Sixth seed Garbine Muguruza's 2017 season has significantly improved compared to her 2016 campaign at this stage of the season. The 23-year-old Spaniard needed two days to reach the third round at the Miami Open. Muguruza enjoys this tournament as in 2012, as an unknown player to the world, she reached the fourth round as a wildcard in her first WTA main draw tournament, losing to eventual champion Agnieszka Radwanska, and she also reached the fourth round the following year losing to Li Na. Moreover, the French Open champion advanced to the quarterfinals at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells last week losing to Karolina Pliskova. Another reason why Muguruza likes this tournament is that there's a Latin-American feel to this event, and a few of the locals speak Spanish.
The French Open champion will be playing for the third consecutive day but before she can think about resting on Sunday, she will play 30th seed Zhang Shuai. Zhang was one match away from retiring from professional tennis at the Australian Open last year. However, China's number one reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne defeating Simona Halep in the first round. Moreover, Zhang hasn't had a good 2017 campaign but she is still a formidable opponent that the Spaniard cannot take likely.
Muguruza's route to the third round
Like the BNP Paribas Open, the top 32 seeds receive a bye into the second round. The players who go on a deep run in the Californian Desert, tend to lose early in Miami, however, the French Open champion would have been pleased to have reached the third round. There were echoes of last year's second round match in Indian Wells against Christina McHale when the American dispatched the Spaniard in straight sets. Furthermore, it seemed likely that McHale would beat Muguruza in their second consecutive meeting, however, Mother Nature intervened handing the sixth seed a reprieve. McHale dished out a bagel in the opening set and failed to serve out the match, however, the rain delay helped the French Open champion who defeated the American, 0-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 to advance to round three.
Zhang's route to the third round
The Chinese number one will have the slight advantage against Muguruza by having the priviledge of gaining a rest day. The 30th seed also gained a bye into the second round but she was handed a tough second round draw against former top 5 player, and 2012 French Open finalist Sara Errani. Errani has been struggling with her tennis for the past 18 months, suffering plenty of early exits which has halted her progress and seen her slump outside of the top 100. Nevertheless, Zhang saved a match point and defeated the Italian, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Muguruza and Zhang have met on one occasion and it was last month in the third round of the Qatar Total Open in Doha. It was a close encounter but Zhang came out on top defeating the French Open champion, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 7-5.
The former world number two will have one less day to recover than Zhang, however, the sixth seed has been showing her fighting spirit in 2017, which has got through some tough encounters. Muguruza has a chance of going deep in this tournament as she advanced to the fourth round last year losing to eventual champion Victoria Azarenka in two tight tiebreakers, which was certainly one of the matches of the year in 2016. Muguruza will need to serve well and ensure that her backhand is firing on all cylinders in order to beat Zhang.
Zhang's victory over Muguruza in Doha was her fifth over a top 5 player after defeating two-time Slam finalist Dinara Safina, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep twice. Zhang's serve isn't as good as Muguruza's but she is a fine returner, and her forehand is a good weapon. Moreover, Zhang has better movement than Muguruza and she will look to exploit the former world number two's movement.
Weather permitting, this will be the second match scheduled inside the Stadium court at not before 1 pm local time, and the winner of this match will face 12th seed Caroline Wozniacki or Sorana Cirstea in the fourth round in Miami.
Prediction: Muguruza in straight sets