Danielle Collins holding Miami Open championship trophy with streamers in background
The sun shined on Danielle Collins as she captured the biggest win of her career, Jannik Sinner returned to his winning ways, and Simona Halep returned to play.

The first quarter of the year closed out with the Miami Open presented by Itaú. Coupled with the BNP Paribas Open, it’s the second half of the Sunshine Double, two consecutive 1000-series hardcourt events in the U.S.

It’s a crescendo to the season’s first hardcourt swing before the tours transition to clay for a two months.

Danielle Collins Goes Out with a Bang

The tennis gods wanted Danielle Collins to have a storybook ending.

Collins, age 30, is on her farewell lap on the WTA Tour, having announced her retirement at year’s end. We don’t know which tournament will be her last, but we do know she’ll retire as the reigning champion of at least one.

And it was a doozy.

Collins tore through the main draw of the Miami Open these last two weeks, becoming the lowest ranked woman to win the tournament. She entered #53, and she exits #22.

She lost the first set of the tournament and didn’t drop a set or even play a tiebreaker the rest of the way.

Five of her six wins were against seeded players, including World No. 4 Elena Rybakina in the final, 7-5 6-3.

This marked only her second victory against a top-five player in her career.

It was her third career title and her first-ever WTA 1000 title.

It was her first time to reach a final since her breakthrough run to the Australian Open final in 2022 which launched her to her career-high ranking of No. 7 in the world.

Sweetest of all, this was in her home state of Florida.

Again, storybook.

The likelihood of her claiming this title was slim-to-none when the tournament began. Only one month ago she was withdrawing from the ATX Open in Austin due to injury.

But the cards fell her way. She played fearless tennis throughout, and when she took the court for the final she was probably the most determined she has ever been to win a tennis match.

It wasn’t easy. She had to save ten of eleven break points against her serve. But she met the moment time and time again.

Collins is retiring because she is ready to start a family and because her body can’t take the punishment anymore. She has spent a decade adapting to the grind of life on tour. She has battled rheumatoid arthritis and constant aches and pains for long enough. She’s ready to be done and she’s at peace with the decision.

Raising this trophy probably wasn’t something she imagined. And then all of a sudden, it was in her hands. Her face was in her hands after match point too, overwhelmed with disbelief, relief, joy.

It was a lifetime of dedication, suffering, and hard work finally getting its due.

Suddenly, she finds herself the third-best American woman, which qualifies her for the summer Olympics. That’s probably something else she hadn’t considered doing on this final lap.

No matter how the year plays out, this will be a defining moment for one of the tour’s fiercest competitors. Always good to see happy endings.

Sinner Restores Order

Meanwhile, the men’s draw had another feel-good story unfolding.

Grigor Dmitrov, one of the all-time good guys who couldn’t seem to catch the big breaks throughout his career, played a near-perfect two weeks of tennis leading up to the final in Miami.

He bested Carlos Alcaraz in two fairly routine sets. After the match, Alcaraz said Dmitrov made him feel like he was thirteen years old out there. In other words, Alcaraz couldn’t figure out what to do against him.

Dmitrov got a kick out of that.

That was the quarterfinals. Dmitrov followed that up with a second straight top-five win in the semis against world No. 5 Alexander Zverev.

It would be a tall ask for anyone to beat Alcaraz, Zverev, and Sinner in succession.

But Dmitrov seemed to have some fairy dust on him like Collins.

It wasn’t meant to be.

Jannik Sinner dealt another one of his friendly beat-downs to Dmitrov, 6-3 6-1.

Dmitrov feels very close to a breakthrough, though. Like many before him, he seems to be finding a second peak in the later stages of his career. Knowledge, wisdom, and the tick-tock of father time often combine for great results.

This deep run propels Dmitrov back into the Top 10 for the first time since November 2018. He enters at No. 9, and in doing so brings the one-handed backhand back into the Top 10 after a brief absence.

