2018 Miami WTA Round 1 Previews: S.Williams vs Osaka, Azarenka vs Bellis, Brengle vs Sabalenka

The Miami Open draw has been released and since the seeds are going to be about the same as Indian Wells, I decided to skip the main draw preview instead and jump into some of the more exciting round one match-ups. The Miami draw is a cracker as usual, and I will preview three round one matches that have caught my eye…

Miami Round One

1. Serena Williams (No.491) vs Naomi Osaka (No.22)

How in the world could Serena Williams and Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka turn out to a first round encounter, and with the winner to play No.4 seed Elina Svitolina? That’s just a mighty crazy draw! Serena made her comeback in singles two weeks ago at Indian Wells – while she was obviously still not at her peak, signs were extremely promising as she managed to reach the third round with wins over Zarina Diyas and Kiki Bertens, but eventually fell to sister Venus there. Never count out Serena for an early exit even with tough draws though – she is an eight-time champion in Miami, with her most recent title in 2015, and should be inspired and motivated to get some wins here after her short Indian Wells campaign.

Osaka is in the form of her life after claiming her maiden singles title after an inspired two weeks at the California desert. Osaka managed to produce a brand of consistent, yet aggressive tennis during the fortnight as she blasted past the likes of Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Sachia Vickery, Maria Sakkari, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina in the final with only one set lost throughout the whole tournament. We have seen players like Elena Vesnina and Sloane Stephens who after winning huge titles, immediately experienced a huge dip in form. All eyes will be on her this week as she tries to back up her breakthrough tournament.

Thoughts: This is definitely going to be a hard-hitting and bruising first-round encounter. With Osaka constantly mentioning Serena as her favourite player and someone she would want to play against, it will be interesting to see if she can handle the occasion well. I’m tentatively going with Williams – Osaka has little time to prepare after her two weeks in Indian Wells and playing against a legend like Serena, there’s bound to be some nerves. As aforementioned above, I think Serena will be extremely motivated to get some wins in Miami this week and produce a good performance in this one.

Final Prediction: Serena Williams d. Naomi Osaka in three sets

2. Victoria Azarenka (No.186) vs Catherine Bellis (No.44)

Another mum who made her comeback last fortnight was Azarenka – while she produced a great performance in her first round match in Indian Wells against Heather Watson, she came back down to earth with a relatively rusty showing, losing to Sloane Stephens. Still it was an encouraging week for Azarenka having not played since Wimbledon 2017 and she will look to get more matches under her belt in Miami.

Her opponent, Bellis, has had a steady three months so far. She has been able to beat the players she is expected to beat; in fact, she has a 7-0 record against players ranked lower than her this year! Bellis’ Indian Wells campaign ended with a disappointing three-set loss to Elena Vesnina having been up by one set.

Thoughts: Their last match in Wimbledon 2017 was a three-set affair where Azarenka came back from a set down. I think this time round will be a similar match – Azarenka’s rust was evident last week, while Bellis’ consistent play could force Azarenka into many errors. Azarenka though is a three-time champion in Miami and I think she’ll demonstrate her fighting abilities in this one to win the match in three sets.

Final Prediction: Victoria Azarenka d. Catherine Bellis in three sets

3. Madison Brengle (No.77) vs Aryna Sabalenka (No.60)

If you’re just a casual tennis viewer then this pick for a detailed match preview would seem like a strange one, but if you’re a hardcore WTA fan then you would know that this match would be a hilarious mess! Brengle has been struggling to get wins on the WTA tour for a couple of years now, but decent results on the ITF tour, including a 100K title in Midland back in January has allowed Brengle to cement her position in the world’s top 100. (in fact, she hasn’t dropped out of the world’s top 100 since 2014!)

Sabalenka’s been doing very well of late and I have mentioned about her a couple of times this year on the blog already. Her campaign in Indian Wells was decent as well as she racked up two wins against Vavara Lepchenko and Svetlana Kuznetsova, before losing to Marketa Vondrousova. She also made a doubles appearance with fellow Belarusian Azarenka, which you can see the highlights of their first round match below.

Thoughts: Brengle’s scrappy counter-punching against Sabalenka’s relentless hard- hitting – who will come through? Initial thoughts was Brengle with the slow surface in Miami but I remember watching Sabalenka’s match against Monica Niculescu in Shenzhen this year. Niculescu’s first and second serves were constantly getting crushed by Sabalenka, with the Romanian left with no chance to defend at all. Brengle’s serve is as vulnerable as Niculescu and if Sabalenka can constantly get the returns in and commit less unforced errors, the win will be hers.

Final Prediction: Aryna Sabalenka d. Madison Brengle in two sets

Miami predictions can be found at the top of the page or by clicking the link here! Thank you for reading!





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