Sony Open ♦ March 17-30
Novak Djokovic won his 18th ATP Masters 1000 tournament, and his second this month, with a clean 6-3, 6-3 win over Rafael Nadal in the Sony Open final. The win marks three straight in the rivalry for Djokovic, all of which were earned with relative ease: 6-3, 6-4 in last year’s China Open, 6-3, 6-4 in the World Tour Finals in London, and now 6-3, 6-3 in Miami. Despite the match’s brevity, which lasted less than ninety minutes, it concluded with a 28-shot rally on match point. The number one and two ranked players in the world, Nadal and Djokovic have quite a stranglehold on the tour’s top hardware; they’ve combined to win the past nine ATP Masters 1000 tournaments (Nadal with six, Djokovic with three), and two of the past four majors (Nadal at the French and U.S. Opens).
Many fans will remember this tournament for its bizarre double-walkover in the semifinals. Tomas Berdych, who was scheduled to face Nadal, and Kei Nishikori, the opponent for Djokovic, were both forced to withdraw—a stomach virus for Berdych and a left-groin injury for Nishikori. Berdych told reporters it was a virus “he caught in the air” that left his body too dehydrated to compete. For Nishikori, the injury traces back to February’s Delray Beach Open, when he retired from a second round match down 2-4 to Teymuraz Gabashivili. The injury flared up again during Nishikori’s three-set win over Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. The silver lining for both players, however, is that each receives a ranking bump for making the semifinals. Berdych is now the fifth ranked played in the world, tying a career high for the 28-year-old Czech. Meanwhile, Nishikori leaps back into the top twenty, from 21st to 18th.
Sony Open ♦ March 17-30
Serena Williams is a Sony Open champion for the seventh time, after defeating Li Na 7-5, 6-1 in the finals. The world number one got off to a shaky start, as Li earned two early breaks and served for the set at 5-2. But from there, Serena won 11 of the next 12 games, proving once again that few can compete with her when she turns it on. It seems slow starts were a bit of a trend for Serena in Miami; she pulled off a similar comeback feat in the semifinals against Maria Sharapova. Trailing Sharapova 4-1 in the first set, Serena reeled off five straight games for a 6-4 first set win, and was again down in the second, this time at 2-0, before closing out an eventual 6-3 set. In case you were wondering, Serena said after the final, “I definitely don't do it on purpose.”
Elsewhere in the draw, two Americans made surprise Round of 16 appearances: Varvara Lepchenko and CoCo Vandeweghe. Lepchenko upset 7th seed Jelena Jankovic in the second round, doing so in a third-set tiebreaker, while Vandeweghe’s best win was a three-setter over the 16-seed Sam Stosur in a match that started after midnight and finished at 2:30 a.m. Lepchenko and Vandewghe are ranked 46th and 82nd, respectively.
ATP Player to Watch
►Kei Nishikori: Nishikori deserves a shout out for his breakthrough Sony Open appearance. The 24-year-old ran through a ferocious gauntlet to reach the semifinals, taking down 15th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets in the second round, 7-6, 7-5. In the ensuing two rounds he survived three-sets apiece from David Ferrer and Roger Federer. Against the tireless Ferrer, Nishikori saved four match points and won both the first and third sets in overtime-tiebreakers, for a final score of 7-6(7), 2-6, 7-6(9). Nishikori avoided tiebreakers against Federer, claiming the final two sets for a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory, his second straight over Federer. But the Federer match is where Nishikori aggravated his groin injury, denying him the chance to make to play Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
WTA Player to Watch
►Elina Svitolina: Svitolina became the WTA’s highest ranked teenager, at 35th, with a Round of 16 showing at the Sony Open. The 19-year-old Ukrainian recorded her third top-twenty win of 2014, beating 19th-ranked Eugenie Bouchard in the second round to go with previous upsets of 20th-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Australian Open and 14th-ranked Sara Errani at the Paris Open. Svitolina’s Sony Open run also ended in impressive fashion, when it took world number three Agnieska Radwanska two-hours and thirty-three minutes to bring down Svitolina, 7-6, 5-7, 6-2. Svitolina’s ranking jumped from 42nd to 35th this week, placing her exactly one spot ahead of the WTA’s second-ranked teenager, Madison Keys. Keys, for her part, also made the Sony Open Round of 16 and improved from 38th to 36th.
They said it ...
“The first week, when I was a 16-year-old and got a wild card in Adelaide and went through and won the title, and beat my idol growing up, Andre Agassi, in the semifinals there. That's where it all kicked off for me, as a 16-year-old in the start of 1998."
—Lleyton Hewitt, reflecting on the most meaningful moments of his career, after beating Robin Haase in the Sony Open for his 600th career win.
“Matches like the other day, coming back from seven match points, it's like by a hair. I mean, happiness and sadness are so close to each other, the adrenaline, and, you know, winning these matches.”
—Martina Hingis, on what she misses most about the game. Hingis and Sabine Lisicki won the women’s doubles final at the Sony Open. The duo saved seven match points in their quarterfinal match.
“No (laughter). I like challenges, but I am not stupid.”
—Rafael Nadal, on if he’s glad that Djokovic exists.
“Well, I'm going to answer differently. I think challenges, big challenges that I had in my career changed me in a positive way as a player. Because of Rafa and because of Roger I am what I am today.”
—Novak Djokovic, responding to the same question asked of Rafa.
<p>Bennett Kelly may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.</p>