2021 Miami Open WTA Round Three Matches
This third round is going to be way more fun to watch than it is to predict. Simply put, the WTA has never been better. Everyone left in the draw is playing great, or is a major champion. I expect a lot of 3 setters and also to completely eat it on some predictions.
Barty vs Ostepenko :
This should never be a close match, and Ostapenko tried her darndest to lose to Flipkens, but Barty outdid her completely in a second set implosion against Kucova. Flipkens was nursing a leg injury and had lost in qualifying, but Ostapenko found error after error. Kucova was running on fumes from her first round match and qualifier run, but Barty just doesn’t hit through the court. It’s a very interesting contrast now in this next round. Barty’s defending is certainly good enough to earn the same errors as Flipkens did, but her lapse against Kucova which mirrored her loss to Collins and her AO loss to Muchova is a larger story. In control, Barty seems to lose the ability to keep the ball in in the second set, and it comes with very little emotional reaction from Barty so it almost seems like fatigue whether physical or mental. In any event, Barty is not a safe take here against Ostapenko, even though she certainly should win. Ostapenko occasionally catches fire, but she’s played 3 good sets and 3 extremely poor ones so far this event, and that isn’t good enough to beat Barty. Barty in 2, but if she struggles again here it’s time to start treating her fitness levels like Goffin.
Kerber vs Azarenka :
Are those owl eyes, or Kerber’s scoreline against Zarazua? After turning in some very varying performances so far this year, Kerber let the guns go against Renata, zipping her in two sets in which she looked as good as she’s ever been. She’ll need to be also, as Azarenka is completely fresh for their third round encounter. Azarenka is always going to be a tough player to score on, and while Kerber’s backhand was crushing the ball, she hit a lot of ball straight against Zarazua and that may not work against Vika. All Kerber rounds going forward will get tougher, and this match will be a great look at whether Kerber’s play against Zarazua was more about her opponent’s fatigue/lack of offense, or about Kerber’s quality. I do think Azarenka might start slow, but a few extra days of rest and a somewhat inconsistent Kerber (she has looked great one round and awful the next and has some unfortunate losses already this year) should be a winnable prospect. Azarenka in 3.
Bencic vs Voundrousova :
Belinda Bencic beat Diyas and that’s another step towards having a good season. Her hallmark has been early losses and inconsistency so getting early wins is really important. Habits become our autopilot and this is why trends on the tour tend to take a while to break. Voundrousova played well against Wang and got the benefit of a lot of errant backhand errors. She’ll get errors from Bencic also, but Voundrousova’s pace of shot is really important in this one. Bencic has the power on these quick courts to hit past Voundrousova if she has time. Voundrousova plays a lot of slices and a lot of height on her forehand at times. Since Bencic hugs the baseline, how deep and how hard these balls are struck is the key for Voundrousova. Despite Bencic’s great run in Adelaide, I think her 12th rank on the tour is way off. I see her settling around 30-40 once the tour ranking system gets back to normal, and I do expect Marketa to have a good chance to win here as it will take a lot of consistency to hit past her and that just hasn’t been Bencic’s game. Voundrousova in 3.
Kudermetova vs Sabalenka :
Kudermetova was very error free against Collins, and frustrated the grumpy American into a ton of mistakes and just a general impatience about her footwork. Kudermetova lost to Sabalenka 6-2,6-2 earlier this year, but I expect this one to be closer. Sabalenka played some great points against Pironkova, but mostly sprayed the ball wildly. She doesn’t really have the patience for a full match worth of rallies this week it would seem, and while her power was able to snag this one late, she had to call the trainer a few times for leg and fatigue issues, and genuinely had no strategy other than “smash”. The announcers keep talking about Pironkova like this was to be the upset of her career, which is strange considering she’s already beaten Muguruza and has been points away from besting Serena. She’s done well in every tournament since she returned to the tour, and to constantly point out her 131 ranking and discuss her tour dreams is childish. She’ll be ranked in the top 50 by the end of the year barring injury, and the only funny thing is that she’s so successful now when previously she struggled to find deep runs on tour.
