Miami | Preview: Tragedy strikes Sabalenka as WTA 1000 gets under way

As Iga Swiatek lines up her attempt to land the Sunshine Double for a second time at the Miami Open presented by Itaú, which starts on Tuesday, news broke that Aryna Sabalenka’s boyfriend Konstantin Koltsov has died suddenly, apparently of ‘a detached blood clot’, according to Belarusian media, while accompanying the World No 2 in Florida this week.

Minsk-born Koltsov, a former professional ice hockey player who played for the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins from 2002 to 2006, and the Belarus national team at the Olympics, was 42.

The Belarusian retired as an ice hockey player in 2016, and was working as an assistant coach at Russian club Salavat Yulaev.

The ice hockey club confirmed the news in a statement: “It is with deep sorrow that we inform you that the coach of Salavat Yulaev, Konstantin Koltsov, has passed away.

“He was a strong and cheerful person, he was loved and respected by players, colleagues, and fans. Konstantin Evgenievich forever wrote himself into the history of our club. May he rest in peace.”

Sabalenka and Koltsov had been dating since 2021, with the former World No 1 regularly sharing photos of her boyfriend on social media.

A resident of Miami, Sabalenka was due to kick off her campaign on Friday, but has since withdrawn from the practice schedules, and mentions of her participation on official social media accounts have been taken down, so it seems unlikely that the Belarusian will compete after such a personal tragedy.

The death of Sabalenka’s partner comes just 5 years after she lost her father, Sergey, following his sudden death at 43.

Like Koltsov, her father had also played professional ice hockey, and the Belarusian has often spoken of the motivation her father’s passing has had on her.


Emma Raducanu has pulled out of the Miami Open because of a lower back injury

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Meanwhile, Britain’s Emma Raducanu has withdrawn ahead of her 1st-round match due to a lower back injury.

Raducanu was due to face China’s Wang Xiyu in her opener, but felt it risky to play with the injury, which has denied her the chance of building on her promising run at Indian Wells last week, and improving on her ranking, which currently stands at No 288.

This is the latest of a long line of injury issues that have dogged Raducanu since her seismic win at the US Open as a teenager in 2021, and she missed the majority of last season following surgery on her ankle and both wrists.

The back injury is thought not to be serious, and it is hoped she will recover in time for Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup qualifying tie with France on 12-13 April at Le Portel, where she is due to line up alongside Katie Boulter, Heather Watson and Harriet Dart, all of whom are also in Miami this week.

While Boulter is a direct entry into the main draw, Watson lost in the 1st-round of qualifying to France’s Oceane Dodin, 6-4 1-6 6-3, and Dart in Q2 to Argentine Maria Lourdes Carle, 1-6 7-6(5) 6-3.

Wang will now face qualifier Anna Karolina Schmiedlova from Russia, who replaces Raducanu in the draw.


Simona Halep received a wild-card into the Miami Open and is playing her first tournament following her doping suspension in October 2022

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The singles draw features 96 players, with the top 32 seeds receiving 1st-round byes.

In the glare of the Miami spotlight is Simona Halep, who is cleared to play for the first time since the 2022 US Open, where she tested positive for roxadustat, a banned substance, and was suspended.

The former World No 1 from Romania will face Spain’s Paula Badosa in her opening match, with the prospect of meeting Sabalenka in round 2, should she decide to play.

The Spaniard, though, recently pulled out of Indian Wells, citing a lingering low back injury.

With last year’s winner Czech Petra Kvitova out on maternity leave, there will be a new women’s champion crowned at the Miami Open, but will it be one of the pre-tournament favourites and top seeds, or will one of the many looming threats and dangerous sleepers throw a wrench in the works?

An unseeded Naomi Osaka, who reached the final here in 2022, is drawn in No 3 seed Coco Gauff’s section, and they could meet in the 4th round.

Fresh off her run to a second Indian Wells title, top seed Swiatek awaits either fellow Pole Magdalena Frech or big-hitting Camila Giorgi from Italy in the 2nd round.

