Sony Ericsson Open: Five things to watch
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- The sun is out, white puffy clouds are floating through the sky and hair-frizzing humidity is in full effect.
It's March in South Florida and there's serious business to be done over the next two weeks at the Crandon Park Tennis Center at the Sony Ericsson Open. The top players are in action in one of the biggest non-Grand Slam tournaments of the year.
Here are five things to watch on the women's side:
1. Can defending champion Victoria Azarenka continue her undefeated roll of 2012?
Azarenka hinted at things to come in the 2011 Sony Ericsson when she defeated Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 6-1, in the final.
Azarenka has dominated the tour this season, winning the Australian Open, BNP Paribas Open and two other events. She said she is not feeling any pressure coming in as the world's best player and with a 23-0 match record.
"I just go out there and play, and do my best as always, that's it for me," Azarenka said on Tuesday. "Putting more pressure on yourself to do more than that doesn't work for me."
Azarenka is feeling good, and her competition has taken notice.
"She is playing with so much confidence, it's good," said Li Na, the No. 9 ranked player. "It's good for women's tennis."
2. Venus and Serena Williams are playing; what can we expect from them?
The sisters will be back in action, hopefully marking the end to their injuries and illnesses.
Venus, who was given a wild card for the tournament, has been out since the U.S. Open since being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome. Nobody knows where her game is, or how the chronic illness will affect her fitness. But her play in Miami could bring some clues for the rest of the season.
Serena, now ranked No. 11, suffered a left ankle injury before the Australian Open, and struggled before losing in straight sets to Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round. She has been healing, and looked pretty fit and fluid during practice on Monday in Miami.
3. Can No. 3 ranked Petra Kvitova catch her breath?
Kvitova discussed her ongoing struggle with controlling her asthma on Tuesday, saying it is an issue she has been dealing with since 2009. Unfortunately for Kvitova, the hot and muggy Miami weather does not help. She hopes she can overcome her asthma, but didn't sound too optimistic.
"It's not bad, but it's not good," Kvitova said.
She's keeping an inhaler with her on court, and will try to make sure she keeps her breathing in check before an attack strikes.
The Australian Open was a hot affair, but Kvitova managed to control her asthma to reach the semifinals. But being wary of the condition, and trying to keep going through a tough match with a lot of running, could be a challenge in Miami.
4. Will No. 6 ranked Caroline Wozniacki have a good tournament?
Wozniacki was in good spirits Tuesday, cracking jokes with the media and taking some loving barbs at boyfriend Rory McIlroy. The world's No. 2 golfer watched Wozniacki do her interviews, standing off to the side with a smile on his face.
Wozniacki recently won a bet with McIlroy over who could go the longest without eating dessert and chocolate or drinking alcohol during Lent. She showed off a sparkly diamond tennis bracelet, her payoff. He succumbed to a piece of birthday cake, ending the bet after two weeks.
Wozniacki admitted she's happy not to be asked about why she's No. 1 without winning a Grand Slam title yet.
"Do I miss that? No, I really don't," Wozniacki said. "I think whether somebody is No. 1 or No. 4, it doesn't matter to the fans. If they like to watch you, they will no matter what."
Wozniacki has had a slow start to the 2012 season, with her best result being a semifinal appearance in Dubai. She lost in the quarters at the Australian Open and fourth round at BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
5. Is there a dark horse, such as Maria Sharapova or Kim Clijsters, to keep an eye on?No. 2 ranked Sharapova is probably hoping not to run into Azarenka again. The two times they've met this year, in the Australian Open and Indian Wells finals, have ended in lopsided losses for Sharapova.
Still, she says, she has the desire to keep competing at the top.
Clijsters has been quiet this year, bothered by injuries. She has another question mark, as her strength and stamina might not be high enough against this deep field.