On a busy Monday in Miami, all of the women’s fourth-round matches unfold. You can find a preview of all eight here in addition to a few of the remaining men’s third-round encounters.
Garbine Muguruza vs. Li Na: Into the fourth round for the second straight Premier Mandatory tournament, the Spanish rising star continues to consolidate her position as a player to watch this year. Indian Wells finalist Caroline Wozniacki became the latest player to learn about Muguruza’s ascendancy the hard way, thoroughly dismantled on Sunday. A day later, the youngster trains her weapons on Li Na, who has produced consistently outstanding tennis in the few tournaments that she has played this year. The Australian Open runner-up has lost only to Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka in 2013, although a knee injury sidelined her for several weeks after Melbourne. When she returned this week, her ball-striking looked as clean if not as audacious as it had in January. Never at her best in Miami, Li could turn a page now.
Serena Williams vs. Dominika Cibulkova: Awaiting the winner of the previous match in the quarterfinals is the world No. 1, assuming that she can survive the test posed by the shortest woman in the top 30. Cibulkova vanished from relevance after reaching the Sydney final, where Radwanska double-bageled her, but she pushed Serena’s predecessor in the spot to the brink in the same round here a year ago. That match against Azarenka, for which she served twice, revealed how much her explosive forehand can threaten taller opponents with more effortless power. Against a server like Serena, who struck 20 aces against her at Wimbledon in 2010, Cibulkova’s short wingspan may prevent her from creating pressure in return games and exploiting the erratic baseline play that Williams showed in the last round.
Grigor Dimitrov vs. Andy Murray: The memory of what unfolded when he faced Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells may reverberate through Dimitrov’s mind if he takes a lead against Murray. Serving for the first set that time, he conceded four double faults in a painful display of nerves. Dimitrov also took Murray to a first-set tiebreak wen they met in the Brisbane final this year, only to lose the tiebreak decisively and fade thereafter. Much more impressive than he looked at Indian Wells, Murray showed minimal mercy to another rising phenom in Bernard Tomic. His two-handed backhand should break down Dimitrov’s one-hander unless the Bulgarian enjoys an excellent serving day that allows him to dictate points with his forehand.
John Isner vs. Marin Cilic: Among the stranger statistics of the ATP is Cilic’s undefeated record against Americans, which includes victories over playesr like Roddick and Querrey. That perfection might continue against a giant exhausted from his epic victory over Ivan Dodig in the sweltering Miami heat. Mired in a slump for the last several months, Isner will have gained confidence from winning the type of close match that he so often plays, but he generally does not recover well after winning them and does not have an impressive history in Miami. The slow surface will blunt the serves of both men, a greater concern for Isner than the more balanced Cilic.
Maria Sharapova vs. Klara Zakopalova: The only woman in the lower half of the women’s draw who has defeated Sharapova on a hard court, Zakopalova halted the other Russian Maria in the wake of the latter’s strong fortnight at Indian Wells. That sole victory came a decade agao at the Australian Open, however, and the Czech subsided uneventfully when they met in Doha this February. Sharapova struggled on serve when Zakopalova took her to a third set at Roland Garros last year, and she struggled on serve again on the windy afternoon of her previous match. But she should break Zakopalova’s serve frequently with her rapier-like returns, keeping this counterpuncher on her heels from the outset.
Richard Gasquet vs. Mikhail Youzhny: These two men have developed a reputation for suffering ignominious meltdowns, including an occasion here when Youzhny drew blood from his head by smashing his racket against it. Another of those occasions featured the Frenchman surrendering a two-set lead to his fellow headcase at the Australian Open. Well past his prime, the Russian still can uncork one-handed backhands scarcely less lovely than Gasquet’s signature shot. Moreover, Youzhny has won four of their seven career meetings, surprising considering his opponent’s superior weapons.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Sloane Stephens: The defending champion has suffered a lull in form since winning consecutive titles to start 2013, dominated by Li and Petra Kvitova before Kirilenko upset her at Indian Wells. Radwanska dropped a set in the third round to Magdalena Rybarikova, a talented player but still a journeywoman, so she must raise her level against an Australian Open semifinalist. That said, Stephens ate a bagel from Olga Govortsova in her first set of the tournament, and she had lost four of her previous five matches before that victory. At Cincinnati last summer, she extended Radwanska to a third set despite lacking the firepower that normally troubles the Pole. Something similar could happen here in a match filled with long rallies.
