Plenty to be excited about at Sony Ericsson Open
Will Roger Federer bounce back after his loss in Indian Wells, and can Serena Williams maintain her level of play she displayed in Australia? Patrick McEnroe answers these questions and more about the Sony Ericsson Open.
The second leg of the back-to-back Masters Series events in Indian Wells, Calif., and Key Biscayne, Fla., is under way. The Sony Ericsson Open, the proclaimed fifth major, will have its share of intriguing story lines, and ESPN's Patrick McEnroe has answers for the five burning questions
After a disappointing early round loss at Indian Wells, what do you expect from Roger Federer?
McEnroe: I expect him to get back right on track. It was not a shock to finally see him lose early on. It was bound to happen at some point. I don't believe his loss to Guillermo Canas will impact him negatively. He's too good.
Unquestionably, he wants to get back to his winning ways, especially in Key Biscayne where he enjoys playing. He has won here the last two years and, if nothing else, he should be fresh physically and mentally. Federer was not shaken up after his loss in California. He understands that he is still the player to beat on tour, and his opponents know this as well.
Furthermore, the conditions here are heavier than in Indian Wells, which will help him get into a groove. It's difficult to get in a good rhythm at Indian Wells if you're out of sink because of the thin desert air. Your balls have a tendency to fly and errors occur. This will not be the case for Roger in Key Biscayne.
With the exception of Amelie Mauresmo, how important is it to finally have a full women's field? And which top-echelon player is facing the most pressure?
McEnroe: The biggest story line for me is Serena Williams, even though she is seeded 13th. When she's on -- as she proved in Australia -- Williams is the best player in the world. But, she has not played since. So questions about her fitness and amount of practice certainly are legitimate. Her sister Venus is here -- and she, too, has a tournament title this year. Neither one wants to disappoint her fans.
As for the players vying for the No. 1 ranking, Maria Sharapova really needs to get her game back on track. She lost earlier than we expected in Indian Wells after her serve went awry in a loss to Vera Zvonareva. She played really well last year, winning at Indian Wells and then reaching the final in Key Biscayne. Considering she has played more tennis than the top players, there's no reason to think she won't bounce back.
The women's field is wide open right now, as it has been for a few years. Justine Henin is playing great after missing the Australian Open and Svetlana Kuznetsova is one of the most overlooked players on tour. It's great to finally see a full field.
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray both made splashes at the Pacific Life Open. As young as they are, can they have solid performances in consecutive Masters Series tournaments?
McEnroe: These are the two up-and-comers I believe will be most successful when all is said and done. Though they're still teenagers, both show remarkable mental and physical consistency when they play. We saw that out of Murray in his quarterfinal encounter against Tommy Haas. He went down in pain after rolling his ankle but toughed it out and won. Unfortunately he met his match in Djokovic in the next round, but we witnessed his will to fight and play.
Djokovic is a big-time player and strikes the ball very cleanly. He cracked the top 10 for the first time after his run to the final last week. It's completely plausible we'll see him at the Masters Cup in November.
Both have had ample time to recover and adjust to Key Biscayne. Irrespective of their deep run in Indian Wells, there's no reason to think both can't do well in Key Biscayne.
Andre Agassi owned this tournament in Key Biscayne. How much does the Sony Ericsson Open miss him right now?
McEnroe: He was unbelievable down here, with six championships. These conditions fit him perfectly. Moreso, the buzz Agassi created was like no other player, past or present.
While we all miss Andre, but there are a lot of other players here who create plenty of excitement.
Federer's dominance has fans flocking his every move. The resurgence of Andy Roddick has certainly helped from an American perspective. Also not to be forgotten is James Blake, who has struggled in the last month but still has a great fan base. Plus, we have the return of the Williams sisters who are playing in the same tournament for the first time all year.
We knew we were going to miss Agassi -- undoubtedly the most popular player in the last 20 years. This a great tournament and they put on a fantastic show every year, so in that sense it's not going to suffer, but yes, there is a void without him.
How difficult is it to play back-to-back Masters Series events?
McEnroe: I don't mind this setup as much as others. There are four or five days in between the two tournaments so it does not affect the finalists like Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, or the women's last two, Daniela Hantuchova and Kuznetsova.
This is a much more daunting task at Canada and Cincinnati where there is virtually no time off in between. We saw this last year with Federer. After winning in Toronto he immediately came to Cincinnati and was surprised by Andy Murray. I doubt this would have occurred if Federer had more time to recover and get a better feel for the change in conditions. I would like to see more time in between these two tournaments especially since they are Masters Series events.
This though, is a perfect setup. There's no reason the players who made deep runs in Indian Wells can't succeed in Key Biscayne this week.
Patrick McEnroe, the U.S. Davis Cup captain, provides analysis for ESPN.com during the Sony Ericsson Open.