After thinking a bit about the WTA in its current form, I see a lot of players focusing on ballstriking and pace and falling into very simple patterns. These patterns are great, but the one thing that is often missing on the tour is the ability to problem-solve within a match. When facing Pironkova, the tour (previously) would focus on her forehand. Playing her backhand is foolish; it is one of the best backhands on tour. Her forehand actually only holds up for half of a match, and she utilizes a slice once fatigue sets in. Staying on this wing makes Pironkova a defensive player, and the sooner the tour figures that out the better their results will be against her.
Kudermetova Sabalenka is a bit like a full-sized adult version of Ostapenko and Barty. Kudermetova will capitalizing on errors and keeping the ball deep, and Sabalenka will win if she’s able to keep errors under 20. That number sounds crazy high but the 6-2, 6-2 scoreline doesn’t indicate Kudermetova having no chance, but does indicate she struggles to hold serve. The beatdown Pliskova gave to Zheng today exemplified that. Initially I looked at this as a possible upset, because Sabalenka’s level wasn’t great against Pironkova, but I am leaning towards the giant. In a third round that has a ton of great players playing great, this is a good popcorn match. Sabalenka in 3.
Halep vs Sevastova :
Halep played a lot better than Garcia during the first set, yet lost the set. She always seemed like she was about to break, and Garcia made a number of errors, yet her power on the balls she did connect with made Halep miss. Simona started gesturing to the sky and the court and arguing with hawkeye calls, but Garcia’s struggles to keep the ball in play proved costly in the end. Once Halep gets going and her opponent gets a bit fatigued, it’s game over. She’ll have an interesting time here with Sevastova though, who is willing and capable of hanging in rallies for as long as it takes. Sevastova played a great 3rd set against Gauff, avoiding the revenge loss and getting some great momentum. Unfortunately, Halep has never lost a set to Sevastova. She might here, but her defense and speed around the court negate a lot of Sevastova’s angles and variety. Halep in 2.
Konjuh vs Swiatek :
Don’t call it a comeback! Konjuh bested Madison Keys in straights, Siniakova in straights, and she’s not exactly 100% back in tour shape either so this is a really good event already. Swiatek got the benefit of a ton of errors against Krejcikova, but they weren’t really necessary. Iga is starting to get the type of errors that come from playing a name rather than a player. Krej went big and quickly, and didn’t force Swiatek to play much. Konjuh is likely to put up more of a fight, but with a similar result. Swiatek’s serve is already one of the best on tour. Her swings are very hard to read, and her forehand on these courts is a problem. I’m excited for the Swiatek Osaka rivalry to slowly develop, and hopeful that they get to have a match in this event also. Konjuh is playing very well and Swiatek is still young, but I’m not sure the upset is possible. Swiatek in 2-3.
Kvitova vs Konta :
Cornet employed a similar strategy against Kvitova as she did against Kuznetsova. Get crushed in the first, then start playing in the second. Unfortunately, Kvitova did not experience any jetlag, and this match was over quick. Kvitova looks great heading into this third round clash with Konta, who won in straight sets against Linette but could have lost the match just as easily. Errors in key moments came from Linette, and some breaks were reeled back in by Konta to avoid a 3rd set. In this matchup I usually think Konta would do well, but these quick courts are proving to really benefit first-strike tennis, and Konta is still kinda finding her range on the serve. Kvitova in 2.
Alexandrova vs Svitolina :
I fell for it. Podoroska is such an exciting talent that I thought she’d find Alexandrova in a slump. Instead, Ekaterina zipped her. This makes her matchup against Svitolina very appetizing, as Alexandrova’s offense is great to watch and Svitolina’s speed is second to none. Svitolina has won the previous two meetings between these two and I would expect this to be close but have a similar result. The extra ball coming back can often put pressure on Alexandrova who is prone to small bunches of errors, and Svitolina’s match with Rogers was a very good warmup to play against a power player. Svitolina in 3.