The 22-year-old missed last year’s event due to injury, and will have to hit the ground running as yet another possible clash with Linda Noskova looms in the 3rd round.

If they both advance, this would be their third meeting of the year, the Czech teenager having knocked out Swiatek in the Australian Open 3rd-round, but the World No 1 avenged that loss in Indian Wells with an emphatic 6-4 6-0 win.

Swiatek’s projected quarter-final opponent is No 5 seed Jessica Pegula, with the American starting out against either Zhu Lin from China or Czech Marie Bouzkova in the 2nd-round.

Pegula, a South Florida resident, has landed in an intriguing section featuring No 31 Leylah Fernandez from Canada and the No 20 seed, American Emma Navarro, as well as No 12 Jasmine Paolini from Italy, who lifted the biggest trophy of her career in Dubai and has won 8 of her last 9 matches.

Navarro, who lifted her first WTA trophy in Hobart earlier this year, is in red-hot form having toppled Sabalenka at Indian Wells, while Fernandez, who almost fell out of the Top 100 last summer, is now knocking on the door of Top 30. Pegula could meet Fernandez in the 3rd-round, and Navarro in the 4th.


3rd seed Coco Gauff has a dramatic quarter in the draw in Miami and could meet top-seeded Iga Swiatek in the semi-finals

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All of the drama in the top half of the draw is reserved for No 3 seed Gauff’s section, with the American and Swiatek on track for a semi-final collision.

The 20-year-old could meet the in-form No 29 seed Marta Kostyuk from Ukraine in the round 3, should Gauff move past Ashlyn Krueger from the USA or Argentine Nadia Podoroska, a qualifier, in her first match.

Gauff will need to get past No 6 seed Ons Jabeur from Tunisia, the other top seed in her quarter, first, as well as a medley of former US Open winners including Sloane Stephens and Angelique Kerber, who face off in the 1st-round, and 4-time Grand Slam winner Osaka.

The Japanese could meet No 15 seed Elina Svitolina in round 2, and Gauff in the 4th-round, should they both advance.


4th-seeded Elena Rybakina could be the highest seed in the lower half of the draw if World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka decides to pull out in the light of her recent personal tragedy

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In the questionable lower half of the draw, Denmark’s former World No 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who starts against Clara Burel, as well as No 13 Liudmila Samsonova from Russia, Czech No 18 Barbora Krejcikova and No 32 Anhelina Kalinina from Ukraine are all in the Sabalenka and Halep section.

Sabalenka’s projected quarter-final opponent is No 7 Zheng Qinwen, in a rematch of this year’s Australian Open final.

The Chinese starts against either Ana Bogdan from Russia or Czech Katerina Siniakova in the 2nd-round, with No 27 seed Victoria Azarenka from Belarus a potential 3rd-round opponent.

11th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is practically playing on home soil given the strong Brazilian support she gets in Miami, and No 24 seed Katie Boulter from Great Britain, who lifted the trophy in San Diego earlier this month, also feature in Zheng’s corner of the draw.

No 4 seed Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan, and No 8 seed Maria Sakkari from Greece, round out the bottom half, on track for a quarter-final meeting.

Sakkari, runner up at Indian Wells, starts against Russia’s Anna Blinkova or Yuan Yue from China, who won her first WTA title in Austin last month.

Big-hitting No 9 seed Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia looms as a 4th-round opponent, who starts against a qualifier, and could potentially meet No 22 Anna Kalinskaya from Russia in the 3rd round.

Qualifiers American Laura Siegemund and Aleksandra Krunic from Serbia will meet in the 1st round, with the winner facing off the play Ostapenko.

Rybakina, who pulled out of Indian Wells due to gastrointestinal illness, could meet America’s Caroline Dolehide or a qualifier in her opening match, with No 17 seed Madison Keys, another American, possibly awaiting the winner of lefty Russian Diana Shnaider and 8-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, a wild card.

Dolehide takes on Denmark’s Clara Tauson to take on last year’s runner-up, Rybakina.


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