Milos Raonic vs. Sam Querrey: Meeting for the fourth time since the start of 2012, these two giants play essentially the same styles in a matchup determined by execution on the day. In that regard, one must give the edge to Raonic, who defeated Querrey comfortably at San Jose last month in avenging two losses to the American last year. The slow outdoor courts of Miami favor the Canadian’s massive weapons and preference for short points much less than does the indoor arena in San Jose. In rallying past former nemesis Lukasz Kubot, Querrey continued to look vulnerable in a year when few victories have come easily. (Or, the more pessimistic might say, at all.) This match should come down to first-serve percentage and focus, critical in a match that hinges upon a tiny handful of points and in which any mistake can prove fatal.
Ajla Tomljanovic vs. Kirsten Flipkens: Recovered from a serious issue with blood clots last year, Flipkens reached the second week of the Australian Open and upset Kvitova yesterday in an oddly oscillating three-setter. Some of her better results have come on grass, which showcases her biting slice and her fine hands at net. Aligned opposite her is a Croat who clawed past Petkovic in a third-set tiebreak after upsetting Julia Goerges in the previous round. Like Flipkens, Tomljanovic has struggled with sporadic injuries, and she has played only a handful of WTA tournaments in the last several months. Transitioning overnight from the underdog to the favorite, the Belgian should fancy her chances to reach the most significant quarterfinal of her career.
Roberta Vinci vs. Alize Cornet: In a section that imploded, either of these women plausibly could reach a semifinal and collect the valuable ranking points that come with it. The main question regarding this match concerns whether Cornet can recover in time from a three-set victory that forced her to leave the court in a wheelchair. On the other hand, Vinci needed plenty of energy to grind through a three-setter of her own against Suarez Navarro, testing the veteran’s stamina. Her backhand slices could prove vital in testing the patience of an ever-edgy Cornet.
Sara Errani vs. Ana Ivanovic: After the Serb had won their two previous meetings, the Italian turned the tables at Roland Garros last year in a match that Ivanovic controlled initially before letting it slip away. The steadiness of Errani has allowed her to outlast streaky shot-makers like the former Roland Garros champion over the last year, but the latter displayed her best form in several months during her two victories here. For her part, Errani has lost just five games in two matches, the fewest of any woman left in the draw. If Ivanovic bursts to a fast start and sustains it, as she did against Kuznetsova, she could overwhelm this opponent before she settles. If Errani can find her footing and extend the rallies, meanwhile, she could complicate the plot for a woman who prefers her matches straightforward.
Sorana Cirstea vs. Jelena Jankovic: Until Jankovic won their most recent encounter in Dallas last summer, Cirstea had swept all of her meetings against an opponent consistently ranked higher than her, although each stretched into a final set and none came on an outdoor hard court. The Romanian brunette managed to upset Kerber a round after barely eking out a victory over Silvia Soler-Espinosa, a pair of results that illustrates how wide her range of form extends. Almost as impressive as the Kerber upset was Jankovic’s victory over Nadia Petrova, her seventh win in her last eight matches with the only loss coming in an airtight clash with Kuznetsova. Both women thus should enter this match with confidence, and they eye a similar opportunity to Vinci and Cornet, the winner of whom would meet the winner of this match in the quarterfinals.
As the third round begins in the men’s draw, the women finish deciding who will reach the final sixteen at the Sony Open.
Maria Sharapova vs. Elena Vesnina: The world #2 has won 14 straight matches against fellow Russians, but she lost her last meeting with Vesnina in the fall of 2010. An Indian Wells doubles champion, her opponent has compiled a quietly solid season in singles that has included her first career title and a second-week appearance at the Australian Open. Each Russian handled a rising young star in her opener with ease, Sharapova crushing Eugenie Bouchard and Vesnina dismissing Donna Vekic. The only Indian Wells finalist still in the Miami draw, the women’s champion there may face her greatest challenge from the heat and humidity of a tournament that she never has won.
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Ana Ivanovic: Sony Open organizers showed their knowledge of tennis when they chose this match for the evening marquee ahead of those featuring higher-ranked champions. While neither Kuznetsova nor Ivanovic has won a major in nearly four years, one should not miss this battle of fellow major champions with ferocious forehands. Kuznetsova possesses the superior athleticism and Ivanovic the superior serve, an advantage less compelling on a slow surface where she never has reached the quarterfinals. A champion here in 2006, the Russian aims to build on her miniature upset of countrywoman Makarova, but Ivanovic looked as brilliant as she has all year in an opener beset by rain and power failures. Nerves beset both women when they try to close out sets and matches, so no lead will be safe.
