And as if to make the point, two of Miami’s own, Venus and Serena Williams, winners of three and seven titles respectively, opened proceedings on Crandon Park’s Centre Court.
But on a day that featured 13 seeds among the 16, the Williams were not the only former champions. Agnieszka Radwanska, this year’s No7 seed, opened up on Grandstand, while Svetlana Kuznetsova, champion a decade ago and the No24 seed, had the dubious pleasure of taking on defending champion Serena in the American’s own back yard.
And that particular match-up highlighted a feature of this fourth round. Williams, at 33, is playing as well as ever, winning her 19th Grand Slam two months back in Australia and on a 14-0 streak this year so far. In Kuznetsova, she took on a woman who turns 30 this June. The Russian has been coming back to some form, too, another woman who won her first Major as a teenager, and who peaked at No2 in the world.
In the next quarter, another 33-year-old, Flavia Pennetta, had been proving that good things come to those who wait: In 2013, a resurgence back from injury to No13 in the rankings, a first semi at the US Open, and winning her first Premier in Indian Wells last year. She took on one of the hot players on the tour, No3 seed Simona Halep, fresh from the Indian Wells title, her third title of 2015, and a decade younger than Pennetta.
The winner would take on one of three remaining unseeded women in the draw, all of them young risers. Sloane Stephens, 22, took on Belinda Bencic, just 18, while at the bottom of the draw, 21-year-old wild card, Daria Gavrilova, played 23-year-old No14 seed, Karoline Pliskova.
But first up was Venus Williams, who took on former No1 Caroline Wozniacki—another face-off separated by a decade in age. The American had won all six of their previous matches and 12 of 13 sets, but it was a close run thing in their last match in Auckland in January. Would this be the Dane’s moment?
Opening on a near-empty stadium, the two women played accordingly, with five consecutive breaks of serve. Eventually it was Williams who held, to love, and after a mini battle at deuce, Wozniacki replicated the hold. But in the blink of an eye, Williams had broken again on the first set point to lead, 6-3, in 35 minutes.
The second set also see-sawed, first some holds, then a break by Wozniacki, reclaimed by Williams. Another break by Wozniacki gave her the chance to serve out the second set—only to have Williams break again. But from 40-0 up, Williams served three double faults in row for deuce, and twice hit a backhand long for another break.
This was never going to be straightforward: Williams went up 0-40 as Wozniacki served for the set again, saw two break chances pass her by, but pounded her forehand on the third and broke with a volley winner. It would be a tie-break, and the former champion really stepped it up, starting with an ace, firing a couple of backhand passes, and pummelling Wozniacki to convert the first of six match points, 7-6(1).
Soon after they finished, another match of mixed fortunes was nearing its conclusion, and would determine Venus Williams’ opponent in the quarter-finals. Radwanska had beaten the petite No12 seed Carla Suarez Navarro in both their previous matches, but the Spaniard was riding at a career-high ranking on the back of six quarter-final finishes this year, going on to a semi and final. Radwanska, for her part, had still not produced the kind of form under new coach Martina Navratilova that she had enjoyed in the past.
Radwanksa started well enough, edging the first set 7-5, but her serving performance collapsed in the second set and Suarez Navarro raced to a 6-0 scoreline, and then a 4-1 lead in the third. Radwanska pulled back one break but could not do it twice, and the Spaniard served out the match, 6-4.
Interestingly, for a woman with such a modest career record compared with Venus Williams, and lacking the American’s power and extra nine inches in height, Suarez Navarro has enjoyed some success in this head-to-head: two wins apiece, one apiece last year.
But all eyes, and the popular vote, quickly switched back to Centre Court where sister Serena took on Kuznetsova. The two women have had some mighty battles in their long careers, four of their last five going to three sets. This one started tightly enough, for the first hard-fought half dozen games, at any rate, but once Williams had made the first break, she soon consolidated and ran to a 6-2 set.
Williams took a quicker advantage in the second set, breaking in the second game and serving to take a 3-0 lead. But her serving, though effective when the first delivery hit the mark, was far from its best—five double faults in the set for only three aces.
But for a woman with knee problems a week and a half ago in Indian Wells, Williams looked mighty strong and quick around the baseline, and advanced after an hour and a quarter, 6-2. She had made 20 errors but 29 winners, a typically aggressive Williams performance. It took her to yet another Miami quarter-final, her 14th in 15 appearances here. The only time she fell short was a fourth-round run in 2000 as an 18-year-old.
She would not find out her next opponent until much later, the winner between No11 seed Sara Errani and No27 seed Sabine Lisicki. But for now, it would surprise nobody, certainly in Miami, if there are two Williams still in contention come semi-final day.
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