As the Australian summer closes, the North American spring is kicking into gear.
In the tennis world, that means all eyes are locked on the upcoming tournaments which make up the ’Sunshine Swing’: Indian Wells and Miami.
As if any more reasons were needed to get excited about two of the biggest tournaments on the tennis calendar, it is time to look back at some of the greatest Aussie successes during the ‘Sunshine Swing’ over recent decades.
With so many historical and recent achievements at the events, perhaps another Aussie (or two) will make their mark in the 2023 editions.
Ash Barty 2019-2021 – 2x Miami champion
Where better to start a list of Aussie success stories than with Ash Barty? Two of Barty’s three WTA 1000 titles came in the Miami event, where she reigned as champion from 2019 until her retirement in 2022.
Barty’s first Miami crown was won in 2019, in what proved to be a turning point in the three-time grand slam champion’s career. Barty bested fellow Aussie Sam Stosur, as well as several other WTA stalwarts including Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens and Anett Kontaveit on her way to the final. Barty secured the title with a straight-sets win over Karolina Pliskova.
The then-22-year-old would famously follow up her Miami triumph with the Roland Garros title, before winning the Birmingham Classic to clinch the number one ranking for the first time.
The 2021 title run was similarly impressive, although for very different reasons. Barty did not play at all on the tour post-Covid hiatus in 2020, only returning to the court at the start of 2021.
Doubts began to emerge regarding Barty’s status as world number one, but the Queenslander silenced her critics with an emphatic title defence.
Jelena Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, Aryna Sabalenka and Elina Svitolina were all defeated enroute, before Bianca Andreescu’s retirement down 6-3 4-0 in the final sealed Barty’s triumph.
Lleyton Hewitt 2002-2003 – 2x Indian Wells champion
Long before Barty’s dominance, Hewitt was proving to be similarly brilliant on the North American hardcourts. The former US Open champion won Indian Wells twice during the most successful spell of his career, with each solidifying his status as the best men’s player in the world at the time.
Hewitt’s first triumph in 2002 saw him lose only one set throughout the tournament. The two-time grand slam champion dispatched the great Pete Sampras 6-2 6-4 in the semi-final, before comprehensively defeating Tim Henman 6-1 6-2 in the final.
Hewitt defended his crown the following year by playing similarly brilliant tennis. Once again, the Adelaide native saved arguably his best performance for the final, dismantling Gustavo Kuerten 6-1 6-1 in one of the most impressive performances of his career.
Mark Philippoussis 1999 – Indian Wells champion Arguably the biggest title of his illustrious career, Philippoussis’ sensational run to the title at the 1999 edition of Indian Wells was a just reward following several years of high-quality performances. The Scud had reached the US Open final just six months earlier where he lost to compatriot Pat Rafter, before winning the Hopman Cup in January 1999 alongside Jelena Dokic. Philippoussis’ run at Indian Wells was filled with drama throughout, beating the likes of third seed Alex Corretja, a teenage Marat Safin, Todd Martin and finally the fourth seed Carlos Moya in a five-set thriller to claim the crown.
Sam Stosur w/ Lisa Raymond 2006-2007 – 2x ‘Sunshine Double’
Defending any tour-level title is impressive, but to defend both the Indian Wells and Miami doubles crowns is a frankly extraordinary feat. Sam Stosur was able to do just that in the women’s doubles back in 2006 and 2007 alongside the vastly experienced American Lisa Raymond. Despite only being in her early twenties, Stosur had well and truly established herself as one of the best doubles players in the world.
The duo reunited almost ten years later in 2015 for one last run at the events, and even reached the semi-final in the Californian desert despite Raymond being 41 years old at the time.
Ash Barty w/ Coco Vandeweghe 2018 – Miami champion
The partnership between Barty and Vandeweghe is best remembered for their US Open triumph at the end of 2018, but the groundwork for grand slam success was laid months earlier at that year’s Miami Open.