Albert Ramos vs. James Blake: An unthinkable prospect when the tournament began, a quarterfinal appearance for James Blake now looms well within the range of plausibility. Much improved from recent form at Indian Wells, he continued to turn back the clock with a resounding victory over seeded Frenchman Julien Benneteau. Meanwhile, the upset of Juan Martin Del Potro in this section has left him no significant obstacle to overcome. The Spanish lefty across the net plays a steady game that will test Blake’s consistency, but the American should relish the opportunity to showcase his flashy skills under the lights at this prestigious event.
Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Tommy Haas: Each man survived talented opponents in the previous round, Dolgopolov dominating 2008 champion Nikolay Davydenko and Haas weathering a three-setter against Igor Sijsling. The unpredictable quirks in the Ukrainian’s game could fluster the veteran of the famously flammable temper, but the latter has produced more impressive results over the past several weeks. When they met in last year’s Washington final, Dolgopolov rallied from losing the first set to outlast Haas.
Kevin Anderson vs. Janko Tipsarevic: Profiting from his vast advantage in height, Anderson defeated the second-ranked Serb three years ago on North American hard courts. He started this year more promisingly than any year before, outside a February injury, and has won multiple matches at every tournament. In contrast, Tipsarevic had lost ten consecutive sets (some resoundingly) from the Australian Open through Indian Wells before snapping that skid against a qualifier here. Hampered by nagging injuries, he has suffered a sharp loss of confidence that could trouble him when he attempts to break the South African’s intimidating serve. When the rallies unfold, however, Tipsarevic’s superior movement and balance could reap rewards.
Roberta Vinci vs. Carla Suarez Navarro: On the gritty, slow hard courts of Miami, these two clay specialists look to continue their encouraging results from last month. While Vinci reached the semifinals in Dubai, Suarez Navarro reached the Premier final in Acapulco. Gone early from the California desert to an unheralded opponent, the Italian narrowly avoided a similar disappointment in navigating past Christina McHale. She has lost all of her previous meetings, and all of her previous sets, to Suarez Navarro in a surprising head-to-head record considering their relative experience. Just six rankings spots separate these two women, so one can expect a tightly contested encounter of elegant one-handed backhands.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Nadia Petrova: Among the most entertaining women’s finals in recent Miami history was the three-setter that Jankovic contested against Serena Williams in 2008. The sluggish court speed showcased her counterpunching game at its best, a level from which it has long since receded. While she has won her last four meetings from Petrova, none of those has come since her precipitous plunge from the #1 ranking that started in 2009. The Russian’s game has aged more effectively, allowing her to stay within range of the top ten even at the age of 30, and she enjoyed an unexpected renaissance with two titles last fall. Like Jankovic, her two-handed backhand down the line remains her signature shot, but she will look to set the tone with penetrating first serves and aggressive court positioning as well.
Alize Cornet vs. Lauren Davis: The only singles match not on a televised court, this overlooked encounter pits a French former prodigy against an extraordinarily lucky loser. When Azarenka withdrew from the Sony Open, Lauren Davis filled her shoes with poise in an epic victory over countrywoman Madison Keys that climaxed with a third-set tiebreak. Having benefited from Azarenka’s bye as well, Davis has progressed through more rounds in the main draw than she did in the qualifying draw. The last American woman left in this half, she faces a winnable match against Cornet, who also survived a tense clash with Laura Robson in which she remarkably never lost her serve through the last two sets.
March 23, 2013 — It has been barely a year since John Isner defeated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of Indian Wells to reach his first career final at a Masters 1000 tournament. While he could not claim the title there, Isner appeared to have notched a decisive breakthrough in his career that would propel the top-ranked American man forward.
Events since then have questioned this interpretation of that memorable fortnight in the desert, especially over the last few months. Struggling for form from the US Open onward, Isner absorbed a serious blow when a knee injury forced him to withdraw from the Australian Open. That injury, not unexpected for a player of his height, disrupted the rhythm of his preparations for the 2013 season and undermined his confidence. At the Memphis indoor tournament in February, he lost his opener in straight sets to Denis Istomin, a player who normally should not have troubled him. But his slump reached its nadir at Indian Wells, the scene of his greatest triumph to date. Returning to the California desert, Isner lost his first match to Lleyton Hewitt as virtually every component of his game abandoned him at critical moments. With that loss came the loss of his status as the top-ranked American man, now held by Sam Querrey.
