When it comes to the Sony Open Tennis Women’s tournament, there’s Serena, and then there’s everyone else. As history tells us, if you want to take home the title on Key Biscayne, chances are you will have to go through the younger Williams sister. Even so, there’s a traffic jam atop the WTA point standings, which should not only turn up the heat, but make for the unexpected the next two weeks.
With the 2014 Sony Open Women's Draw taking place Sunday night, these are the top five pressing questions ahead of the tournament...
Is Serena the Sony Open’s G.O.A.T.?
The top-seeded, defending champion Serena Williams is eyeing title No.7, which would make her the most successful player, man or woman, in the tournament's history. Williams will be shooting for a second straight Sony Open crown. Last year, she became the first top-seeded woman to win here since 2004 as she came back from a set down and a 4-1 deficit in the second to power past Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round before another comeback against Maria Sharapova in the final for title number six at the Sony Open. Serena has an impressive 61-7 career mark at the Sony Open.
Serena's Draw: Serena's path to another title gets tricky and quickly: She drew a potential match up with 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in her first match (second round) on Thursday and a possible third round tilt with rising French star Caroline Garcia. A rematch with last year's finalist Sharapova looms in the semifinals.
Sharapova's Breakthrough Year?
Sharapova, a five-time finalist, including three straight runner-up finishes, is always a force at Crandon Park. A graceful baseliner with terrific angles on her backhand, especially on hard courts, Sharapova should make another deep run in Key Biscayne. Last year, she had Serena on the ropes going up one set in the finals. Could this be her year?
Sharapova's Draw: Beside the semifinal match-up with Serena, Sharapova's is scheduled to come against BNP Paribas winner Flavia Pennetta in the quarters.
Is Venus back, back?
Venus, a three-time Key Biscayne champion, completed a dominating performance in Dubai with a straight set victory over Alize Cornet for her first title in 16 months. The 33-year-old didn’t drop a set while defeating five top ranked players on her way to the Championship. As a result, Venus climbed 15 spots to No. 29 in the WTA rankings.
Venus' Draw: The older Williams sister has her work cut out for her to get deep into the tournament as she faces possible match up with sixth seed Simona Halep in the third round and Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round. And if she makes it past them, there's a possible match up with Agnieszka Radwanksa in the quarters.
Can Li Na Make a Push for No. 1?
The hottest player on tour continues to be Li Na, who followed up her second Grand Slam win at the Australian Open earlier this year with a semifinal appearance at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells last week. Will she follow up that with her first Sony Open title? At this rate, Na could soon be pushing Serena for the No. 1 spot in the world. If the most accomplished Chinese professional tennis player in history did ascend to the top of the rankings she would become the oldest first time No. 1 in the modern history of the game.
Na's Draw: The Australian Open champion could face young American Madison Keys in the third round and Stephens in the quarterfinals.
Who is the Best of the Rest?
Pennetta is riding a wave of momentum after the biggest win of her career at the BNP Paribas on Sunday – the victory was her first Tier 1 win and continues a career renaissance that includes semifinal and quarterfinal appearances at the US Open (2013) and Australian Open (2014), respectively. The runner up at Indian Wells, Radwanksa is also peeking at the right time as the current World No. 3 reached the semifinals in the year’s first Grand Slam down under. Radwanska is also a former Sony Open winner, having taken the title in 2012.
German Angelique Kerber, a versatile player who’s delivered a mix of ups and downs, exited early in Indian Wells but is seeded sixth, while newly-minted No.5 –ranked Halep is coming off an impressive run in Indian Wells, and rapidly developing into one of the tour’s most complete players. Eugenia Bouchard, Laura Dobson and Carla Suarez Navarro will be fun to watch as well, not only here but for years to come. And we’ll get a front row view to the state of American women’s tennis with Stephens, Keys and Christina McHale in the draw.