Aces and Faults: Sony Open recap
Aces and Faults recaps the week in tennis. Here is our review of the Sony Open in Miami.
Novak Djokovic: The Serb showed that he can elevate his play when he feels he has something to prove. Any doubts he (or anyone else) had about the state of his game and confidence after his first two tournaments of the season have been put to bed. After grinding out a victory at Indian Wells for his first title of the season, he needed just eight sets to win his fourth Miami title. He coolly dispatched Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal in straight sets en route to his second Indian Wells/Miami double. Let the assault on Roland Garros and the No. 1 ranking begin.
Serena Williams: Seven? Really? Yes, seven. Really. IMG should really consider renaming the tournament the Serena Invitational. This was your typical Serena tournament: start slowly and survive an early test, and then roll to the title by reminding everyone that your best level of tennis is far better than everyone else's. It was something else watching both Maria Sharapova and Li Na race to early leads, only to have Williams yank the football out from under them.
Bob and Mike Bryan: The twins are on a roll, winning the Delray Beach Open, BNP Paribas Open and Sony Open in succession. With their third Sony Open title, they completed the Indian Wells/Miami double for the first time. They're now just four titles away from 100.
Martina Hingis and Sabine Lisicki: The comeback is on! Kind of. Lisicki was able to overcome whatever illness forced her out of the singles to help Hingis win her first doubles title since 2007. Hingis, 33, insists that her comeback will be limited to doubles, but who knows?
Li Na: Li didn't do much wrong in her first Miami final (and first Premier Mandatory final), but she still lost 11 of the last 12 games to Serena, which is a tough pill to swallow. Setting aside that disappointment, Li continues to show remarkable consistency on hard courts, and she's quashed concerns that she might fall into a post-Grand Slam tailspin like she did after winning the 2011 French Open. Just as at Indian Wells, Li went deep into a tournament and achieved a career-best result without playing her best. That's a confidence booster.
Dominika Cibulkova: Raise your hand if you didn't think Cibulkova could follow up her Australian Open run with any meaningful consistency. Oh, was it just me? Fine then. Her three-tournament North American swing resulted in a title at the Mexican Open, a quarterfinal appearance at Indian Wells and a semifinal result in Miami. Both losses came to Li after leading in the third and final set.
Kei Nishikori: His back-to-back wins over David Ferrer and Roger Federer were solid examples of how much Nishikori has matured. He had the poise and belief to fend off three match points against Ferrer and beat the fighting Spaniard in a third-set tiebreaker, then rallied from a set and a break down against Federer and outplayed the Swiss in the final set. His subsequent withdrawal will continue to raise questions about his durability, which is the only thing holding him back from being a mainstay in the top 15.
Maria Sharapova: She couldn't break her 10-year drought against Williams, losing 6-4, 6-3 in the semifinals, but on a more positive note, Sharapova played her best tennis of the year in Miami. She defeated Petra Kvitova 7-5, 6-1 in the quarterfinals and led 4-1 in the first set and 2-0 in the second against Williams. She has dropped to No. 9, a three-year low, but her steady improvement was noticeable.
Milos Raonic: Canada now has more players in the top 10 (one) than France (zero). Raonic, up to No. 10 this week, finished the spring hard-court season by making back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinals in Indian Wells and Miami, and he pushed Nadal to three sets without his best stuff. And then there was that 144-mph ace he blasted against Nadal, the fastest recorded serve ever in Miami.
Roger Federer: He lost before the semifinals for the first time in five tournaments this year, and there were noticeable glimpses of the 2013 Federer during his loss to Nishikori. And, no, I'm not talking about the return of his vest. Federer was up a break twice in the second set but couldn't close, and he played a loose service game to get broken for the match in the third.
Stanislas Wawrinka: In his two tournaments since the Australian Open, Wawrinka hasn't make it past the fourth round, losing to Kevin Anderson in Indian Wells and Alexandr Dolgopolov in Miami. He came back to win the second set 6-3 against Dolgopolov, only to fall away with a meek 6-1 loss in the final set.
Boris Becker: First, get well soon, Boris. The German was supposed to join Djokovic in Miami, but had to undergo surgery for his hips. In his absence, Djokovic thrived with Marian Vajda by his side, which will only fuel more questions about whether Becker was a good hire for anything other than headlines.