A man who shines most on home soil, Isner desperately needed to avoid a similar exit at the outset of the Miami tournament. With the long European swing ahead, he could not afford to let his confidence sink any lower before the inevitable setbacks on the red clay that dulls his greatest weapons. The Sony Open thus loomed large in the trajectory of his season as his last chance to regroup before the US Open Series in July. Against the occasionally dangerous Croat Ivan Dodig, who has defeated Nadal on North American hard courts before, Isner needed all of his perseverance and first-strike power to survive.
While he dropped serve four times across the three sets, an uncharacteristic number for him, the towering man from the University of Georgia showed resilience in rallying from losing the first set and from the brink of defeat in the third. Breaking Isner at 5-5 in the final set, Dodig served for the match at a stage when the reeling competitor across the net might well have resigned himself to a third straight loss. Despite the sweltering heat and his inconsistent form, Isner persevered to strike some of his best returns and play some of his most opportunistic tennis in the twelfth game and in the tiebreak that followed. Taking a lead at the outset, he never trailed in the tiebreak as he approached the net aggressively behind his serves and stayed just consistent enough from the baseline to earn the crucial mini-break that he needed for a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(5) victory.
Finishing the match with a thunderous first serve out wide, Isner showed just how much the victory meant to him by leaping in the air on his way to the net for the handshake. Even in view of the match’s airtight scoreline, that reaction might have surprised some onlookers because of his favored status and the early-round setting. But the context in which this victory came provided ample explanation for Isner’s delight in eking out the type of nail-biting epic that he has played so often in his career. These are the matches that can restore a player’s confidence in his ability to deliver at key moments, so the tenuous nature of his triumph in fact might have boosted him more than a routine win would have.
Always a perfectionist who demands a lot from himself, Isner expressed disappointment about losing his serve so often on a day when he otherwise had strong serving statistics. But he found it “a positive that I lost my serve four times and was still able to win the match.” Isner also acknowledged that he “needed [the win] for sure” because of a difficult season in which he had “lost matches I feel like I could have won,” always a demoralizing feeling for a tennis player.
It will not get any easier from here for the tall American, who faces another imposing server in Marin Cilic next and likely would meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round should he reach that stage. But, considering how his 2013 season has gone, Isner should continue to take one step at a time and see how far each of them can lead him. As he put it, “I’m just happy to get through. I certainly could have easily lost that match.” “But once I got that little spark, gave me a little extra energy, and you know, it went from there.”
There are fewer matches that capture the imagination on Friday, but those that do offer plenty to discuss. Here’s a look at the end of the men’s second round and the start of the women’s third round.
Tomic vs. Murray: The Aussie prodigy has all of the elements that should make him a future star: a balanced but distinctive and aesthetically pleasing game, a personality oozing with charisma, and more than a whiff of controversy. All of the elements, that is, but competitive toughness, although Tomic has begun to remedy that flaw this year with somewhat more consistent results. He has yet to leave his mark on a Masters 1000 tournament, however, unlike a few of his fellowing rising stars, nor has he scored a signature win over one of the Big Four somewhere other than an exhibition. Such an opportunity might await against Murray, who was fortunate to avoid an exit earlier than the quarterfinals at Indian Wells amid notably scratchy form. Since both men know virtually every shot and tactic in the book, a display of all-court tennis should ensue that suits this notably slow surface.
Venus vs. Stephens: The past and future of American women’s tennis collide in a match of two women separated by over a decade. Having just turned 20 this week, Stephens may have catapulted into celebrity a little too early with her victory over Serena at the Australian Open. She now attempts to echo what Kerber did last year by sweeping the two Williams sisters on hard courts, a task probably within range considering the arduous evening to which Kimiko Date-Krumm subjected Venus in her first match. The contrast in their serves should boost the veteran’s chances, albeit less than it would on a faster hard court. And Sloane also has looked mortal as she has struggled to find her best form in the wake of that Australian accomplishment. She will rely on her consistency to extend the points longer than the erratic Venus can harness her weapons.
Kubot vs. Querrey: Now the top-ranked American man, Querrey has some work to do in justifying the expectations associated with that label. His results this year have toed the line between mildly disappointing and unremarkable, and he lost his only previous meeting with Kubot in a five-setter at the 2011 Australian Open. The doubles specialist from Poland kept Querrey’s serve at bay with penetrating returns and took time away from him by capitalizing on short balls to approach the net. But these are the types of matches that the top-ranked American man is supposed to win, and the excuses for Querrey’s apparent lulls in motivation will grow less convincing with the increased spotlight on him.
