Seven-time champion Serena Williams leads the field at one of the biggest WTA Tour events of the year when the Miami Open presented by Itau begins on Tuesday 24 March.
Now a 19-time Grand Slam champion and still the undisputed world no. 1, Serena Williams bids for an eighth WTA Miami title when she returns to defend the title she won in 2014, defeating Maria Sharapova in the semifinals and Li Na in the final, alongside active former champions Agnieszka Radwanska, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Victoria Azarenka.
Two-time Miami Open champion Victoria Azarenka (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
The 12-day Miami Open brings the first quarter of the tennis season to an intense and thrilling climax in Miami’s Key Biscayne as the spring outdoor hard-court swing wraps up in Florida before the ATP World Tour and WTA Tour turn their attention to clay courts and the build-up to the French Open.
First played in 1985 in Delray Beach when Martina Navratilova claimed the inaugural title, the event moved to Boca Raton in 1986 before settling into its permanent home in Key Biscayne, where the 30-acre facility known as Crandon Park has played host to the best players in men’s and women’s tennis ever since.
A Premier Mandatory event offering 1,000 ranking points to the winner, WTA Miami has crowned some of the all-time greats in women’s tennis since Navratilova won the first title in Delray Beach. Chris Evert won the event in Boca Raton and Steffi Graf won the first of her five titles as the Miami Open began its residency in Key Biscayne, defeating defending champion Evert in the final.
Gabriela Sabatini (1989), Monica Seles (1990-91), Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (1992-3) and Martina Hingis (1997, 2000) joined Navratilova, Evert and Graf on the roll of honour before Venus Williams established a brief period of domination at Crandon Park, winning back-to-back titles in 1998-99 defeating Hingis and sister Serena respectively and claiming one more title in 2001 when she once more outplayed Hingis in the final.
Serena Williams has won seven Miami Open titles (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
But when Serena Williams defeated Hingis and Venus back-to-back before overcoming Jennifer Capriati in the final, the American would establish a domination over the Miami Open which endures to this day. Williams won a trio of titles in 2002-4 before her 21-match winning streak in Miami was ended by Venus in the quarterfinals in 2005 and Kim Clijsters went on to the title that year.
Serena skipped Miami in 2006, when Svetlana Kuznetsova won the title, but returned to win back-to-back titles in 2007-8, defeating Justine Henin and Jelena Jankovic in the finals. A leg injury contributed to her defeat to Victoria Azarenka in the 2009 final, and she did not return to Key Biscayne until 2012 when she lost in the quarterfinals to Caroline Wozniacki, but since then Williams has been undefeated in 12 matches in Miami. Defeating Maria Sharapova in the 2013 final, Williams became just the fourth woman in the Open Era to win seven or more titles at the same event when she ousted Li Na in 2014.
Williams returns in 2015, but will her Miami Open dominance be threatened by her decision to play Indian Wells, which immediately precedes the WTA Miami event and which Williams hasn’t played since 2001 as a matter of principle? The field will be packed with those looking to take advantage, with world no. 2 Sharapova bidding for her first WTA Miami title alongside the likes of Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic, while former champions Agnieszka Radwanska (2012), Svetlana Kuznetsova (2006) and Victoria Azarenka (2009, 2011) battle for a return to glory when the 2015 Miami Open begins on Tuesday 24 March.