April 22, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Several of the initial batch of wild cards announced for next month’s Miami Open are the recent usual suspects: Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Emma Raducanu.

But one name is a surprise.

Former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori, now 34, will kickstart his comeback one more time.

It has been a frustrating few years for the 34-year-old, who offered a hint as to an immiment comeback when he announced the hiring of Thomas Johansson as his coach.

The two recently trained for several weeks at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Out since July 2023

Nishikori’s injury battles have been both a feature and a bug of the former world No. 4’s career in recent years.

He had his first elbow surgery early, in 2009. But he had another in Oct. 2019. And then he had hip surgery in Jan. 2022.

With the second elbow surgery, Nishikori was out from the 2019 US Open, through to a clay-court event in Kitzbuhel in Sept. 2020. He played the “revamped” fall clay-court season that year made necessary because of the five-month stoppage due to the pandemic.

The hip surgery kept him out until he returned at a Challenger in Puerto Rico in June, 2023.

He won that, then played two more Challenger in the U.S. before losing in the quarterfinals of the (now-defunct) Atlanta ATP 250.

And that was it – another eight months away since then.

Nishikori’s last relatively full season was 2021 although other than an appearance at Indian Wells, which was held in the fall that year, it wrapped up at the US Open.

Nishikori has a protected ranking of No. 48, if things go well in Miami and he needs to use it.

Venus tries again

A few months before her 44th birthday, the seven-time Grand Slam singles titlist is adding a wild card in Miami to the one she was already awarded for Indian Wells.

But there won’t be many expectations.

Williams has been a shadow of her champion self in recent years, when she has played sparingly.

Williams’s last semi-regular competitive period was the first half of 2021, when she was still in the top 100 and played in Australia, Miami and some leadup events as well as Roland Garros.

She won a round at Wimbledon, but played just match between that and the Citi Open in D.C. in early Aug. 2022.

She started again in 2023, in Auckland ahead of the Australian Open. But after losing to Zhu Lin in the second round, she withdrew from the Australian Open with a hamstring injury. Williams returned for the grass-court season, but injured her knee in her first-round loss to Elina Svitolina.

Williams on the practice court in Miami in 2019.

She tried to come back for the U.S. hard-court summer. But she hobbled through it, ending with a 6-1, 6-1 loss to Greet Minnen of Belgium.

So it will have been about six months off the court when she returns at Indian Wells.

Williams is a three-time Miami champion – in 1998 (over Anna Kournikova in the final), 1999 (over sister Serena) and 2001 (in a third-set tiebreak win over Jennifer Capriati in the final).

Raducanu continues comeback

It’s no surprise that Emma Raducanu received a wild card into Miami, as she is represented by IMG, which also happens to co-own the tournament.

The 2021 US Open champion is always eligible for a “top-20” category wild card anyway, as is any former Grand Slam champion or No. 1.

Now 21, Raducanu was already visibly struggling with wrist issues at Indian Wells last year, even though she defeated Beatriz Haddad Maia and Magda Linette before losing to Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.

By Miami, it was a lot worse, and she bowed out to Bianca Andreescu in the first round.

She showed at the Stuttgart event (sponsored by Porsche, one of her sponsors) but then had three surgeries. She returned in Auckland in January.

Raducanu hasn’t played since losing in the first round of Doha to Anhelina Kalinina.

Wozniacki looking to kickstart 2024

As for Wozniacki, 33, the return to play after 3 1/2 years and two children in quick succession began so promisingly last summer, where she took eventual champion Coco Gauff to three sets before bowing out in the fourth round.

At that point, she wrapped the comeback for 2023, planning on returning in 2024 and playing a much more regular schedule.

So far, it hasn’t worked out that well. She lost her opener in Auckland to Elina Svitolina. And then, after winning her first-round match at the Australian Open when Magda Linette retired, was beaten by qualifier Maria Timofeeva in the second round.

She didn’t play in the Middle East, opting to return this week in San Diego. After winning the first set 6-1, Wozniacki fell 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 to Anna Blinkova of Russia.

(Pic: Mathieu Belanger/Tennis Canada)

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