Bellucci vs. Janowicz: A fairly straightforward lefty, the leading man from Brazil had lost five straight match before rallying from losing the first set to oust lucky loser Daniel Brands here. Curiously, considering his clay origins, he defeated Janowicz on the indoor hard courts of Moscow last fall, near the time that the latter launched himself on his charge through the Paris Masters 1000 draw. The superior server and arguably superior competitor, the youngster from Poland should fear little if he can unravel the wrinkles of a lefty’s game and put a reasonable number of returns in play. An intriguing rendezvous with Murray could await in the next round.
Petkovic vs. Tomljanovic: Reaching the Miami semifinals in her last appearance, two years ago, Petkovic justified her wildcard at this tournament by not only winning her first match but also upsetting top-15 opponent Bartoli (admittedly, by retirement). Since she played only a tiny handful of matches in the first half of 2012, she certainly would relish the opportunity to collect more points to boost her ranking. Petkovic will enter this match as the favorite, but Tomljanovic enters with plenty of momentum as well. The 19-year-old Croat defeated both Pervak and Goerges in straight sets to justify her own wildcard, producing a level of form well above her ranking of #242.
Wozniacki vs. Muguruza: Virtually unknown before the last few months, Garbine Muguruza raised a few eyebrows when she slugged groundstrokes fearlessly against Serena in Melbourne. Then she raised many more eyebrows by reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells as a qualifier, the best result that any qualifier had garnered in the desert for nearly a decade. Armed with much more potent weapons than most of her compatriots, Muguruza aims to duplicate that achievement at a second sraight Premier Mandatory tournament. Consecutive three-setters in the first two rounds may have sapped her energies for a physical matches ahead, although Wozniacki also opened the tournament with a taxing battle. Extended to a final set in her Indian Wells opener too, she hopes to bounce back again from that uninspired start but has no more margin for error on the eve of collisions with Li Na and then Serena.
Flipkens vs. Kvitova: Never at her best at the spring North American tournaments, the former Wimbledon champion has struggled with the heat and her breathing in previous appearances. An Indian Wells quarterfinal appearance struck a more hopeful note, although her serving debacle at that stage did not. Opponents who can disrupt her baseline rhythm with something unexpected tend to trouble the Czech more than those with straightforward styles, and Flipkens can offer some unconventional looks with her backhand slice and occasional forays to the net. Those tactics should work better on a faster, lower-bouncing surface, though, while the Miami court should present Kvitova with balls at a comfortable height and time to target the lines.
Two-time champion and No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka was forced to withdraw from the Sony Open in Miami on Friday with a right ankle injury, the same injury that forced her out of her quarterfinal match with Caroline Wozniacki in Indian Wells.
“It’s just I wanted to give my 100% possibility to play, and today was my last test. It’s just, you know, the last two days I tried to practice on it, which did not get better,” Azarenka said.
Azarenka, the Australian Open and Qatar Total Open champion, is 17-0 in 2013. “I tried to play on Wednesday for the first time after Indian Wells, and the next day my foot got a little bit worse. I tried to play again yesterday and it got a little bit worse again. Today it got worse again during the play. So yesterday I thought that, you know, possibly I’m not going to be able to play. Today I went on the court and I got more pain. I cannot really move.”
Azarenka is scheduled to headline the field in Monterrey, Mexico, a WTA International-level event that begins on April 1; she is to be joined there by Angelique Kerber, Marion Bartoli and Maria Kirilenko. “Right now on the schedule is Monterrey, but I have no—I have not made my decision on that.” Should Azarenka withdraw from the event, it would not be the first time that the tournament deals with the loss of a marquee player in its field; last season, Serena Williams committed to the event but withdrew due to a left knee injury.
Beyond Monterrey, Azarenka is looking ahead to the European clay court season and Roland Garros. “I’m going to have a longer preparation than usual for my clay season. My biggest target is going to be French Open, so I’m going to do everything I can to be ready, and, you know, to make sure that I come in in the best form there and try to win the title.”
For a player of her status, Azarenka has rarely been a consistent factor at the second major of the year. She owns a meager 14-7 career record in Paris in seven appearances. In 2009, arguably her breakthrough season, Azarenka had her best result at the clay court slam. She defeated defending champion Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round before falling to eventual finalist Dinara Safina in a three-set quarterfinal match, her first quarterfinal appearance at a major. Azarenka matched that feat in 2011, where she fell to Li Na, the eventual champion, in straight sets.
Movement on clay is key for any player, but more so for Azarenka; the Belarusian is not naturally quick even at full flight, but anticipates the game well. She does not possess a huge serve or outright firepower that would assist her in hitting through the slow conditions. 15 of Azarenka’s 16 career titles have come on hard courts; she was the champion in Marbella, on clay, in 2011.
