At the 2023 Miami Open, Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek might be feeling like their status as world number one is as stable as a stilt house in Florida Everglades, albeit for different reasons.
Swiatek still holds her ranking crown by thousands of points, but the crocodiles are circling. Aryna Sabalenka and notably Indian Wells Champion Elena Rybakina are surging to the top of the sport in what is emerging as a magnetic triangular rivalry.
Swiatek said she felt some “discomfort” in her rib in her defeat on Friday, so we’ll see if that’s a factor in Miami. She’ll start against either Claire Liu or Katerina Siniakova, and the first seed she could face is Martina Trevisan.
But there’s another name to watch in the other half of this section: Rybakina. The Indian Wells champion is playing Top 3 tennis at the moment, but, because her Wimbledon champion ranking points don’t count, she’s seeded just 10th. Rybakina has proven she can win a Slam; she’s proven she can win a WTA 1000; but do we think she can pull off the Sunshine Double? That’s kind of next level. But even if Rybakina has been erratic as a player in the past, she seems emotionally even-keel enough to put her head down and give it a shot.
The Spaniard lifted the trophy in south Florida last year and arrives this week off the back of a run to the title in Indian Wells, which propelled him back to World No. 1. The 19-year-old must win his fourth ATP Masters 1000 crown in Miami to remain on top, though, where he begins against Argentine Facundo Bagnis or a qualifier.
Alcaraz could face former World No. 1 and two-time Miami champion Andy Murray in the third round and in-form American Tommy Paul in the fourth round. The top seed is seeded to face ninth seed Taylor Fritz or seventh seed Holger Rune in the quarter-finals and could renew his rivalry against Jannik Sinner in the semi-finals.
The Italian Sinner, who could meet Andrey Rublev in the fourth round and third seed Casper Ruud in the quarter-finals, lost to Alcaraz in the Indian Wells semi-finals last week in their fifth ATP Head2Head meeting.
It’s a challenging draw given Paul is an Australian Open semifinalist, Rune defeated an injured Alcaraz en route to the Rolex Paris Masters title last November and Rublev and Alcaraz have yet to meet in a Tour-level match.
Still, given Alcaraz’s all-court acumen, physicality, speed around the court, his skill mixing his sledgehammer forehand with feather duster drop shots he should navigate this challenge to make another deep run.
Remember, Alcaraz is off to a sizzling 14-1 start this season winning two titles and reaching three finals in three tournament starts.
Going to coast-to-coast and adjusting to Miami conditions, which can sometimes be breezier than Palm Springs, could pose problems for Alcaraz.
Another factor in Alcaraz’s favor: Miami fans unleashed Alcaraz mania last year adopting the dynamic Spaniard as a favored son. In fact, you could put to Alcaraz rallying from 2-5 down to defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-5, 6-3 on Grandstand court in Miami last March a key component to his title run that saw him become the youngest man to win the Miami Open.
That defeat left Tsitsipas calling Alcaraz one of the most complete players he’s ever faced.
“Carlos is one of the most complicated and complete players I have ever faced,” Tsitsipas said after that 2022 Miami defeat. “In fact, I never beat him. I hope to improve on the previous two games if I have to play with him. I think our rivalry will extend over time.”
Jessica Pegula may also want a do-over after Indian Wells, where she lost in an epic third-set tiebreaker to Petra Kvitova after holding four match points. The American No. 1 reached the semis in Miami last year, and she’s seeded to do the same this time around. She could start against Czech teen Linda Fruhvirtova, and possibly match up against countrywoman Danielle Collins after that.
For Coco Gauff, it’s probably a relief not to be anywhere near either Swiatek or Aryna Sabalenka in the draw; she has lost love sets to both recently, and she lost badly to Swiatek in Miami a year ago. Still, nothing is easy in a field like this. The first seed Gauff could face, Anastasia Potapova, has won a title this year, and seems poised for improvement in 2023.
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