Miami Open Daily Preview: Sakkari, Azarenka Face Fast-Rising Opposition - UBITENNIS
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Miami Open Daily Preview: Sakkari, Azarenka Face Fast-Rising Opposition

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Maria Sakkari last week in Indian Wells (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Thursday features first round men’s singles matches and second round women’s singles action, while the men’s and women’s doubles draws both also get underway.

A resurgent Maria Sakkari, who is coming off a run to the final last week in Indian Wells, plays her opening round match on Thursday afternoon against Yue Yuan, who won her first WTA title just a few weeks ago in Austin.  Plus, three-time Miami Open champion Victoria Azarenka takes on impressive young American Peyton Stearns, who very-nearly upset Aryna Sabalenka in Indian Wells.

Other action on Thursday includes last year’s runner-up Elena Rybakina, the tour return of Kei Nishikori, and doubles matches featuring the likes of Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Alex de Minaur.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.


Maria Sakkari (8) vs. Yue Yuan – Not Before 1:00pm on Stadium Court

Sakkari arrived in Indian Wells having lost four of her last five matches, as well as four of her five last matches at Majors.  But her decision to hire David Witt as her new coach paid immediate dividends, as she advanced to the Indian Wells final with victories over Caroline Garcia, Emma Navarro, and Coco Gauff.

But she cannot afford a dip in her level against her opponent on Thursday.  Yue has claimed 10 of her last 11 contests, and defeated Anna Blinkova in straights sets on Tuesday.  The 25-year-old from China was ranked outside the top 100 only four months ago, but ended 2023 by reaching four consecutive finals at all levels, and is now at a career-high of No.37. 

The WTA detailed Yuan’s recent and surprising rise in this new article, which outlines how a coincidental meeting with former ATP player Jose Hernandez-Fernandez last month in Austin led to him becoming her coach despite a lack of coaching experience, and led to her becoming a first-time WTA titleholder that same week.  So both players are feeling confident with new voices in their camps.

Their only prior meeting occurred last year at the Australian Open, when Sakkari prevailed 6-1, 6-4.  While Yue is a much-improved player today, and Maria is just 7-6 lifetime in Miami, I still favor the Greek on Thursday.  Sakkari possesses the bigger weapons on court, and she’s had several days to recover physically and emotionally from her big fortnight in Indian Wells.


Peyton Stearns vs. Victoria Azarenka (27) – Not Before 7:00pm on Grandstand Court

Two Saturdays ago in tennis paradise, 22-year-old Peyton Stearns held four match points against Aryna Sabalenka, yet failed to close out the match, with Aryna eventually winning in a third-set tiebreak.  Peyton was a highly successful collegiate player, and has made quite an impact on tour this past year.  After reaching the third round of Roland Garros last May, she advanced to the second week of the US Open, and was even up a set against Wimbledon champ Marketa Vondrousova in the fourth round.

Azarenka’s first title in Miami came 15 years ago, with the others occurring in 2011 and 2016.  But she has not been beyond the fourth round here since 2018, and is a modest 10-5 in 2024.  In Indian Wells, she lost her opening match in three sets to another American, Caroline Dolehide.

Stearns has described her on-court mantra as “go big or go home,” as she’s an aggressive hitter and a dogged competitor.  In her first career meeting with the two-time Major champ on Thursday night, Peyton won’t shy away from being boisterous and encouraging the American crowd to get behind her.  However, she’ll still be the underdog against Azarenka, especially at the most successful WTA 1000 tournament of Vika’s career, where she has accumulated 40 match wins.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Sebastian Ofner vs. Kei Nishikori (WC) – This will be Nishikori’s first match since last July in Atlanta, which was his first ATP event since 2021.  Injuries have continually disrupted Kei’s career for the past five years.  Ofner is ranked 40th in the world thanks to 60 match wins last season at all levels, but comes into this match having lost eight of his last 10.

Anhelina Kalinina (32) vs. Caroline Wozniacki (WC) – Wozniacki achieved the first quarterfinal of her unretirement last week in Indian Wells, and comfortably defeated Clara Burel in straight sets on Tuesday.  Kalinina was a surprising finalist last May in Rome, though she’s just 5-8 in 2024. 

Thanasi Kokkinakis and Stefanos Tsitsipas (WC) vs. Alex de Minaur and Rinky Hijikata – Kokkinakis and Tsitsipas are both of Greek descent, and are a new doubles pairing taking on two of Thanasi’s Australian countrymates, who are teaming together for just the second time. 

Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (5) vs. Ashlyn Krueger and Sloane Stephens (WC) – This is an all-American doubles matchup featuring two Major singles champions.  For the regular pairing of Gauff and Pegula, this is only the second tournament of the year, while Krueger and Stephens just started playing together two weeks ago in Indian Wells.

Dusan Lajovic vs. Gael Monfils – Monfils went on a nice run in Indian Wells, taking out both Hubert Hurkacz and Cameron Norrie in dramatic affairs.  He is 2-0 against Lajovic, who is 7-7 on the year.

Clara Tauson (Q) vs. Elena Rybakina (4) – Rybakina was forced to pull out of Indian Wells due to illness, and is defending finalist points from a year ago at this event.  She is an impressive 17-3 this season, with two titles (Brisbane, Abu Dhabi).  Tauson is a 21-year-old from Denmark who has been discussed as a player with great potential, yet as per Tennis Abstract, is only 2-8 lifetime against top 20 players.


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas downs Sinner; now aims for Third Title in Monte Carlo

Stylish Greek completes comeback win and re-enters the top ten.

