Aces and Faults recaps the week in tennis. Here’s where we stand as the second week begins at the Sony Open in Miami.
Rafael Nadal: After only one match, Nadal already looks to be in far better form in Miami than he did two weeks ago in Indian Wells. His 6-1 destruction of Lleyton Hewitt in the first set of their second-round clash was vintage Nadal, with his hyper-aggressive play off his forehand. That's when you know he's playing with confidence. Could this be the year he finally wins Miami?
Maria Sharapova: Speaking of someone who has never won Miami, Sharapova was made to battle for nearly three hours to defeat Lucie Safarova, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-2 in the third round. This was the most hard-fought and entertaining match I saw in the first week. Sharapova is still playing herself into form, and she told reporters that despite high expectations for herself, she's been trying to stay realistic about her form given her four-month injury layoff. Sharapova rebounded after squandering two match points in the second set, but not before Safarova kept saving match points in spectacular fashion.
Watch highlights from the final game below:
Venus Williams: From one fighter to another, Williams looked great in her opening 6-3, 6-3 victory against Anna Schmiedlova. But two days later, she came out sluggish against Casey Dellacqua, battling for two hours and 18 minutes to win 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 and advance to the fourth round. The bad news for Williams is that she'll now have to turn around and play Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova on Monday night. Regardless of the result, it's good to see Venus continue to play well after winning the Dubai Championships in February.
Kei Nishikori: With Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic pulling away as the top prospects of the 24-and-under group, Nishikori's 7-6 (1), 7-5 win over Dimitrov in the third round felt significant. That should be a big confidence booster for the 24-year-old Nishikori, who has had a good start to the season in pushing Nadal hard at the Australian Open (just like Dimitrov did) and winning an ATP title (just like Dimitrov did).
Varvara Lepchenko: Often overlooked when the focus falls on the young American talent, the 27-year-old from Allentown, Penn., notched the upset of the tournament when she rallied from 1-5 in the final set to stun No. 6 Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (2) in the second round. She followed that up with another third-set tiebreak win, against Ajla Tomljanovic, to earn a fourth-round match against Caroline Wozniacki.
Coco Vandeweghe: Are things finally coming together for the 22-year-old Vandeweghe, who picked up her first main-draw win of the season in Indian Wells? Her big game and her famous last name -- her mother, Tauna, was an Olympic swimmer, and grandfather Ernie and uncle Kiki both played for the NBA’s New York Knicks -- have kept her on the radar for years despite spending most of that time outside the top 100. Now she's into the fourth round in Miami thanks to back-to-back wins over top-25 opponents. She beat Marina Erakovic 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the first round, then No. 21 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6 (7), 7-5 and No. 20 Sam Stosur 5-7, 7-5, 7-5. She's hitting as consistently as I've ever seen from her, and the fact that she's gutting out tight wins is a good sign of her mentality in high-pressure moments. She plays Serena Williams next.
Unheralded WTA youth: Sloane Stephens, Eugenie Bouchard and Madison Keys may get more of the attention, but Elina Svitolina, Tomljanovic and Donna Vekic were the ones notching big wins, and of those six youngsters it's Svitolina who is still in the tournament. Tomljanovic did well to get good victories over Kristina Mladenovic and Garbine Muguruza; Vekic ousted Svetlana Kuznetsova; and Svitolina knocked out Bouchard, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova to make the fourth round.
Jack Sock: With no wild card, Sock made it though qualifying and beat Guido Pella before losing to Raonic in straight sets. Here's to getting into the main draw the hard way.
Bernard Tomic: In case you've been hiding under a rock, Tomic played and lost the shortest match in the ATP's recorded history, falling to Jarkko Nieminen 6-0, 6-1 in 28 minutes and 20 seconds. I'm inclined to cut Tomic some slack because he's coming off double-hip surgery and clearly shouldn't have taken the court, but his camp's claim that he had to play or risk a fine and point penalties fell flat. Any fine would be a drop in the bucket for a player who calls Monaco home and speeds around in fancy cars, and he earned only 10 points for playing anyway. If he took the court and quickly realized he wasn't fit enough, he should have retired from the match rather than put in that sort of hurried and lackluster performance.
Watch match point below:
Sloane Stephens: Another shocking loss from Stephens, another thoroughly criticized effort from Stephens. Her 6-1, 6-0 loss to Wozniacki in the third round was the type of performance that makes you just want to rip out your hair. Then you realize it's entirely possible you care more about the result than she does. Mary Carillo and Rennae Stubbs called out Stephens' attitude and effort -- the 21-year-old American didn't hold serve once and won just five points in the second set -- and Stephens shrugged it all off in her post-match press conference. Stephens was icing her stomach after every match in Indian Wells, so it's possible she's still struggling with an abdominal injury -- she served at 71 percent but had no aces and won just 11 points on her serve -- but she hasn't mentioned it and Paul Annacone didn't hint at any injury during his coaching timeouts.
