Azarenka’s Near-Perfect Start: Former No.1 Victoria Azarenka continued her march back towards the top of the women’s game with a 20th career title at the Miami Open, becoming the third woman in WTA history to capture the Indian Wells-Miami “Sunshine” Double – joining Steffi Graf (1994, 1996) and Kim Clijsters (2005). With 22 of her 23 matches won thus far, Azarenka is in the midst of her best start to a season since her 23-match winning streak back in 2012. The Belarusian has won a tour-leading three titles and her only loss came in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to eventual champion Angelique Kerber. Azarenka swiftly avenged the loss and didn’t drop a set en route to her third Miami title.
Just over a year ago, injuries and inconsistencies saw the two-time Australian Open champion fall as far as No.50, but her Sunshine Sweep not only takes her back into the Top 5 for the first time since 2014, but also helps her regain the top spot on the Road to Singapore leaderboard.
Kerber Rebounds For Strong Second: Though Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber struggled to regain the form that helped her defeat Azarenka and World No.1 Serena Williams to win her maiden Grand Slam title through the Middle East and Indian Wells – losing in her opening match in both the Qatar Total Open and the BNP Paribas Open to Zheng Saisai and Denisa Allertova, respectively – a solid fortnight in Miami brought her back to No.2 in the world and the Road to Singapore leaderboard. The German was down a set to Kiki Bertens in the third round and a break in the final set of her fourth round against Timea Babos, but was full of confidence in her quarterfinal against rival Madison Keys and came closest to pushing Azarenka to three sets in their semifinal.
Kerber next heads into what was her strongest part of last season, having won back-to-back titles in Charleston and Stuttgart. Top seed at the Volvo Car Open, she will have the opportunity to close what is only a 169 point gap between herself and Azarenka on the RTS leaderboard.
Serena Stays In Contention: World No.1 Serena Williams remains in search of a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title and trails Azarenka and Kerber on the Road To Singapore leaderboard. Finishing runner-up at the Australian Open, the American appeared on course for her first BNP Paribas Open title since 2001, but the emotions of the moment undoubtedly played a factor in her straight-sets loss to the Belarusian in Indian Wells. Playing Indian Wells and Miami for only the second time in 15 years, Williams ran into an inspired Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round of the Miami Open, a tournament she has won an astounding eight times in her glittering career. The defending French Open champion will look to make up for lost ground in the clay court season, having reached the semifinals of the Mutua Madrid Open before triumphing on the terre battue in 2015.
Radwanska’s Semifinal Streak: Agnieszka Radwanska may have lost before the semifinals for the first time in 2016 at the Miami Open, but one cannot ignore the Pole’s stunning stretch of results; in fact, no player has won more matches since last year’s US Open than the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global champion, who reached the final four in Australia and Indian Wells. Radwanska reached the semifinals or better at four of her five events so far this year, lifting the tropy on her season debut at the Shenzhen Open. Her run in Miami came to a premature end at the hands of 2015 French Open semifinalis Timea Bacsinszky, causing her to drop back down to No.3 on the WTA rankings – after briefly reclaiming No.2 following Indian Wells – and settle for No.4 on the Road to Singapore leaderboard. Radwanska may prefer to be heading to grass courts to better capitalize on her good form, but clay court success is far from impossible for the 2012 Wimbledon runner-up, who made the semifinals in Madrid and quarterfinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia back in 2014.
Ones To Watch: An ankle injury interrupted Carla Suárez Navarro’s Sunshine Swing, but the Spaniard nonetheless had a first quarter to remember in 2016, reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and her first career Premier 5 title at the Qatar Total Open. Aiming to reach the Top 5, Suárez Navarro got within one spot of her season goal – and a career-high ranking – following her win in Doha, peaking at No.6 on the WTA rankings and currently rounds out the Top 5 on the Road to Singapore leaderboard. One of the many hoping to qualify for Singapore last fall, she narrowly missed out on a qualification berth when she lost in the quarterfinals of the Kremlin Cup to Daria Kasatkina.
RTS No.6 Svetlana Kuznetsova has stealthily enjoyed a career renaissance since capturing the title in Moscow last fall, winning the Apia International Sydney and following up her Miami upset over Williams with a run to the final, losing to Azarenka in straight sets. The two-time Grand Slam champion was very close to returning to the Top 10 for the first time since 2010, but still managed to vault into the Top 8 on the RTS leaderboard. Kuznetsova hasn’t qualified for the WTA Finals since 2009, and never progressed past the round robin stage in five appearances.
British No.1 Johanna Konta refuses to rest on her laurals, backing up her run to the semifinals of the Australian Open by posting solid results through the WTA’s very own March Madness. The first set of her quarterfinal against Azarenka was one of the best of the tournament, one that truly tested the mettle of both women, who had only competed one other time last fall.
Ranked No.8 on the Road to Singapore leaderboard is Italian veteran Roberta Vinci, who captured the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy and became the oldest woman to debut in the Top 10 in WTA history. The 2015 US Open finalist was forced to pull out of the BNP Paribas Open with a right foot injury in the fourth round and won only one match in Miami before losing to Keys in straight sets.
On the bubble are Belinda Bencic and Barbora Strycova, ranked No.9 and No.10 respectively on the RTS leaderboard. Bencic made her own Top 10 debut after reaching the finals in St. Petersburg and boasted her best Australian Open finish with a run to the round of 16. Strycova has played some dangerous ball in 2016, herself, finishing runner-up at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and upset Garbiñe Muguruza in Melbourne.
Timea Bacsinszky is Bencic’s compatriot and the former World No.9 rocketed up the Road to Singapore leaderboard (no.64 to No.14) after she made the semifinals of the Miami Open with her first career Top 3 win over Agnieszka Radwanska, which she followed up by beating former No.2 Simona Halep in the quarterfinals.
Looking Ahead: The clay court season begins in earnest at the Volvo Car Open, which will be headlined by Kerber and Bencic; how many points are up for grabs leading up to the second Grand Slam of the year?
• In 2015, Kerber was the only player to win two clay court titles at the Premier level or higher.
• Serena Williams owns 12 clay-court titles, the most among active players