MIAMI — Garbiñe Muguruza finished the 2021 season in a blur, reaching the Round of 16 at the US Open, winning the title at the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic and, with the best of the best players gathered in Guadalajara, the Akron WTA Finals.
But this season, it’s been somewhat of a struggle. Muguruza had fashioned a modest 5-4 record in 2022 when she faced Alison Riske in her first match earlier this month at the BNP Paribas Open. After winning the first set 6-0 and running out to a 3-0 lead in the second, she seemed poised for an easy victory. And then Riske staged an unlikely comeback, winning 12 of the last 13 games.
“I was absolutely mortified with my performance,” Riske said of the first set. “I was [thinking], `People actually paid to come and watch this.’ It was 20 minutes in, I’m nine games down deep. I’m like, `I’m ready to leave this court.’
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“I do pride myself on always fighting regardless of what the situation is. I think today was just a prime example of that.”
And there is the beauty of professional tennis: Every match brings the opportunity for redemption. Of course, the flip side is true; the potential for disappointment always lurks. Here are a handful of top-seeded players, following uncharacteristic performances at Indian Wells, looking to find an equilibrium at the Miami Open.
In her first appearance at the year-end championships in four years, Muguruza was spectacular, defeating Anett Kontaveit and Barbora Krejcikova in the group stage, Paula Badosa in the semifinals and Kontaveit again in a straight-sets final. The 28-year-old Spaniard came into 2022 ranked No.3 with high hopes of a continuing resurgence that could lift her to a third major title.
Seeded No.7 in Miami, Muguruza’s first match (following a bye) brings her the winner of a match between two qualifying players. The third round, if the seeds hold, would be against fellow two-time Grand Slam winner Petra Kvitova. Their history is surprisingly one-sided. While Muguruza captured their first meeting, at the WTA Finals in 2015, Kvitova has won the past five. Most recently, she took the 2021 Doha final – 6-2, 6-1.
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If Muguruza survives that potential matchup, she faces the likelihood of an in-form opponent in the round of 16: No.10 seed Jelena Ostapenko or No.21 Veronika Kudermetova. Ostapenko had a phenomenal February, winning 12 of 14 matches, featuring a title in Dubai and semifinal appearances in Doha and St. Petersburg. Kudermetova, her opponent in the Dubai final, is a sporty 11-6 so far in 2022.
The top seed in Indian Wells when Krejcikova pulled out with an arm injury, Sabalenka fell in her first match to Jasmine Paolini, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
“I mean, I wasn’t even close to her,” Paolini said of the first set. “But then point by point I started to believe it. I started to hit better the ball, deeper.”
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Sabalenka, who again finds herself the top seed, meets the winner of Irina-Camelia Begu and wildcard Hailey Baptiste. Begu, ranked No.71 was a semifinalist in St. Petersburg. A third-round match looms versus Daria Kasatkina, who started the season nicely with eight match wins in Australia. The Round of 16 could be a meeting against No.22 seed Belinda Bencic – or No.15 Elina Svitolina.
She’s the most prominent player from Ukraine, and the conflict with Russia weighs daily on her mind.
“It’s not easy to see my wife a couple of weeks ago crying every night,” said her husband, ATP player Gael Monfils. “I try to be the shoulder, to be everything that she can lean on.”
Monfils said Svitolina still has “quite a lot of family still there.”
In her first match at Indian Wells, Svitolina fell to qualify Harriet Dart 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. The path for the No.15 seed in Miami begins with Heather Watson, a 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4 winner Tuesday over Arantxa Rus in a match that ran an extraordinary 3 hours, 26 minutes.
The No. 8 seed anchors the bottom of the draw’s top half and faces the winner of a first-round match between Magda Linette and Zheng Qinwen.
Jabeur broke into the Top 10 last year with a fabulous hard-court run at the end of the season, winning 15 of her last 21 matches, featuring a semifinal appearance in the fall version of Indian Wells. This year, she won two of three matches in Sydney, Dubai and Doha.
Her 7-5, 6-7(6), 6-4 hard-fought loss to Daria Saville at Indian Wells was disappointing. If Jabeur gets past her second-round match, she’d play the winner of No.32 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo and Kaia Kanepi. Jabeur has a head-to-head victory against both.
She’s coming off a terrific year after reaching the finals in Wimbledon, Rome and Montreal. Pliskova was actually the only woman to beat eventual champion Muguruza at the Akron WTA Finals in Guadalajara.
In 2022, it’s been less straightforward. In mid-December, following an injury to her right hand in training, Pliskova posted a picture of herself wearing a plaster cast. Her only match of the year, a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 loss to Danka Kovinic, came in Indian Wells.
Pliskova gets the winner of the match between wildcard Robin Montgomery and a qualifier. No.27 seed Camila Giorgi is the potential third-round match.