Eight times a champion at the Miami Open, Serena Williams faces Zarina Diyas on Saturday – and will be looking for a more straightforward win than she enjoyed in her opening match in Miami.
Serena Williams’s winning streak at the Miami Open stumbled, but survived a three-set battle with Christina McHale at the Miami Open on Thursday and now the world no. 1 moves on to face Zarina Diyas for a place in the fourth round.
For just the second time since 2001, Williams is playing Miami after spending a fortnight at Indian Wells – this time, after a runner-up finish in California and an uncharacteristic defeat in the final to Victoria Azarenka. We’ve seen players struggle to adjust to the very different conditions prevailing in Miami and Williams’s opening match at Crandon Park against Christina McHale was no exception. ‘Definitely feel there’s a difference in the conditions than I feel like I was just playing. But it's all right. I'm back and going,’ Williams said.
Williams served for a straight-sets victory against McHale at 5-4 in the second set, but her younger compatriot saved a match point, broke back and won three straight games to level it up at a set all before Williams broke her serve twice in the third set for a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 victory.
‘She can, should, and will be very proud of herself in this match. I think it can also show her how good she is,’ Williams said of McHale afterwards.
Despite the mid-match stumble, Williams has now won 19 in a row in Miami where she is looking for an amazing ninth title (and a fourth consecutive one), with her last defeat coming to Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals in 2012.
Very few seeds have tumbled so far in the top half of the women’s draw in Miami, with 11th seed Lucie Safarova the highest-profile casualty as the 32 seeds got going on Thursday. Two of the seeded casualties, however, were in Williams’s section of the draw: Potential fourth-round opponent, 21st seed Andrea Petkovic, and the 31st seed Daria Gavrilova, who was due to meet Williams in the third round.
Gavrilova fell to Zarina Diyas, the Kazakhstani player who backed up a 6-0, 6-1 win over Olga Govortsova with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over the Australian. Diyas’s reward is a third-round encounter with the queen of Miami.
Currently ranked world no. 97, Diyas was ranked as high as world no. 31 just over a year ago after reaching a first WTA Tour final in Osaka in 2014 as well as the round of 16 at Wimbledon. Diyas matched that achievement in 2015, reaching the round of 16 at Wimbledon again with wins over Flavia Pennetta and Andrea Petkovic before losing to Maria Sharapova, but it was the highlight of what was not a good year for the Kazakh player as she tried to transition wholly to the WTA Tour (i.e. not the WTA 125k Series or ITF events). Diyas made just two WTA Tour quarterfinals in 2016, both coming in the first two weeks of the season in Shenzhen and Hobart, and reached the third round of the Australian Open but went for ten straight events in the middle of the season without winning back-to-back matches and after her Wimbledon run, won just one match in her next ten events to end 2016 on a four-match losing streak.
Diyas was 4-8 on her season coming into Miami, making the second rounds of Shenzhen, Kaohsiung, Kuala Lumpur and Indian Wells, where she lost 3-6, 2-6 to Victoria Azarenka. The world no. 97, who is 2-11 against top-10 players (she beat Jelena Jankovic in 2008 and Petkovic in Dubai last year), lost her only previous encounter with Williams 2-6, 0-6 at Indian Wells in 2015 – and Williams was hardly playing her best at that event. Diyas may get a handful more games when she faces Serena on Saturday, but the result will be the same.
Williams vs Diyas is scheduled on Stadium Court in Miami at 5pm local/9pm GMT