After a mixed start to the year, March is set to be a big month for Britain’s two leading female players ahead of the crucial Fed Cup tie against Japan. As we head to the hard courts of the US, Tom Madden looks at the importance of Indian Wells and Miami to Jo Konta and Heather Watson.
Konta has it all to defend
Sitting outside the top 10, Jo Konta has two very important back-to-back tournaments coming up in the US. Last year the Brit made her stamp in these tournaments, reaching the third round in Indian Wells and winning the title in Miami after defeating Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets. Her title in Miami broke British records and earned her a place among the BBC Sports Personality Awards shortlist.Embed from Getty Images
Of recent, Konta has struggled with back-to-back wins since her semi final appearance at Wimbledon. But true to form, Konta is focussed on the process and her longevity in tennis, having recently tweeted after a loss to Daria Kasatkina:
“Thank you to all the people out there who continue to support me, understand what process and growth is, and how it looks in reality. #keepworking”
We can never really discount Konta, because even with a current struggle in form she still remains process-orientated and focused on each and every point. Regardless of whether she hits a few balls past the baseline, we know that it is that exact aggression that propelled her to the world’s top five last year.
In an ideal world, Konta will have a fantastic Indian Wells, hopefully reaching the final stages (QF onward) so that it takes the pressure off her title defence in Miami. We would also hope that she does not get a difficult first couple of rounds. She’s had her fair share of tough opening rounds this season, facing the likes of Aga Radwanska (Sydney), Madison Keys (Brisbane) and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Doha) already this year.
In terms of where she was in seeding last year, Konta was in a similar position entering Indian Wells (seeded 11) and Miami (seeded 10). The only difference this time is that Konta isn’t coming to the States on the back of a quarter final appearance at the Australian Open and a title in Sydney.
It’s going to be a tough ask for Konta to defend her points, but failure to win matches could lead to a drastic dip in rankings ahead of her least favoured clay court season.
Watson looking to build on Acapulco doubles success
Unlike Konta, Watson has a lot to gain at these tournaments, after she only reached the second round in Indian Wells and the first round in Miami in 2017. The British number two has everything to play for and some wins in the US could see her propel back into the top 50.
Watson started the year with back to back wins in Brisbane and Hobart, but since then has only played three tournaments (including the AO) and in all three tournaments has suffered early exits. However, she comes to the tournament full of confidence after a surprise doubles title in Acapulco with Tatjana Maria. Doubles results have already seen a huge impact on Kiki Mladenovic this year, so it’s possible for the same effect to be had on Watson.Embed from Getty Images
One thing that is true for Watson is that she thrives off of the pressure of big matches. This was most evident in Eastbourne where she downed Dominika Cibulková and Pavlyuchenkova, before pushing Wozniacki to three sets in a SF.
The 2016 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles champion, has previously reached the fourth round in both tournaments (beating players like Sloane Stephens and Aga Radwanska) so there is no reason she cannot surpass last year’s results.
Who else should be looked at?
The most obvious player to look out for is Petra Kvitova since the two-time Wimbledon champion has no points to defend at these tournaments. She’s also fresh from winning back-to-back WTA Premier events in St Petersburg and Doha.
Looking at last year’s semi finalists at Indian Wells, it’s likely that we’ll have a completely new line-up this time around. Defending champion Elena Vesnina was the feel-good story from last year’s tournament, but has struggled to maintain consistency since the title. Svetlana Kuznetsova and Kiki Mladenovic will also find it tough, while we’ll see how Karolina Pliskova deals with pressure of defending semi final points at both tournaments.
Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina, Coco Vandeweghe, Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko all have little to defend, meaning it’s likely we’ll see yet another big re-shake to the rankings at the top after these tournaments.