Who's Rafael Nadal's Biggest Sony Open Competition?
by jordi lippe
The Sony Open returns to Miami as tennis’s top names look to shuffle the hierarchy at this month’s hottest attraction.
Andy Murray of Great Britain in the final of the 2013 Sony Open, playing against Spain’s David Ferrer at Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne.
For a city that loves tennis as much as it loves the heat, Miami and the Sony Open are the perfect pair. With many of the elite players calling Florida home or second home, playing at the Open has become both a personal triumph and career-defining event. Two of this year’s expected top players, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, often praise the Magic City, and their passion for the Miami Masters is evident on the court.
With so much zeal from both players and fans, it makes sense that Crandon Park draws in a record number of visitors year after year. After topping out at over 300,000 spectators in 2013 to watch Andy Murray and Serena Williams take home top titles, the 2014 event is expected to squash those numbers with the reappearance of Nadal.
Following a knee injury that sidelined him for the 2013 tournament, Nadal is back and eager to take home his first Sony Open title. “I was very disappointed that I was not able to attend last year’s tournament and am looking forward to returning in 2014,” Nadal says. “I love to play in Miami because of its beautiful location and tremendous fan support.”
But a win isn’t certain for the 13-time Grand Slam champion. “You don’t have a runaway number one,” Sony Open Executive Vice President and Tournament Director Adam Barrett says. “You have four or five guys this year that play spectacular tennis.” Many of the world’s leading players are heading to Miami including Roger Federer, Andy Murray, and, perhaps Nadal’s stiffest competition, Novak Djokovic.
Spectators are undaunted by the Miami sun as they watch the action on the court at Crandon Park Tennis Center.
While Djokovic has spent a record 101 weeks in the number-one spot, he was recently unseated by Nadal, who played tremendously in the second half of 2013. Though the Nadal/Djokovic face-off has replaced Nadal’s longtime rivalry with Federer, competitors can’t discount the strides Federer has made this past year. “Federer has a new coach and is feeling good,” says Barrett.
Then there’s Andy Murray. Though he’s been in the background compared to Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer, lately Murray has occasionally been beating the fearsome threesome and winning Grand Slams. Not to mention he’s last year’s Sony Open winner. And just to be sure his skills were in tip-top shape for 2014, he headed to a Miami training camp in November to prep against what will be an all-out battle against the world’s top players.
When it comes to the women’s matches in Miami, it’s all about Serena. Being a partial owner of the Miami Dolphins and living nearby makes Williams playing at the Sony Open akin to a football team having a home field advantage. She truly is the one to beat after winning her record sixth crown last year. But no doubt, after losing to her in the final round last year, Maria Sharapova will give her a run for the money.
Williams will feel more than just the Miami heat during the two-week tournament when she could face off with Victoria Azarenka. Currently ranked number two, Vika, as she’s been nicknamed, is on a steady rise toward the top spot. But both could face the wrath of 20-year old Sloane Stephens. She handed Williams one of her few losses last year and has a chance at unseating the reigning champ.
So whether it’s watching the men’s historic rivalries play out or seeing if someone will actually knock Queen Serena off her throne, the Sony Open promises plenty of story lines and drama. “You match a global sport with global stars in a global market, and what you have is a lot of people very passionate about the players who are coming out to watch them play,” says Barrett. March 17–30, Crandon Park Tennis Center, Key Biscayne, 800-725-5472
photography by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images (murray); sony open tennis (tennis center)