Azarenka is ready to return to the leading position?
Tennis in the Sunshine State. The second consecutive major tournament kicked off in Miami this week. It will be played by almost everyone who played in the first half of March in Indian Wells. California has seen several long-awaited returns, most notably Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. In Florida, two girls who had not appeared on the court for a long time were also supposed to play: these are Marion Bartoli and Bethany Mattek-Sands. The Frenchwoman, who retired in 2013, unexpectedly announced her return late last year. Marion intended to perform in Miami, but it turned out that she was not ready yet. But Bethany Mattec Sands is ready. The American suffered a terrible knee injury at Wimbledon 2017. In the game against Sorana Kyrstea, she fell unsuccessfully during the rally and left the court on a stretcher. It took an operation, but now Bethany can perform again.
Yes, the American lost, but still in a fight and a fairly strong tennis player – Alize Korne. Obviously, getting in shape after missing eight months is impossible overnight. The same applies to Victoria Azarenka, who, like Mattek Sands, did not play with Wimbledon. She, however, returned at the previous tournament – in Indian Wells. There, the Belarusian won one match, and then made too many mistakes with Sloane Stevens and lost in two games. But with Catherine Bellis in Miami, Victoria showed excellent tennis. After a chaotic start, Azarenka completely seized the initiative and began to play her favorite tennis, placing balls strongly and accurately in the corners. Now, after a confident victory with a score of 6: 3, 6: 0, she has good chances for success with a more formidable rival – Madison Keys. But the American could not finish the meeting, starring in the second set due to a hip injury.
Tennis paradise in the very south of Florida
The current draw is special, if only for the reason that the tournament was last held at the Tennis Center in Crandon Park. Starting next year, the championship will move to the Hard Rock Stadium, which can accommodate about 70 thousand tennis fans. For comparison, the central arena of the current tournament house may have 13,000 fans. Interestingly, the first draw – in 1985 – was held in Delray Beach, which is also located in Florida. Then the tournament moved to Boca West – another city in the Sunshine State. And in 1987, tennis players moved to Key Biscayne in the Crandon Park Tennis Center.
Why is it sometimes called Miami, and sometimes Key Biscayne? Because to be absolutely precise, physically the tennis center is located on the territory of the small island town of Key Biscayne. Miami is a stone’s throw away, but Key Biscayne is not part of the city limits. And for convenience, of course, it’s easier to use the name of a well-known metropolis. The story is exactly the same with the tournament in Monte Carlo: in fact, tennis players do not compete in this city and not even in the principality of Monaco, but in France.
But back to this week’s tournament. It was invented by brothers Butch and Cliff Buholz in 1980. The most famous of them is Butch, who in 1962, that is, before the beginning of the Open Era, won one of the “Helmets” – the US Pro. At the end of his career, Butch led the World Team Tennis league, was the director of the ATP, and in the 85th organized the tournament in Miami. As already mentioned, the brothers conceived the creation of this championship five years before, but it took a while. The residents of Buhol believed (and rightly so) that there were no major competitions at the beginning of the year. The Australian Open was then held in December. So they came up with Wimbledon Winter, which will be the first major tournament of the calendar year. The renowned tea company Lipton provided great support and became the title sponsor for 15 years (albeit with interruptions). Even now, out of habit, some also call the tournament “Liptonian”.
The first draws were successful, and then-Miami-Dade County Governor Merrett Stirheim urged Butch Buholz to move the tournament from other Florida cities to Miami or the suburbs. Initially, the owner and creator of the competition was against it. He didn’t like the three places offered, but he fell in love with Key Biscayne. “You cross the bridge, leave the city and find yourself in a tropical paradise. I saw a place that is depicted on postcards with the most beautiful landscapes. Then I saw 5,000 parking spaces and realized: “This is exactly what we need,” Buholz recalls.
The owner of the land is tired of tennis
But the residents of the city did not like the idea so much. They believed that their calm and quiet resort town would turn into a crowded and noisy place, because the stadium is inappropriate to use one week a year – so there will be music concerts and other shows? Buholz faced personal threats as well as various demonstrations. The issue of building a large stadium was discussed at the city council, and in the end Buholz and his supporters won. The first champion in 1987 was 17-year-old Steffi Graf, who beat Chris Evert, and Miroslav Mechirz won in men. The history of the tournament in Miami was opened.
For that time, the tennis complex met all world standards, but gradually it became clear that it needed to be modernized. They found $ 50 million for the reconstruction of the complex, received approval from the county council (73% voted in favor), but the owner of the land, Bruce Matheson, was against. A long legal battle began, and Matheson won it. Key Biscayne and Miami could have left the tournament altogether, but the owner of the Miami Dolphins football club, Stephen Ross, found him a place at another stadium within the city.
There have been many funny and unusual cases throughout the history of the tournament. For example, in the 1996 final, the audience booed Goran Ivanisevic, who starred at the beginning of the first set of the final with Andre Agassi due to a neck injury. The fans really didn’t like that they paid a lot of money for the final and saw only 10 minutes of tennis. What did owner Buholz do? He called Jim Courier, who lived nearby. Jim, Goran is filming, we need you to play a show meeting with Andre and reassure the audience. I’ll send a helicopter for you, do you mind? ”. The courier agreed, but the weather did not. Andre and Jim played one set, followed by a tropical rainstorm. For Miami, rain in the afternoon is the order of the day.
Osaka vs. Svitolina – the central match of the second round
At the same time, Miami located in Florida – in the Sunshine State. The average temperature in March is 25.8 degrees Celsius, so it is not very pleasant to play especially during the daytime. True, the ocean breeze saves. In general, few succeed in performing at the same high level at two successive major tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, although for two years in a row the so-called Sunshine Double (victories in Indian Wells and Miami in one season) first submitted to Victoria Azarenka (2016), and then to Roger Federer (2017). So Juan Martin del Potro and Naomi Osaka have a chance this year.
Osaka, by the way, has already played its first match in Miami. Thanks to the title in California, she moved to 22nd place, but the previous ranking was used when seeding, so the Japanese woman started from the first round. She did not play with anyone, but with Serena Williams, whom she always dreamed of meeting. Now the American is clearly not in shape, and she failed to impose resistance on Osaka, which shows her best tennis in her career. Naomi won 6: 3, 6: 2 and will now play with Elina Svitolina. Of course, this is the central game of the second round. In general, as always, many interesting and hot matches are expected in Miami. In every sense.