Stars set out for success on the Sunshine Swing

 - Alex Sharp

Two massive tournaments, pushing towards the prestige of a Grand Slam, bolster the tennis calendar, but who is primed to perform?

Vers un nouveau rendez-vous au sommet entre Rafael Nadal et Novak Djokovic en Californie ?©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

It’s time for the Sunshine Swing.

March on the tennis tour is box office States side, with Indian Wells taking the limelight for the first half, whilst the Miami Open takes over in the second half.

Both events are key titles on the ATP and WTA tours, but who is set to sizzle in the scorching heat and humidity over in the USA?

On the men’s side, it’s unfortunate Indian Wells champion Juan Martin Del Potro is forced to surrender his title due to injury as his recovery from a fractured right kneecap continues.

Destructive Djokovic way out in front

Waiting to pounce, there is nowhere else to start other than Novak Djokovic. The Serbian collected his fourth Laureus World Sports Award this week, exemplifying his current superiority.

The confidence will be brimming after his 15th major crown at the Australian Open. Refreshed and replenished with February away from competition, Djokovic is by far the favourite to add to his five Indian Wells and six Miami titles. His Melbourne run was simply majestic.

A certain Roger Federer will have his say and the signs in Dubai are particularly promising.

Some hard-fought tie-breaks have helped the Swiss maestro edge towards his 100th career title. If not in Dubai, how special would that be on the Sunshine Swing?

Kyrgios back on course?

Find a way to watch these highlights.

Australian powerhouse Nick Kyrgios launched back into prominence with a sensational 3-6 7-6(2) 7-6(6) triumph over Rafael Nadal at the Mexico Open.

Kyrgios has slumped down to world No.72, but rocketed back to his fiery, turbulent, blistering best to save three match points and oust the defending Roland Garros champion.

“It’s a match I’m never going to forget,” said the 23-year-old. “It’s massive. I’ve struggled a lot this year, so to be able to put in a performance like that against the No. 1 seed is pretty special,” Kyrgios told reporters.

It’s a simple equation. If Kyrgios plays like that, he’s a threat anywhere.

Meanwhile, for Nadal it was a case of missed opportunities, 10 break points went begging. Indian Wells has proved fruitful in the past, the Spaniard claiming the trophy on three occasions. However, the 17-time Grand Slam champion will need to re-ignite his ruthless streak to progress to the latter stages.

Zverev to send out a signal

2018 Miami finalist Alexander Zverev’s troublesome rolled ankle from Melbourne has pretty much healed, so the German will be determined to make his mark.

Stefanos Tsitsipas was a revelation at the Australian Open and has continued to conjure up sublime tennis. The gregarious Greek heads to America with the Marseille Open trophy to his name in February, which has been complimented by a strong showing in Dubai thus far.

For an outsider I’d call Gael Monfils. The dynamic Frenchman is on a hot streak with the Rotterdam title back up by a scorching victory over Marin Cilic so far in Dubai. He’s back in the Top 20 and completely revitalised, so watch this space.

Osaka back to special territory

Heading into the Sunshine Swing in 2018, Naomi Osaka was talked of as ‘one for the future’. Fast forward to 2019 and the Japanese star has two Grand Slams to her name and is top of the WTA rankings.

It’s been an absorbing accomplishment and a maiden WTA title last season out in the Californian desert provided the platform for such success.

An opening defeat in Dubai will have been forgotten by the arrival of new coach Jermaine Jenkins, who has recently been working in Venus Williams’ camp. Fresh impetus should keep Osaka in the groove and fuel the feel-good factor.

Naomi Osaka a ouvert son palmarès l'an passé à Indian Wells.© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Reigning Roland Garros ruler Simona Halep and 2018 Miami champion Sloane Stephens are amongst a plethora of names at the top of the WTA rankings who will be eager to sizzle on the Sunshine Swing. This duo might not be in top gear, but they will have had plenty of time to prepare away from the match court to hit the US with full vigour.

Azarenka an outside shout

“I’m happy with the direction that I’m going,” said Victoria Azarenka, who has taken home the Indian Wells title twice, together with a trio of Miami crowns.

The world No.50 evidently relishes the sweltering conditions on the Sunshine Swing, whilst finding form in Acapulco by dismantling second seed Danielle Collins 6-1 6-2 in the opening round.

With matches notched up in Mexico, the usual suspects will be wary of a soaring Azarenka.

Dubai finalists ready to duel

A first WTA trophy since 2015 – Belinda Bencic is officially back.

The amicable Swiss claimed four Top 10 wins to lift the giant trophy in Dubai. Six match points were saved against Aryna Sabalenka, she came back from a set deficit facing Halep and halted Elina Svitolina’s reign. This was all before navigating past Petra Kvitova in an absorbing final.

Swinging freely and rattling through results, why can’t this continue?

Never count out Serena

Yes, this is a pretty predictable inclusion, but you cannot discount an eight-time Miami Open champion. 20 years on from her first ever WTA title in Paris, Serena Williams is still an almighty threat to the top honours.