In order to contend at Roland Garros, Azarenka needs to be in top form and healthy to compensate for her short comings and low comfort level on the surface. Last year, Azarenka was bundled off the court by Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round, a match in which Azarenka was rarely the aggressor.
Azarenka is currently not entered in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart in April, where she reached the final last year. She is entered in both the Mutua Madrid Open and the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in May. No doubt aware of her past struggles at Roland Garros, Azarenka was asked to rate her chances at the event this season if healthy. “I think there is going to be two tournaments before that on clay. You will see me play and then everybody will make their own decisions.”
Azarenka was replaced by lucky loser Lauren Davis, who had lost in the final round of qualifying to Mallory Burdette. Davis eventually saved three match points en route to defeating fellow American teenager Madison Keys, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6(7).
Outside of the US Open, the back-to-back two-week hard court events in Indian Wells and Miami are the biggest tennis events in the United States. As a result, every year around this time, the same tedious debate arises between fans and pundits alike; is tennis ready for a “fifth slam” and if it is, where should it be held? Everyone has their own opinions about which tournament could be upgraded to the “fifth slam.” Is it Indian Wells because it has Hawkeye on every court? Or is it Miami because the presence of the Williams sisters completes the women’s field?
(For the record, I think that they should hold it in Bogota. I mean, Jelena Jankovic won there and it had live streams from two courts from the first day! Bogota sees your bet and raises you, Miami.)
This year, Miami’s status as the “fifth slam” has taken a hit, as the men’s event has been decimated by withdrawals; Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are the marquee names skipping the event, along with notable top 50 names Radek Stepanek, Stanislas Wawrinka and Mardy Fish.
While that isn’t great, let’s focus on the players that are actually in Miami. One of those players in Juan Martin del Potro.
Del Potro was the only player not named Federer, Nadal or Djokovic to win a major title on the men’s side in the past six years until Andy Murray joined the club at the US Open in 2012. As Murray’s pushed his way to the top and expanded the “Big Three” to the “Big Four,” Del Potro has taken up the reigns as the most accomplished, and probably most dangerous, of the supporting cast of relevant characters on the ATP tour.
Despite being troubled by his wrist last week in Indian Wells, Del Potro put together one of his best runs since being sidelined for almost a year by that very wrist after winning the US Open. He defeated Murray in the quarterfinals and Novak Djokovic in the semifinals to reach the final against Nadal. Despite leading by a set and a break, Del Potro couldn’t seal the deal and Nadal won his third event out of the four he’s played since returning from injury. If anything, Indian Wells was a testament to the vice grip that the so-called “Big Four” have on the ATP; an accomplished player can beat two of them, only to run into another and come home with the runner-up plate.
In his post-final press conference, Del Potro said that despite the amount of tennis he played in Indian Wells, he would be going to Miami; despite the fast turnaround, he was “excited to play there.” Del Potro’s excitement, which he later elaborated on, stems from how many of his Argentinian fans, friends and family come to watch him in Miami.
Thus, we return to this illusive idea of the “fifth slam.” Butch Buchholz founded the Miami Masters in 1985 and helped develop it into what it is today; while he had hoped to turn the event into the fifth major, Miami has instead settled for title of “the grand slam of Latin America.” Latin American and Spanish-speaking players receive immense support in Key Biscayne, as it lies south of Miami Beach and east of Miami itself. It came as no surprise that Fernando Gonzalez, one of the biggest tennis stars from that part of the world, chose the Miami Masters as his farewell tournament when he retired in 2012.
With Gonzalez now out of the game, the pressure is squarely on the (very broad) shoulders of Juan Martin del Potro to be the big name of Latin American tennis. Having only been past the fourth round once in Miami, Del Potro appears to be rounding in to form, even showing glimpses of what made him the last man standing at Flushing Meadows in 2009, just in time for his “home slam.”
MIAMI, FL (March 20, 2013) — The U.S. Tennis Association announced this week that it will boost prize money for the U.S. Open to $50 million by 2017 and adjust the schedule to return to a Sunday final starting in 2015, and several tennis players have applauded the USTA’s decision, including world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
“It’s a positive step to see the prize money increase. It’s a good response, and it’s a reaction from the U.S. Open towards the players’ demands and desires,” said Djokovic.
Djokovic, along with Roger Federer who participated in Tuesday’s discussions via telephone, were among the group of top players who lobbied the USTA and other major tournaments over the last year to reconsider key changes, including prize money distributions.