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After winning two in a row in 2021-2022, Stefanos Tsitsipas is now in reach of a third title at the prestigious Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, after beating World number two Jannik Sinner in three gruelling sets.

The 25-year-old had to battle hard and come from a break down in the third to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 and now plays Casper Ruud in tomorrow’s final. The Greek has had an indifferent start to the year with a 11-6 win-loss record, but today was his first top three victory since the 2022 Cincinatti Masters – where he beat Daniil Medvedev – and ensures a return back into the top ten of the men’s rankings.

Tsitsipas recognised how hard he had to fight and revealed after the match just how satisfied he was of his performance:

“It was tennis at its highest level that I have been able to play. Jannik was an extremely difficult opponent and it can be seen throughout the year so far. He has been very consistent and I could see that throughout today with his game. He is one of the toughest opponents I have faced so far and to find ways when there weren’t that many, I am proud of that. He gave me a very difficult game and the way I overcame it is true excellence.”

Sinner double faulted at 30-40 to gift the break early with the score at one game all. From there, Tsistipas rallied with poise and confidence in a brilliant opening set lasting 44 minutes including a stunning backhand down-the-line winner to open the game when serving at 4-3. He took the first set 6-4 after a tiring 18-shot rally – where both players hit all angles of the court – before Sinner hit a forehand wide.

However, 22-year-old Sinner struck back immediately on his first breakpoint at the start of the second set when he won a close exchange at the net and then took a 3-0 lead.  He later survived a breakback point when 4-2 up and crucially held on for 5-2. He faced more pressure when serving for the set at 5-3 and was taken to deuce but levelled the match at one-set-all on his second set point to give the crowd exactly what they were asking f

Sinner was now in full flow hitting powerfully from the baseline and once again broke early at the start of the final set to take a 3-1 lead. But with the match now entering the third hour he began to tire physically and called for the trainer during the changeover with the score at 4-3.  When the match resumed, he lost the next three games and the Greek had completed a remarkable turnaround, handing his opponent just his second defeat of the season in two hours and forty minutes.

“It helps a lot knowing I have a win like this under my belt. Having a win like this and getting to the levels of tennis again brings a lot of satisfaction to me,” Tsitsipas said. “When there is a lot of work put in each day, these are the type of matches you are aiming for.”

Sinner’s only loss prior to today was against Carlos Alcaraz in Indian Wells semi-finals. He has been the stand out player this year after already winning titles in Rotterdam, the Miami Open, and his maiden Grand Slam in Australia. Despite having won 25 matches overall though, he now trails Tsitsipas 3-6 in their head-to-head rivalry.

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Casper Ruud Reveals Shock After Knocking Out Novak Djokovic In Monte-Carlo

Casper Ruud is into his second career Masters 1000 final after beating Novak Djokovic for the first time.

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Casper Ruud is into his second Masters 1000 final of his career after recording his best ever win by beating Novak Djokovic 6-4 1-6 6-4.

The Norwegian defeated the world number one for the first time in his career as he overcame a mini-comeback from Djokovic to seal his place in the Monte-Carlo final.

Having lost his five previous meetings to Djokovic, Ruud played some fearless tennis under pressure as the eighth seed broke to close out a career-best win.

Speaking after the win Ruud admitted he was in a state of shock and was pleased with the victory, “I am super happy,” Ruud told the ATP website.

“This is a day I will remember for a long time. Beating a World No. 1 is something I have never done and beating Novak is something I have never done. I am very, very happy. I am a little bit in a state of shock right now.”

After achieving the seemingly improbable, Ruud will now look to win his first ever ATP title that’s above a Masters 1000 event when he takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Monte-Carlo final.

That’s a prospect Ruud is looking forward to as he prepares for one final challenge, “There is always one more match in tennis,” the Norwegian explained.

“Tomorrow is going to be a special day, playing a final here in Monte-Carlo. It is a great result but I have been chasing a big title for a few years now and tomorrow I will have another shot at it. I am going to give it my all. Stef is playing well. He is a great player on clay and on other surfaces as well, but I guess clay is maybe where he has had the most success and especially this tournament.

“So it is going to be another tough task, but I am up for it.”

The final will take place at 14:00 BST.

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Rafael Nadal Set For Opening Round Test Against Cobolli In Barcelona

Rafael Nadal will look to make his ATP tour return in Barcelona this week.

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Rafael Nadal is set for his return to tennis in Barcelona as he has been drawn against Flavio Cobolli in the opening round.

Nadal has been struggling with injury after being injured again in Brisbane this year.

The tournament in Brisbane was his first tournament back for a year as he suffered a hip injury at the Australian Open last year.

Now Nadal aims to return to competitive action in Barcelona as he has been drawn against Flavio Cobolli in the opening round.

Speaking earlier in the week Nadal was hopeful of a return to the tour in Barcelona, “Excited to be here for a few days before the start of the tournament,” Nadal told the ATP website.

“I’m here to see how it goes… can’t wait to try and play. I’ll let you know. Important to say that I don’t want to confirm I’ll be playing, but I hope so. We’ll see.”

Should Nadal play and win his opening round match then the Spaniard will play fourth seed Alex De Minaur in the second round.

The former world number one has won the title on 12 different occasions but hasn’t won the title since 2021.

Elsewhere in the draw defending champion Carlos Alcaraz will begin against Luca Van Assche or Zhizhen Zhang with the Spaniard projected to meet Borna Coric in the third round.

Alcaraz suffered an injury in Monte-Carlo and will be beginning his clay court campaign in Barcelona.

Also in action in Barcelona are Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud.

Main draw action will begin on Monday.

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