The Miami Open had one distinct advantage on Indian Wells over the last 14 years: the presence of Venus and Serena Williams. This year Serena took some of that edge away, but Miami will still be happy to welcome the Williamses back, Serena’s knee permitting. The upshot is that the women's draw, with Venus joining her sister and most of the Top 20 present and accounted for, is as loaded as ever.
The strained quadriceps muscle that forced Serena to withdraw from Indian Wells is still an issue; she’s being evaluated again in Miami on Tuesday. But as I write this, she was planning to play her opening match on Friday night against Monica Niculescu, the same woman whom she struggled so mightily to defeat in the desert last week. In fact, Serena’s first two matches could be a re-run of Indian Wells: She’s scheduled to face Zarina Diyas again in the third round.
If the knee obliges, or even if it’s a little wobbly, Serena is the favorite to advance out of this section—until she's officially out of the tournament, it's hard to pick against a seven-time champion. But her quarter does hold its share of dangers. The other seeds here are Ana Ivanovic, Sabine Lisicki, Garbine Muguruza, Sara Errani, Angelique Kerber, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Of those, Ivanovic, Muguruza, Kerber, Lisicki, and Kuzzie all own at least one win over Serena.
Simona Halep, the top seed in this section, has had some trouble following up deep runs in the past, and her final-round win in Indian Wells on Sunday came with a tweak or two to her lower body. But afterward, she sounded ready to try to keep the momentum from that match rolling. Halep may start doing it against a ghost from tennis' past: Wild card Nicole Vaidisova could be her first opponent. Somehow—is this possible?—Vaidisova is still only 25, just two years older than Halep.
Eugenie Bouchard is the top seed on the other side of this quarter. Her first significant event with new coach Sam Sumyk ended in an ugly defeat to Lesia Tsurenko in Indian Wells. Another early loss seems possible here as well. Madison Keys, Belinda Bencic, Lucie Safarova, and last week’s finalist, Jelena Jankovic, are all in Bouchard’s half.
Oh, and I almost missed Victoria Azarenka, who is buried in there near Jankovic. The world still eagerly awaits the first meeting between Sumyk students Azarenka and Bouchard.
What should we make of Caroline Wozniacki’s season so far? On the one hand, she’s in the Top 5 and coming off a recent (minor) title in Kuala Lumpur. On the other hand, she’s lost early at the two biggest events of the year, the Australian Open and Indian Wells. Now she’s the fourth seed in Miami, where she has never reached the final. Another early loss and it may be time to wonder about her ability to win important matches, rather than just lots of matches. Fulfilling her seeding won’t be easy: She could face Venus Williams in her second match.
Agnieszka Radwanska provides the intrigue on the other side of this quarter. How long before doubts begin to creep in about her partnership with Martina Navratilova? Counting Fed Cup, Radwanska’s record is 7-7 so far in 2015. But with Begu, Cornet, and Suarez Navarro the three seeds in her half, Aga should improve that in Miami; she won the title here in 2012, after all.
Like Rafael Nadal on the men's side, Maria Sharapova, a sometime Florida resident, has never won here; she's a five-time runner-up. This year she comes in after a bad loss to Flavia Pennetta in Indian Wells, but with a solid season of work already behind her. The Aussie Open runner-up should also like what she sees in her draw. Ekaterina Makarova is the second seed in this quarter, and Karolina Pliskova is slated to be Maria’s fourth-round opponent—Pliskova has been good so far in 2015, but is she ready-to-upset-Sharapova-in-Key-Biscyane good? That would be a major statement.
Also here: Caroline Garcia; the ever-slowly-improving Frenchwoman could play Sharapova in the third round.