Mohamed Lahyani: It's no secret that Lahyani likes the attention that comes with being one of the game's most distinctive and recognizable chair umpires. But he went too far last week when, during the standard pre-match shot of him sitting in the chair, he held up a personalized bag bearing his name for the camera. Umpires aren't supposed to be the star of the show.
Stadium replays: For the second time in a year, a stadium replay caused an umpiring ruckus. You could understand Murray's frustration after a controversial non-call against Djokovic, when he looked up to see the slow-motion replay clearly showing that Djokovic crossed the plane of the net to hit a winner. The same thing happened last year in Montreal, when Juan Martin del Potro saw Raonic touch the net on the replay.
Umpires can't use video replay other than Hawk-Eye to overturn a call, but it makes for an awkward situation when everyone in the stadium knows a wrong has been committed and it can't be rectified because of a technicality. All that is to say, it's time to bring instant replay to tennis. We have the technology to make sure the right call is made. And in the case of Murray and Djokovic, who knows what would have happened in that first set if the right call had been made? There's too much at stake for these players to let a blown call affect their fates.
4: Number of times Djokovic has won in Miami and the number of times Nadal has lost in the final in Miami.
3: Active players who have played Federer at least three times and own winning records against him. Nishikori (2-1) joined Nadal (23-10) and Murray (11-10).
2: Games American players won against Caroline Wozniacki in Miami. The Dane defeated Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-0 and Varvara Lepchenko 6-0, 6-1 to make the quarterfinals.
3: Meetings between Cibulkova and Li in 2014 already. Li is 3-0, running her overall record to 7-0.
0: Finals Djokovic has lost when he's won the first set. He's 35-0.
2: Men who have completed the Indian Wells/Miami "Coast to Coast" double twice. Djokovic (2011 and 2014) joins Federer (2005-06).
7: Match points saved by Lisicki and Hingis in their 3-6, 7-6 (7), 10-7 quarterfinal victory over Anabel Median Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova.
10: Consecutive matches between Djokovic and Nadal in which the first-set winner prevailed.
35: Elina Svitolina's career-high ranking this week, which makes the 19-year-old the WTA's new top-ranked teenager, overtaking No. 36 Madison Keys.
515: Points separating Federer and No. 3 Wawrinka in the rankings.
8: Losses in the last two years for Serena, who is 149-8.
5: Players outside the Big Four to make an ATP Masters 1000 final in the last year: Juan Martin del Potro, Ferrer, John Isner, Raonic and Wawrinka. That's five out of 18 spots.
Photo of the week
In case you missed it ...
• My favorite tweet about the return of the FedVest came from British reporter Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian. "Who dresses this guy?"
Dear America: The Federer vest is back. #sonyopentennis pic.twitter.com/cy0dvlseWx
— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) March 27, 2014
• Nice work by Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock to take a wild card into the doubles and make the semifinals. So are we going to go with HarriSock? Sorrison? Jack Ryan?
• Flavia Pennetta earned $1 million for winning Indian Wells. Williams made $787,000 for winning Miami. You have to tip your cap to Serena for putting her money where her mouth is. Skipping Indian Wells has left a lot of money on the table.
• Djokovic and Nadal are now the reigning champions of all nine ATP Masters 1000 tournaments (as well as the ATP World Tour Finals and two Slams).
• Lovable losers: Loved these two exchanges from Nadal and Li after the final:
Q. You like challenges, you said many times. Are you glad Novak exists?
Nadal: No (laughter). I like challenges, but I am not stupid. (Smiling and shrugging).
Q. I guess you had a great start. 5‑2. Everything was looking great.
Li: Everything only looking great. Is not great. (Smiling.)
• So ... Big Two?
• It was shocking how ordinary Djokovic made Nadal look in the final.
• After all the momentum he built up in February, Marin Cilic was pretty much a non-factor at the first two hard-court Masters tournaments of the season.
• Apart from the big names, I nominate Dolgopolov and Cibulkova as the most impressive players during the spring hard-court season.
• Are you buying or selling Federer on clay?