsieh Su-Wei/Elise Mertens.

Maria Sakkari had a great debut tournament with new coach David Witt en route to the final, but she hopes to get over a lackluster Miami record with him in her corner.

Coco Gauff hopes that now she’s officially out of her teens, people will stop bringing up her age as she continues her ascension up the rankings.

Remember when I said the tour needs more mixed doubles? Well, the BNP Paribas Open scrambled to have an 8-team invitational with a prize money pool of $150,000. Storm Hunter and Matt Ebden ended up winning the inaugural event.

Fiona Crawley of UNC was awarded the 2024 Universal Tennis Foundation Hurd, which is a grant of $100,000 to help fund her professional career. Chloe Beck of Duke was named a runner-up and will receive a $40,000 grant.

Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka are among the names that were nominated to Billie Jean King Cup ties next month — a pre-requisite for Olympic Games eligibility.

Storm Hunter had quite the journey to get from the Indian Wells doubles final to the Miami qualifying, but she’s found herself in the main draw.

Marta Kostyuk, who is reaching new heights in 2024, opened up about working with Wilson to help create her wedding dress.

Howard tennis player Hanna Dessie had the experience of a lifetime thanks to the Kodjoe Family Foundation and Tennis Channel.

The WTA shared that they have joined the Chinese platform Youku to stream their calendar of tournaments.

Want women’s hockey content? Subscribe to The Ice Garden!

Here at The IX, we’re collaborating with The Ice Garden to bring you Hockey Friday. And if you want the women’s hockey goodness 24/7? Well, you should subscribe to The Ice Garden now!

Tweet of the Week

UNC star Reese Brantmeier might forever change the space of collegiate athletics with her lawsuit against the NCAA. The sophomore hopes to let individual athletes retain their prize money earned in competition outside of college, which I’m here for. I personally think any prize money should be put into a trust if an athlete wants to be eligible but they shouldn’t be penalized in a system that’s adopted and glorified NIL.

Open this tweet to see the big key details and how the NCAA could lose this case:

Five at The IX: Indian Wells Week 2

Q. You guys reunited at the start of this year. How did that reunion come about? Who’s idea was it to get back together?

ELISE MERTENS: I actually asked her if she was available to play because we had such a great history together already, winning a slam, winning Indian Wells. So I felt like, okay, she was the right partner to my fit, which she is, I think, because we won another slam and won Indian Wells.

So I think it just naturally flowed a little bit throughout the matches that, okay, we’re not starting from scratch, we already know each other, I know how you play, you know how I play. You know, building something together.

HSIEH SU-WEI: I thought because I’m cute, that’s why you asked me.

ELISE MERTENS: And she is very cute, too. (Laughter.)

Q. Can you talk a bit about Sandra and what she brings to you on and off the court? Are you surprised that there is no more woman’s coaches on tour?

MARTA KOSTYUK: I mean, we work on a lot of things at the same time in different aspects of my personality even, not even on court.

We do everywhere little by little so I’m not overwhelmed with changes, in a way. All of us are changing all the time, so it’s just a matter of how much and in which direction, in a way. I’m very happy it’s growing little by little everywhere.

About woman’s coaches on tour? I mean, I don’t know. I’m not that surprised, because tennis is a very demanding and difficult sport, because we are traveling, like, 45, 50 weeks a year. I mean, yeah, depends where you live and where you practice, but a lot. You know, someone has to stay home with the kids (smiling). I mean, what can I say?

Yeah, and especially like these years, Sandra’s age, she’s 32, and it’s kind of like, you know, it’s only couple of years until she has to decide if she wants to keep on coaching or if she wants to have a family. Because you cannot do both really, especially when you have, like, little baby. What are you going to do with the baby? Where are you going to put it, you know?

And of course for tennis players, for girls, it’s easier in a way when you are, you know, getting pregnant, giving birth, slowly coming back, you have a nanny and travel. Coaches are in a little bit different position.

I’m surprised and I’m not at the same time, because I just think, you know, we’re talking also about it with Sandra that women coaches need more confidence. Like, they need to be more convincing that they know what they are doing. Because the bar is not that high in woman’s tennis, in woman’s coaching world. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good people and nice coaches, but these things are not, I’m not saying — don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the people are bad, but it’s just really not that big of a gap, you know.

So would be nice to see, but, you know, I think it will still take some years. And clearly, you know, the coaches that will travel in the future, they will, yeah, I mean, either their kids are grown up already so they don’t have to stay home or they just decide to not push through their career rather than the family. So it’s personal choice.

Q. Iga, what does winning this title actually mean to you? I don’t think I can remember ever seeing you so excited about a victory for a long time. Does it have some specific significance? What was it?

IGA SWIATEK: Well, I don’t know. I feel like I’m usually excited when I win tournaments. Sometimes, okay, there’s maybe a little bit more of the relief than just pure happiness. But right now I just feel I’ve done really good work.

Maybe because of that, I just know that it hasn’t been easy after Australia, and I’ve been working hard to play well and to handle everything mentally well.

So I’m just proud of myself maybe because of that.

Q. I think during kind of the bulk of your career as a top-10 player you’ve had two dominant No. 1s. It’s been Iga and I think before probably Ash. Does it feel different, like Iga’s No. 1-ness compared to Ash’s No. 1-ness, or is it kind of the same as a player who’s trying to chase these players down?

MARIA SAKKARI: We’re talking about two very different styles obviously. But what they have in common is that you always feel, I’m not going to say you have to be perfect, but, you know, you have to raise your level.

You know that you’re not going to get gifts in an important point. Like, you have to play every single point. And if they give you anything, that’s bonus.

But they were both very disciplined, I would say, with their game. I think in order to be No. 1 you have to be like that. Otherwise, you know, if you’re too unstable, like, you might get there but you won’t last like those two players have done.

Q. We’ve seen you for a long time, your competitiveness on court. You’ve told us you’re really competitive with your brothers. I’d like you to talk a little bit about your competitiveness. Do you think that’s your greatest strength? Do you feel it sort of energizes you in life in general? And who is the greatest competitor that you’ve faced? Serena or somebody else?

COCO GAUFF: Yeah, my competitiveness I think is definitely probably my strength. I think it’s not something that’s taught or really learned. It’s just one of those things you have to find deep down inside of you.

Yeah, I’ve always been like that my whole life. Hopefully I don’t lose that spirit.

The greatest competitor that I have faced, let me think. Actually — that I have seen, definitely Serena. I’ve never played her.

I’m trying to think of people that I’ve played that every time I play is very competitive. I would say Aryna Sabalenka, I think. She’s an incredible competitor. This match a couple days ago kind of showed when she’s down 40-Love and saved match points, she’s just one of those players you play, and no matter the score you know she’s always going to compete and find a way even if she’s not playing her best.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon