These are tricky times and while the men’s draw at the Miami Open presented by Itaú has suffered the loss of the World No 1, 3, 4 and 6, the women’s field is led by the WTA No 1 Ash Barty, and includes Naomi Osaka (2), Simona Halep (3), Sofia Kenin (4), Elina Svitolina (5), Karolina Pliskova (6), Aryna Sabalenka (8), Bianca Andreescu (9) and Petra Kvitova (10).
You weigh up the risk for your reward, and what you’re willing to accept. I feel like now we are in a comfortable position, knowing that the tour is doing the right things and we are going to be in a safe environment. If that changes, I’ll be on the first plane home. Ash Barty
The only top 10 absentee is Serena Williams, the current World No 7 and 23-time Grand Slam champion, who will not be on hand to try to capture her 9th title in Miami due to a recent oral surgery.
Her withdrawal is another blow to the tournament, which was cancelled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Williams, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, has won the event a record 8 times, most recently in 2015.
““I am disappointed to withdraw from the Miami Open because of recent oral surgery,” she said in a statement. “Miami is a special tournament for me because it’s my home.
“I am sad I won’t be able to see the incredible fans this year, but I look forward to coming back soon.”
The 39-year old’s most recent match was a month ago at the Australian Open, where she lost to Naomi Osaka in the semi-finals.
Miami holds good memories for Barty, who claimed her first title here 2 years ago, and became the World No 1 a couple of months later, where she has remained since, due to the temporary adjustments by the WTA to their ranking system, but her controversial ranking is now at stake.
While Serena’s withdrawal may sound like good news for Barty, she knows the path to another Miami Open title is far from easy, plus she is nervous about travelling from Australia during a worldwide pandemic.
“You weigh up the risk for your reward, and what you’re willing to accept,” Barty told Nine News recently.
“I feel like now we are in a comfortable position, knowing that the tour is doing the right things and we are going to be in a safe environment. If that changes, I’ll be on the first plane home.”
All Top 32 seeds receive a first-round bye, so Barty will open her tournament against a qualifier in the second round, her first match outside of Australia since the 2020 Qatar Open.
The first seeded player Barty is likely to face is No 25 seed Alison Riske from the US, who first must meet either 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko or Wang Xiyu in her opener.
Three-time Miami champion Victoria Azarenka is seeded at No 14, and is a potential Round of 16 opponent for Barty.
The Belarusian faces either Laura Siegemund from German or the American, Christina McHale, in the second round, and could then meet No 24 seed Angelique Kerber, another German, in round 3.
Anchoring the top half of the draw with Barty are No 3 seed Halep, 5th-seeded Svitolina, No 7 Sabalenka, plus recent Doha champion, Kvitova, seeded 9th.
Halep takes on either France’s Caroline Garcia or a qualifier, and could then face teen phenom Coco Gauff in the third round.
The young American has found good form since the Australian Open, making the semi-finals at the Adelaide International and the quarter-finals at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Miami could also see the 3rd meeting in 6 months between Halep and Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek.
The two could face each other in the Round of 16 in what would be their first meeting outside of a Grand Slam.
Swiatek is making her Miami Open debut against either Dubai finalist Barbora Krejcikova from the Czech Republic, or Croatian wild card Ana Konjuh, and the first seeded player the Polish teenager could face is American No 18 seed Madison Keys.
Adelaide finalist and No 11 seed Belinda Bencic from Switzerland could open her tournament against 3-time champion Venus Williams in the second round.
The American is playing her first tournament since injuring her ankle in the second round of the Australian Open against Italy’s Sara Errani, and meets Zarina Diyas from Kazakstan in the first round.
In the second half of the draw, Osaka brings her 21-match winning streak into Miami, where she will open her campaign against either Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova or Ajla Tomljanovic from Australia.
The first seed the Japanese could come across is No 26 seed Yulia Putintseva from Kazakstan, who leads their head-to-head 3-1.
Fresh off her strong Middle East swing, Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza takes her tour-leading 18-4 record into Florida, where she has yet to make it past the Round of 16.
Seeded No 12 after winning her first WTA 1000 title since 2017 in Dubai, the Spaniard is undoubtedly one of the favourites for the title.
The first seed she could face is No 20 Petra Martic from Croatia, and the seeded player she might meet in the Round of 16 is either No 8 seed Bianca Andreescu from Canada or America’s Amanda Anisimova.
Andreescu played her first tournament in 13 months at the Australian Open, where she lost in the second round to Hsieh Su-Wei.
The 20-year-old bounced back immediately, making the semi-finals of the Phillip Island Trophy the following week in just her second tournament since the 2019 WTA Finals, but she then withdrew from the Middle East swing to manage her load.
The Canadian is seeded No 8 and faces either Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova or a qualifier in her opening round.
The first seed she could face is 28th seed Anisimova, who will play either compatriot Sloane Stephens or a qualifier in her opener.
World No 4 Sofia Kenin, from the US, is set to play her first tournament since undergoing appendicitis surgery after the Australian Open.
Playing in her third Miami main draw, Kenin will open against either Germany’s Andrea Petkovic or Zhang Shuai from China and could face a familiar opponent in 27th seed Ons Jabeur from Tunisia in the third round.
Also in Kenin’s section of the draw are Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady from the US and another Kazakh, Elena Rybakina.
Brady is still looking for her first match win in Miami, having fallen in the first round of main draw or qualifying in her previous 3 appearances.
Undoubtedly a different player now, Brady will face either Guadalajara champion Sara Sorribes Tormo from Spain or another American in Bernarda Pera in her opening round.
The first seeded player Brady could meet is Rybakina, and the American could have to get past Kenin and Muguruza to set up a rematch of the Australian Open final against Osaka in the semi-finals.
The Miami Open Women’s main draw starts on Tuesday 23 March, the same day as the second round of the qualifying for 12 spots completes.
British representation in Miami is led by Jo Konta, who is seeded 17 and awaits the winner of the first round match between Poland’s Magda Linette and Svetlana Kuznetsova from Russia, last week’s St Petersburg semi-finalist.
Katie Boulter, who is in Osaka’s quarter, takes on Kristyna Pliskova, the left-handed twin of Karolina, in her opening match.
Heather Watson is in the same quarter and meets a qualifier, hoping it will not turn out to be Harriet Dart again, who took her out of Monterrey in the first round as a lucky loser.
Dart plays her first match in qualifying on Monday against Lin Zhu, the No 9 seed from China.
All the action can be followed live, or on demand replay, on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.