The duo were at their scintillating best throughout the event, beating a who’s who line-up of champion doubles pairings from the last decade including Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos, top seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, and lastly Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in the final.
A wonderful week which finally gave Barty her first significant doubles crown on the tour after years of near misses.
Nick Kyrgios 2017 – Indian Wells QF + Miami SF
Kyrgios has announced that he will not be playing Indian Wells or Miami this year, which is especially disappointing considering he has played arguably the best hardcourts tennis of his career at these events.
The prime example of that success came in 2017, when Kyrgios reached the quarterfinals at Indian Wells and the semi-finals in Miami. The Canberran managed more than a few impressive scalps along the way, most strikingly when he came out on top against five-time champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round of Indian Wells.
Kyrgios beat the Serb 6-4 7-6(3), before unfortunately having to pull out of his scheduled quarterfinal meeting with Roger Federer due to illness.
Kyrgios would get the chance to go one better in Miami though, where wins against the likes of David Goffin and Alexander Zverev set him up for another date with Federer, this time in the semi-finals. The ensuing clash would go down as an all-time classic, with the Swiss maestro prevailing in three incredible tie-break sets.
Thanasi Kokkinakis 2018 – Miami 3rd round
Whilst the renaissance-era Federer proved a step too far for Kyrgios, the same could not be said for Kokkinakis the following year.
Playing in only his fifth tournament in seven months, having failed to qualify for Indian Wells just a couple of weeks earlier, Kokkinakis made his way through qualifying in Miami to reach the second round before stunning the world number one Federer in the second round.
Federer had captured his sixth Australian Open just a couple of months prior but could not handle the heat of the then-world number 175 on the day. Although Kokkinakis would lose his next match to Fernando Verdasco, his win against Federer remains his greatest triumph on the singles court. It was just 12 months ago that Kokkinakis actually had his best Miami run coming from qualifying to reach the fourth round.
Casey Dellacqua 2014 – Indian Wells QF
Another fairy-tale run from an Aussie qualifier, reaching the quarterfinals at Indian Wells marked perhaps the best singles result of Dellacqua’s illustrious career.
Dellacqua made her way through qualifying before upsetting seeded players Kirsten Flipkens and Roberta Vinci to reach the fourth round. The women’s doubles finalist at all four grand slams then received some good fortune in the form of Lauren Davis’ withdrawal, allowing her a walkover to the quarterfinals and taking her tally of consecutive wins at the event to six, before her charge was finally ended at the hands of Simona Halep.
Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde 1995-1997 – 3x Miami champions
Australian tennis Hall of Fame duo ‘The Woodies’ can boast a laundry list of records and titles, perhaps resulting in some of their achievements being overshadowed.
Their run as triple champions of the Miami Open in the mid-1990s exemplifies this phenomenon, occurring during one of the most successful periods of their partnership. Remarkably, the pair did not lose a single set during this run of three successive championships.
Throw in the 1996 Indian Wells doubles title, and it is easy to see why Woodbridge and Woodforde are regarded as one of the greatest double-acts to ever play the sport.
Daria Saville 2022 – Indian Wells 4th round + Miami QF
Finishing off with the most recent success on this list, Saville’s brilliant run across both events last year reminded everyone what they had been missing during her extended absence from the tour.
Following a wretched few years with injury, ‘Dasha’ (using a protected ranking) made her way through qualifying and the first round at Indian Wells before defeating ninth-seed Ons Jabeur and 20th seed Elise Mertens to reach the fourth round. Saville unfortunately had to retire early on in her match against Maria Sakkari, but recovered quickly and made her way to Florida.
In Miami, Saville went one better by making it all the way to the quarterfinals, becoming the lowest-ranked Miami quarterfinalist ever (ranked 249). Although her streak was ultimately ended by Belinda Bencic at the quarterfinal stage, Saville’s success at both events made for a heart-warming story.
Saville is currently out of action again due to a torn ACL, but her surprisingly deep runs during the Sunshine Swing last year reminded us of the magic these kinds of tournaments could always have in store.