Match highlights below:
Jelena Jankovic: With Miami failing to air or stream most women's matches -- more on that below -- I can't exactly tell you how Jankovic blew a 5-1 lead in the third set to Lepchenko. All I can tell you is that the scoreboard says it happened and that's a very disappointing result for Jankovic, who made the semifinals last year.
Ernests Gulbis: The Latvian did not look well when he took the court for his second-round match against Julien Benneteau and it looked like he would tumble out in straight sets. But he stole the second set with a late break and built a break lead in the third before completely falling apart. On match point, he had a mid-court forehand into the open court and he knocked it wide and eventually lost 6-4, 4-6, 7-5. His streak of making the quarterfinals or better ended at four tournaments. This was a huge opportunity lost to earn some points; he skipped the tournament last year.
Watch a solid racket chuck below:
Ryan Harrison: There's no blaming the draw this time. Harrison had a nice path to make the second week after his second-round opponent, Juan Martin del Potro, withdrew and was replaced by a lucky loser, No. 93 Benjamin Becker. Harrison lost to Becker 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (2). Had he won he would have played a qualifier, Aljaz Bedene, for a spot in the fourth round.
The WTA: Twitter lit up over the lack of television or streaming coverage of the WTA event in Miami. It's pretty rare that Sharapova takes Stadium Court during a night session and the cameras are covered, but that's precisely what happened for her first match. The WTA coverage in Miami has always been sparse in the early rounds, but this year it felt even more egregious given the amount of coverage fans saw in Indian Wells. The WTA has really shot itself in the foot with its television contract here. Tennis Channel had to enter into last-minute negotiations to get Venus vs. Dellacqua on TV on Sunday. That just shouldn't happen.
600: Career wins for Hewitt after his 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Robin Haase in the first round.
1,700: Number of seconds it took Tomic to lose his first-round match.
0: Wins for Hewitt over a reigning No. 1 in his career, going 0-18.
14: Double faults hit by Dmitry Tursunov in his 6-7 (8), 6-0, 6-3 loss to Denis Istomin.
41: Unforced errors hit by Serena Williams in her 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win over Caroline Garcia. Williams called the performance "unprofessional." I wonder what her thoughts are on Stephens' hitting 37 in two sets against Wozniacki ...
2: ATP lucky losers into the third round. Becker got into the main draw when Del Potro withdrew and beat Harrison, and Dusan Lajovic stepped in for Tommy Haas and beat Rendy Lu.
9: Match points needed for Sharapova to finally seal the deal against Safarova.
2003: The last time someone other than Serena Williams beat Sharapova before the final in Miami.
6: Winners hit by Wozniacki in her 6-1, 6-0 win over Stephens.
Photo of the week
.@MariaSharapova signs the camera "That's why I play this game! ❤" Got to love her fighting spirit. #WTA #tennis pic.twitter.com/ksWNfOSFFd
— WTA (@WTA) March 23, 2014
In case you missed it
• Del Potro confirmed he will undergo surgery for his left wrist on Monday. There is no timetable for his return.
• Roger Federer lobbed Ivo Karlovic. And there's video to prove it:
• Best post-loss tweet goes to Andrea Petkovic, who has now lost to either Camila Giorgi or Alize Cornet in four of her last five tournaments:
Throwing tantrums in the locker with JJ.
— Andrea Petkovic (@andreapetkovic) March 21, 2014
• Play on Saturday concluded at 2:30 a.m. ET on Sunday morning when Vandeweghe beat Stosur. Props to the handful of fans who stuck it out.
• Harrison ordered his father to leave the court during his second-round loss.
• Sabine Lisicki withdrew with illness. The fragile German hasn't won back-to-back matches through six tournaments this season.
• Poor Novak Djokovic. He wins Indian Wells and has a good chance of completing the Indian Wells-Miami double. In his pre-tournament press conference, though, the first four questions were about Boris Becker. The fifth question was about Federer. The sixth and seventh were about Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl, until finally he got a question about himself.
• Dimitrov hasn't done much to follow up his Mexican Open title, losing in the third round in both Indian Wells and Miami, but he did help this ailing ball girl during his loss to Nishikori:
• Gael Monfils sent out a mid-match tweet when his second-round match was delayed by rain. Something tells me the ATP will be revisiting its social media policy very soon. Tweets like this offer a huge opportunity to influence betting lines.
Apologies for my poor attitude in the 1st set. Rain delay now looking forward to getting back into the match and give 100% again
— Gael Monfils (@Gael_Monfils) March 22, 2014
• Where does Annacone even start with Stephens after a loss like that?
• Is Lisicki the least reliable talent in the WTA's top 40?
• Will Lendl's decision to part ways with Murray be the spark/chip on the shoulder the Brit needs to get his edge back?
• On the whole, the quality of the tennis in both Indian Wells and Miami has been very underwhelming. What gives?