Michelle Larcher de Brito (POR) vs. Sorana Cirstea (ROU)
Larcher de Brito, who trains at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy, burst onto the scene at the 2007 Sony Ericsson Open when she beat veteran American Meghann Shaughnessy 3-6, 6-2, 7-6(3) as a 14-year old. Three years later, Larcher de Brito is now 17-years old and is currently ranked #120 in the world. It will be interesting to see if she can recapture some of the magic she has had in the past in Miami.
Cirstea is a 19-year old Romanian who is currently ranked #40 in the world. She reached the second round at Indian Wells, beating Kaia Kanepi before falling to Jie Zheng in straight sets. This is her third time playing Miami, and she is still looking for her first win down here.
Cirstea is 2-0 against Larcher de Brito including a win over her last year in Los Angeles. Larcher de Brito will come after Cirstea from the first ball. She moves great side-to-side and fights about as hard as anyone on the tour. She has relentless groundstrokes from both sides and her serve is improving. Cirstea is a good doubles player who is comfortable at the net. Her groundstrokes are solid from both sides, but she has had trouble closing out matches in the past. The one thing you cannot do against Larcher de Brito is give her any signs that you are letting up because she will pounce all over you. Larcher de Brito will have to change it up a bit against Cirstea and try to keep her off-balance throughout the match.
Nick’s Pick – Going to be a close one, but I give a slight edge to Larcher de Brito if she mixes it up
Justine Henin (BEL) vs. Jill Craybas (USA)
Henin is ranked just outside the top 30, at #33 in the world. It won’t be too long before you see her back in the top 10. After reaching the finals of the Australian Open she took some time off and then played at Indian Wells where she lost to Gisela Dulko in three sets. Henin has never won this tournament, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her playing on the final weekend this year.
Craybas is a veteran American who comes into the tournament ranked #90 in the world. At the age of 35, Craybas is definitely on the backside of her career, but she is in great shape and won’t get down without a fight.
Henin is 1-0 against Craybas, but that win came all the way back in 2001 in Hawaii. Craybas is an excellent mover and a big-time competitor. What she doesn’t have is a big weapon to hurt Henin. Look for Henin to control the court from the outset, using her powerful forehand, beautiful one-handed backhand, and fantastic variety to keep Craybas off balance. The one area where Craybas will look to attack is on the return of serve. If Henin’s serve is off at all, Craybas will have a chance to put the pressure on the Belgian. This will be an entertaining match, but in the end, Henin has too much of everything.
Nick’s Pick – Henin in 2 sets