“It’s a very positive step for players,” Djokovic stated. “It proves that players are more united than ever. I believe that these are some significant changes in the negotiations with Grand Slams. It hasn’t happened for ever or for many, many years that we have such increases. We just feel like we deserve it … Not just the top players, but a lot of players who are in top 100, top 200 deserve to have a better living from this sport. This is a great move forward … I’m sure that a lot of players will be happy with this prize money increase.”
Djokovic also supported the reversal of a Monday final at the U.S. Open, but it won’t go into effect until the 2015 edition of the tournament.
“Me personally, I am not happy with a Monday final. But it is the way it is for next two years,” he said. “I think we have to accept it. Then after that it all goes back to normal hopefully for Sunday final like every Grand Slam has.”
Djokovic also commented on the absence of Federer and Rafael Nadal in Miami this week, but believes it won’t change his focus as he opens his campaign against Lukas Rosol on Friday.
“It’s the same for me,” Djokovic commented. “I’m sure that even without them we will have a great tournament.”
Despite the serious tone of much of his pre-tournament press conference, Djokovic left on a light note by taking a photo with the media and tweeting it out — but not before inspected his work.
Look how excited we are to have a pre tournament press conference!! lol pic.twitter.com/cmKCnxR3Uj
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) March 20, 2013
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
In the tennis rankings, there are always little meta-rankings that have to be thought of. The rankings are not merely a list of who has played better for the past 52 weeks. The rankings define the tennis season. Rankings affect seeding and direct entry into tournaments. Players around the top 80 and a bit above know that they are getting close to where they can directly enter 250s without having to play qualifiers. Once you hit the top 40, you can guarantee yourself entry into the Masters tournaments and being seeded in 250s. There are imaginary cutoffs throughout that players are trying to stay above so that they will have the best chance to improve their ranking in the future.
By far the most important ranking number, however, is 32. Being in the top 32 guarantees a player a seed at a Slam. It means that he knows that he can’t be forced to face a top player until at least the third round. It usually (but not always) means facing a weaker opponent in the first round. A seeded player might have a bit more of a target on their backs, but it doesn’t make so much of a difference. Everyone is trying their absolute hardest to win every Grand Slam match anyway.
Even within the top 32, though, there are important additional cutoffs. Different Slams break up the seeding a little differently, but the basic premise is the same. No player in the top 32 can play each other until the third round. The top 16 cannot meet until the fourth round. None of the top 8 seeds can meet until the quarterfinals. The top 4 are each in different quarters of the draw and the top 2 each get their own half.
Aside from being prestigious tournaments in their own rights, this is one of the main things that the Masters tournaments do for the tour. They give a massive opportunity for players to jockey for positioning and affect their rankings before the Slams. I know that there are 2 months and 2 more Masters 1000 events between now and Roland Garros, but Miami is a massive opportunity for a lot of players to drastically improve their seeding by the time the end of May rolls around.
Both Federer and Nadal have withdrawn from this tournament. This means that there is a lot of space in the draw that might have otherwise been very difficult for a lower player, or even another top 10 player, to be able to navigate. Murray and Djokovic are still the obvious favorites, but there are places for players to pick up points. For example, Ferrer’s quarter of the draw seems pretty wide open and a player like Kei Nishikori (just to name one) can really gain a lot of points. There is a large gap between the top 8 and the field right now, so no one is likely to break into that group in the immediate future, but picking up 180 or even 360 points here would be a great way to put a player in a strong position to make even more headway up the rankings in the future.
With the way Berdych played last week, it’s hard to imagine him not reaching the semifinals. But there are a lot of very good players in his quarter and just about any of them can use this opportunity to earn a lot of points. I can really see just about any seed from that quarter winning it, which would bring with it 360 points. And while 360 points might not be such a large number when we look at the top 10, it would definitely put any top 20 player into a strong spot to be in the top 16 two months from now.
Of course, the most important outcome of Nadal’s absence from this tournament is that David Ferrer will move back into the top 4 in two weeks. We saw Federer and Nadal meet in a quarterfinal at Indian Wells because Nadal was outside the top 4. If Ferrer can keep that #4 spot until Roland Garros, it could mean that Rafa will have to play another member of the “Big 4” in the quarters instead of the semis. Rafa has almost 3000 points to defend between now and the French Open (including Miami) while Ferrer has barely over 1000. And while Nadal will be the favorite in the clay court Masters tournaments, we have to wonder how much he needs to protect his knee and whether that will keep him from being a top 4 seed when it’s time to go to Paris.
