I’m glad the Sony Open is such a wildly successful tournament, but I have to say, it’s getting downright frustrating to deal with the hassles of fighting crowds on the tournament’s middle weekend. Traffic is worse on Friday, the lines are longer, the stands in the matches are more crowded, if not absolutely full, and the practice courts and players are practically inaccessible, completely swamped by autograph hounds and photo opportunists.
Today was just such a day at the Sony, but at least the tennis was fun. Fun if not completely gratifying, for everyone, as there were a number of upsets. I guess that’s not all that surprising, given that the Indian Wells-Miami hardcourt double is a virtual impossibility these days with the game’s unrelenting physicality. Simona Halep was today’s most glaring casualty, out without even playing her second round match with a toe injury, replaced in the draw and in her match today against Casey Dellacqua by Jana Cepalova.
My day started with a look at doubles pair Flavia Pennetta and Kristina Mladenovic practicing together early this morning on court 10, at just about the same time Ajla Tomljanovic was warming up with a jog on court 9, where she would play her match with Garbiñe Muguruza a couple of hours later. Ekaterina Makarova was also out practicing at the practice courts nearest the Grandstand court at about the same time.
At 11 AM, Elena Vesnina commenced a straight set demolition of Allison Riske, 6-2 6-2, that was pretty methodical. Allie had a pretty vocal crowd cheering for her, but didn’t quite have the level of game to compete with the more polished Vesnina. After dropping the opening game in both sets, Elena consistently broke down Riske’s forehand in extended rallies. Both players hit a decent number of winners, but Vesnina hit more of them, along with far fewer errors off the forehand side.
Muguruza and Tomljanovic were next up on court 9 and put on quite a hitting display for about a set and half, and then the heat and fatigue seemed to set in and change the composure of the match entirely. Garbiñe couldn’t miss for about the first three and half games of the match, and it took about that long for Ajla to win more than one or two points. Once she steadied herself a bit, Tomljanovic started dealing with Garbi’s power advantage a bit better, and the rallies were nothing short of awesome. Garbiñe never gets the credit she deserves for her ability to move well, especially for one over six feet in height, and today she played some phenomenal defensive points in the first set, turning what looked like surefire moonballs into blistering winners. At times, she just couldn’t seem to miss, and went on to win that first set comfortably 6-3. The second set featured more of the same from both players as Garbi was poised, at 5-2, for a simple 2 set win. What happened at that point?
Maybe an incident from her morning practice is relevant. After a few minutes of hitting, she walked to the corner followed by her coach, Alejo Mancisidor, and she said something curt and abrupt in Spanish which didn’t sound like she was all that happy. I’m not sure if she was mad with the way her practice was going, ill, or otherwise, but something clearly wasn’t ‘right’ in her world at the time.
At any rate, just as Ajla was pulling herself together in set 2, Garbiñe was hitting a wall, physically and mentally, it seemed. She looked tired, and while she was trying her best to win, it was clear that her level had dropped way off. Broken at 5-3, she held for 6-5, and in the tie break, she raced to a 4-1 lead, but lost that, too, and in the third set, had absolute no energy whatsoever. By the fourth or fifth game, it was pretty clear something was wrong with her, as she wasn’t even running hard for many of Ajla’s shots. In the last game, on Ajla’s serve, Garbiñe seemed frustrated at having to play a let over at 30-0, as it looked as though she just wanted the match to be over. Hopefully, it’s nothing serious that’s wrong with her, but it was difficult seeing her fall apart in a little more than a set after looking virtually invincible. Good luck to Tomljanovic as she moves on in the draw.
The night match on court 1 between Caroline Wozniacki and Monica Puig was terrifically fun. Puig, from Puerto Rico, lives in Miami and has a massive amount of support locally, so the crowd for this match was overwhelmingly in her corner, and the setting was more like a prize fight, with several Puerto Rican flags, large and small, and groups of fans in the crowd screaming “BRAVO-o, MON-I-ca!” and singing “OLE! OLE! OLE!” all night long. As for the match, Caro won it 6-1 1-6 6-3, in typical Wozniacki style (defense, grinding, almost no winners) but Monica had the crowd rocking in the second and third sets as they tried to will her on to victory.
A busy weekend awaits on Key Biscayne at the 2014 Sony Open. See you tomorrow.