For Sinner’s part, this makes three titles for him already in 2024, including Australia and Rotterdam. He still only has one loss on the year, to Alcaraz in Indian Wells.

It also moves him up to a career-high No. 2 ranking, finally moving ahead of Carlos Alcaraz for the first time.

Next up, we’ll see how well Sinner can fare on the clay courts. It isn’t his best surface, but he has won on it before, and players of his caliber find ways to win on all surfaces.

Simona Halep Returns

After spending eighteen months in purgatory, two-time Grand Slam champ and former No. 1 Simona Halep finally stepped back on a tennis court.

She had been sidelined for alleged doping, while appealing and maintaining her innocence throughout.

She was cleared of wrongdoing during Indian Wells, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport deciding the positive test result was due to a contaminated supplement. In other words, it was accidental.

Her ban was reduced from four years to nine months. She was forced to sit out for eighteen months while awaiting arbitration, though.

Figure that. We’re going to reduce your ban to half the time you’ve already served. How does that work, exactly?

Eighteen months is an eternity in tennis. For someone like Halep, who operates at the very top of the game, it means an awful lot of prize money and sponsorship earnings (millions and millions of dollars) plus missed Grand Slam opportunities.

Miami Open Tournament Director James Blake acted fast and granted Halep a wild card to Miami. Luckily, he had been holding on to a wild card slot or this opportunity may not have happened.

The draw didn’t do her any favors, though, dishing out Paula Badosa in the first round.

Halep acquitted herself well, steamrolling through the first set 6-1 before dropping the final two. Final score for Badosa: 1-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Final score for Halep: freedom.

Per usual, Halep was all smiles. It’s good to have her back.

Indian Wells Hangover

Indian Wells and Miami are a unique one-two punch on the tennis calendar every year. Rarely do two 1000-series tournaments occur back-to-back. Each tournament spans two weeks and hosts both ATP and WTA Tours. The world’s best players compete, and the rest of the tennis calendar freezes.

The combo is called the Sunshine Double, and it is an uncommon feat for a player to win them both in a single year. Only seven men and four women have pulled it off.

It’s hard to maintain focus, momentum, discipline, and energy for a full month like that. Players get worn down mentally and physically.

Unfortunately, Miami has to deal with the exhaustion. In other words, there are a lot of upsets in Miami.

In both the men’s and women’s draws, only three of the top ten players made it to the quarterfinals.

For the women, only one of them made it to the semifinals. An unseeded player ended up winning the tournament.

The Miami Open is a premier tournament. Tough luck that it receives a squad of tired players arriving on the heels of a high-energy Indian Wells event.

Novak Withdraws from Miami, then from Goran

The biggest casualty for Miami was Novak Djokovic’s withdrawal shortly after being upset by Luca Nardi in Indian Wells.

Novak has had a rocky start to 2024 by his standards (zero titles, oh my!).

During week two of Miami, Djokovic announced a formal separation from his longtime coach Goran Ivanisevic. As of this writing, he still does not have a replacement, and perhaps won’t.

Roger Federer spent several stretches of his career without a coach—the title train didn’t slow down for him at all.

Djokovic knows everything there is to know to achieve success on tour. A coach is probably more of a sounding board for him than an instructor. A business advisor, if you will. The business is winning Grand Slam trophies.

The composition of the tour is changing dramatically as he navigates the backstretch of his career. The old guard is all but gone, replaced by a much younger and hungrier version.

For the first time in his career, Djokovic is perhaps unsure where to find his motivation. Going it alone, if that’s what he chooses, might be a way for him to challenge himself in a new way.

New challenges require new approaches. Djokovic is wise enough to recognize that.

At a minimum, parting ways with his coach will shake things up. New blood, new ideas, new interpersonal cadences.

In all likelihood, it’s just a case of two men mutually deciding that, after a terrific five-year run together, the best solution for continued success is to bring this chapter to a close. Pay respects and embrace change.