Andreescu vs Anisimova :
This is getting interesting. Look at the insane quality and talent left in this draw and it’s only the third round. Andreescu played just excellent in the second set against Martincova. Her backhand hit a bunch of short angles, and she hit a number of dropshots which are half-lazy but each of these rallies was well-played following the selection. She’s a natural baller and it’s great to have her back. It’s also great to have Anisimova back, who played a marathon with Stephens despite the one-sided scoreline. Sloane competed hard here, and her speed and defending made a lot of this match in question. Anisimova never stopped hitting for winners though, and Sloane seemed surprised at times that the ball just kept flying past her. It wasn’t the slumping lazy performance that has happened in minor events; Stephens played her heart out here and was very close. At the end of the day though, she doesn’t have a clear way to score points, and doesn’t really employ any angles in her game.
I was hoping Andreescu and Anisimova would play someone a bit suspect in the third so I could back them, and this feels unfortunate. Andreescu is likely to earn points easily and challenge Anisimova’s defense a bit more than Stephens did, but her fitness will also be brought into question. I don’t know who wins this, but I suspect that it’s Andreescu. Anisimova has the offense and backhand to beat just about anyone, but has way fewer high-profile matches than Andreescu. Andreescu’s top level is a cut above Amanda’s, and I expect her to continue improving through this early stretch of the season. Andreescu in 3.
Kalinskaya vs Muguruza :
Kalinskaya and Martic were very even for a lot of that match, but Martic wins points with pure offense, and Kalinskaya has a much simpler way of playing. Her backhand is very consistent, and she just applies conservative pressure until it yields results. As a result, Martic won all the games where she redlined, but struggled in the rest. A whole match’s worth of offense is just very difficult to supply. Muguruza had a pretty simple contest, and has really been focused on court even in the easier matches. For that reason, I think she should get past Kalinskaya here. It will, however, take a long time. Kalinskaya is still improving, has been winning a lot of matches on tour here, and one of the things Muguruza has been doing so well behind is hitting with power on her backhand wing. She’s not doing a lot with it but she’s been earning errors just from the pace. Against Kalinskaya, that’s likely to happen infrequently, but Kalinskaya’s serving has been a tiny bit suspect, and Muguruza is likely to find range when it matters. Muguruza in 3.
Tormo vs Rybakina :
Tormo seemed exhausted her previous round, but went right to work extending rallies against Brady. Brady was up a set and a break and playing great in this one, but Tormo just kept playing balls and putting them in difficult spots, and Brady hit a wall. It is a great upset win and a winnable third round also considering how well she’s playing. Rybakina was down early against Kanepi and was a bit frozen by some of Kanepi’s offerings, but Kanepi never really seemed comfortable. She played a lot of balls off her back foot, and the serve wasn’t really effective today. The announcers gushed about her backhand, but she generally thrives when she’s slicing it on her backhand and in this match she was forcing the two-hander which led to errors. I think Rybakina should almost never beat Tormo, but Rybakina’s power is something that can put her squarely in this match. If she avoids unforced errors and stays patient, she’ll be able to threaten Tormo’s service games, but wow it’s hard to overlook how much Tormo has improved in the past few weeks and how strongly she finished her match against Brady. Another in a long list of really close contests. I’m not ready to annoint Rybakina just yet, and I think Kanepi’s mobility was a bit suspect in this one. Someone in three.
Kenin vs Jabeur :
Kenin and Petkovic had a lively affair, with Kenin looking a bit tentative on many points. It almost benefitted her to lose the tiebreaker, as it allowed her to open up her game. Petkovic played well, but thus far she hasn’t really shown the type of consistency that would put her at the top level. Jabeur did not look at all like she’d finish Badosa off, and had to call the trainer for fatigue at one point in the second. Badosa closed out the set from there, and it seemed over but Ons caught a second wind, and her power and forehand are just a huge weapon in a deciding set. Kenin generally is going to beat Jabeur, but the quicker courts and her struggles against Petkovic put a question mark there. Recovery on the pro tour is done in a remarkable way, but Jabeur may have some endurance issues and since Kenin is a point-constructer rather than a shooter this should be a clear path for her to get through as the match progresses. Kenin gets better round by round, and I think Jabeur’s lengthy struggle with Badosa indicates that Sofia’s defending is going to also prove fairly succesful. Kenin in 3.
