There have been 13 WTA and 19 ATP events so far in 2019 and each of these have produced a different winner. Can Miami Open see a repeat champion this year? A possibility, but there is just one man and one woman left in the field who can actually achieve the feat.
No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova, of Czech Republic, stormed into the final of the Premier Mandatory event after defeating No. 2 seed Simona Halep 7-5, 6-1 in a rain-affected semifinal on Thursday. Standing between the Brisbane International champion and her second title of the season will be the No. 12 seed Australian Ashleigh Barty who eased past Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 6-3 to reach the biggest final of her career.
In the ATP draw, the only player who can claim his second title of the season is No. 4 seed Roger Federer, who outclassed South African Kevin Anderson 6-0, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Masters 1000 event on Thursday.
The Swiss maestro, who claimed his 100th career title in Dubai in February and finished runner up at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells after being shocked by Dominic Thiem in the final, has hardly been tested in Miami, dropping only the first set in his first match against Radu Albot. Since then it has been vintage Federer all along and against Anderson he looked even more lethal, racing to a 6-0, 2-0 lead.
The South African, handed an opening set bagel for the first time in his career, looked deflated and demoralized at that stage, but refused to surrender and clawed his way back into the match breaking Federer in the sixth game of the second to put the set back on serve.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner eventually broke back, outlasting Anderson in a 14-minute game that ended with a touch of genius from the master, whose backhand slice return induced an error from a full-stretched Anderson who could only manage to put the ball wide.
In the semifinal, the 37-year-old Federer will be up against 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov, the Canadian sensation who came from a set down to overcome the young American Frances Tiafoe 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 and reach his third ATP Masters 1000 semifinal. The six-foot-tall Shapovalov had earlier reached the semis in Montreal in 2017 and Madrid in 2018.
The other semifinal will see defending champion John Isner taking on another Canadian teenager, Felix Auger Aliassime, who has made quite an impression with his speed, agility, tenacity and adroitness. The 18-year-old qualifier defeated 11th-seed Borna Coric 7-6, 6-2 in the quarters to become the youngest semifinalist at the Miami Open.
The last-four matchup with Isner could turn out to be a big-serving duel.
Of the four, Federer remains the favorite to win the title, but one cannot write-off the young Canadians and neither the giant American, who is on a 10-match winning streak in Miami. The Swiss will particularly be wary of Shapovalov’s bounce-backability.
The left-hander has already rallied thrice from a set down to win against Dan Evans in the second round, Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round and Tiafoe in the quarters.
Talking of comebacks, one player who surely knows how to rebound is Karolina Pliskova, who came from a set down to beat Alize Cornett of France and Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan in the earlier rounds of the Miami Open.
Even in the Brisbane final against Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, Pliskova had lost the first set 4-6, before staging a remarkable comeback and capturing the next two 7-5, 6-2. Then in the incredulous Australian Open quarterfinal, the Czech trailed Serena Williams 1-5 in the decider before saving four match points and eventually winning the match 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.
Following the win in Brisbane, Pliskova reached the last four in Melbourne, losing to eventual winner Naomi Osaka in three, and followed it up with quarterfinal appearances in Dubai and Indian Wells.
Head-to-head, Pliskova and Barty have played four times, with both sharing the spoils. The Australian who finished runner-up in Sydney and reached the quarterfinal in Melbourne has endured two tough three-setters against Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens enroute to the final in Miami. Pairing with Victoria Azarenka she has also reached the doubles semifinal and could well end up with two titles.
It’s the first time that WTA has seen 13 different winners in the first 13 events of the year. It would be interesting to see if Barty can extend the streak or Pliskova arrests it. Same goes in the men’s event, 19 different champions in as many events is the longest streak since 1990 according to the ATP.
Only time will tell if the trend continues or Federer breaks it up.