Pliskova vs Pegula :
I wish I could have skipped this round. It is just match after match after match that I’d love to watch but am not quite sure contains a clear favorite. Pliskova never gave Zheng a chance in their match, and it was mainly a lack of a serve that kept Zheng down. For that reason, Pegula will need to turn in a good performance on serve to win this match. Pliskova’s aggressive returning is nothing new but the quick courts and warm weather are making the ball fly. Pegula is likely up to the task, since she’s had a great couple of months to start the season, and outlasted a very tough test in Storm Sanders. Sanders played the player instead of the name and found herself in striking distance in the second set, but Pegula found good quality just when she needed it.
In this matchup, Pliskova’s movement is always the issue. Pegula has power and very good movement, and Pliskova will have to hit to smaller targets throughout than Pegula will. It isn’t impossible for Pliskova, but she does have to play a much better match than Pegula to win. Karolina always plays well in Miami, so I don’t think she’ll just fold, but it’ll be an uphill battle if Pegula serves as well as she has recently. Pegula in 3.
Sakkari vs Samsonova :
Whyyyyyyy? Suns out guns out. These two seem like they do pullups in their sleep. Sakkari got the benefit of a ton of double faults and errors against Rus, but it was mainly a result of Sakkari’s excellent level. Hot conditions suit her, as she’ll always win the endurance battle, and the ball moving quickly through the court is good also since she doesn’t really go for many winners, content instead to rally and go for big targets. Samsonova was smoking the ball with her forehand early on, and never slowed down. Bertens seems like she’s almost ready to be back on tour, and hit her backhand well (although it went long a bit), but this was the wrong opponent for her to get started winning. I’d expect her to lose to the power players she faces for a little while longer, and to get some wins against the skill/finesse players.
Samsonova’s offense against Sakkari’s defense is a really exciting prospect. I do expect Samsonova to find errors as the match progresses, but this is winnable for her. If Sakkari is playing well though, it would seem that her speed is enough to negate Samsonova’s offense, and although Samsonova is playing great, there is a lot of tape on her shoulder and arm and Sakkari is a way tougher ask than a rusty Bertens. This one feels trappy, but I am leaning Sakkari in 2.
Mertens vs Kontaveit :
Mertens was through pretty easily, setting up a great contest against Kontaveit. Kontaveit’s forehand was scary against Cirstea, and while she faltered a bit late in the second set, a lot of that was how well Cirstea was competing. Mertens has won their last few matches, but I think Kontaveit will be able to win at least a set here. Her forehand was clearing the court well, her footwork was aggressive, and Mertens is coming off a very slow-paced encounter so Kontaveit’s power may take her a moment to adjust to. If you feel like I’m hedging a lot in this article, I definitely am. Mertens is my favorite, and the H2H and Cirstea’s inroads against Kontaveit make her a small favorite. Mertens in 3.
Osaka vs Stojanovic :
Osaka was yelling and fistpumping in the first set of her first match as if it was the finals. She played poorly and made a ton of errors. She went for too much on serves and seemed almost in a rush to get this one over with. Had Ajla been a bit more in-form, she likely would have won this contest. Now we get Stojanovic, who is racking up points and wins left and right this season, and the question is pretty simple. Will Osaka do that again? Stojanovic will beat her if so, but Osaka is the #1 player for a reason. Her serve is the best on tour, her movement is second to none (sorry Halep and Svitolina), and she can elevate her game when she needs to. I would love to see the upset simply as a reward for Stojanovic playing so hard in her previous rounds, but she doesn’t really have the offense to put Osaka away without a lot of help. Osaka in 2.