Until now, though, we only looked at players making good runs. Even at the top of the game, 1000 points is a lot. If someone could take advantage of Federer’s and Nadal’s absences and actually win this tournament, it would give a massive rankings boost and would really change that player’s entire season. 1000 points would move Murray up to World #2. It would put Berdych or Del Potro within reach of the top 4. It would allow a lot of top 20 players to begin bridging that massive gap to the top 8. It would basically guarantee a player at least a top 16 ranking for the next 4 Slams. The draw is not that wide open, so don’t expect a surprise winner. But we definitely can expect some good runs from some lower players, and the boost in their ranking will definitely allow them to be more competitive for the entire rest of the season.
Even without Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the Sony Open ATP draw features plenty of dazzling stars to sparkle on Miami spring nights. Here is the companion to the women’s quarter-by-quarter preview.
First quarter: When he absorbed a disappointing loss in an Indian Wells semifinal last year, Novak Djokovic bounced back by winning his third Miami title without the loss of a set. The world #1 benefited from a comfortable route to the final that year, and he can anticipate a similarly undemanding route at least until the semifinals this time. His returns and passing shots should ward off the closest seed to him, Feliciano Lopez, while another potential third-round opponent in Evgeny Donskoy won a set from Murray at Indian Wells but lacks the experience to finish the job. Aligned to meet Djokovic in the following round is Tommy Haas, who defeated him at Wimbledon four years ago and became the only man to win a set from him at the Rogers Cup last summer. The 34-year-old German may find a few obstacles barring his path to the Serb, however, such as 2008 champion Nikolay Davydenko. An upset of the seeded but struggling Alexandr Dolgopolov lies well within the Russian’s grasp.
Unable to win a match since the Australian Open, where he exited via retirement, Janko Tipsarevic absorbed ignominious routs at Dubai and Indian Wells. Djokovic’s compatriot thus would count any victories in Miami as a step forward, and a quarterfinal appearance opposite his fellow Serb would surpass expectations. A menacing figure in his section, the South African leviathan Kevin Anderson reached his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal last week, continuing a strong upward trend from the season’s beginning. If Anderson can upset Tipsarevic, he might face Gilles Simon for the second straight tournament. Also of some interest in this area is Lleyton Hewitt, who justified his Indian Wells wildcard with a third-round appearance and received another here. Anderson defeated Djokovic in Miami during the latter’s sophomore slump in 2009-10, creating a revenge subplot should they meet again.
Second quarter: As he did at Indian Wells, Juan Martin Del Potro finds himself in a quarter with the draw’s third seed and in the same half as the world #1. The Indian Wells runner-up expressed his eagerness to build on his accomplishments there in Miami, where he reached the semifinals in 2009 by upsetting Nadal. But the arduous finish to that fortnight, playing three three-setters against the top five in three days, may have blunted his energy. Fortunately for Del Potro, the highest-ranked man in his eighth has not won a set this year outside Davis Cup. A surprise semifinalist in Miami last year, Juan Monaco briefly reached the top ten afterwards before struggling with injuries in recent months. Perhaps more likely to meet Del Potro in the fourth round is the mercurial Julien Benneteau, who reached the Rotterdam final in February following another upset of Federer. This section also contains two young stars still searching to fulfill their promise in Ryan Harrison and Ricardas Berankis. Both have draws that could allow them to win a match or two, gaining crucial ground in the rankings.
The leading Spaniard here following Nadal’s withdrawal, David Ferrer hopes to bounce back from his opening loss to Anderson in the California desert, which cost him his top-four status. Some dangerous shot-makers on recent hot streaks lurk in his section, including Dmitry Tursunov and Jeremy Chardy. A qualifier here like Gulbis in Indian Wells, the Russian scored several victories at February main-draw events, while the Frenchman recorded his best career result by far with an Australian Open quarterfinal. An all-French first-round clash between Benoit Paire and Michael Llodra also intrigues, as does the presence of Memphis champion Kei Nishikori. The recurrently injured Japanese star has collected some success against Ferrer on prominent stages, but his physical condition looked questionable at Indian Wells. Defeating Del Potro here last year, Ferrer may find the Argentine a more challenging opponent with his confidence restored.
Semifinalist: Del Potro
Third quarter: Not for some time, if ever, has Tomas Berdych held a top-four seed at an event of this magnitude. When the Indian Wells draw opened for him in the wake of Ferrer’s early loss, he capitalized on the opportunity to reach the semifinals without losing a set. Berdych rarely has excelled at stringing together impressive results, though, despite some improvements in that area over the last year. He has dominated his hard-court meetings with third-round opponent Fernando Verdasco, who played so poorly at Indian Wells that he apologized on Twitter afterward. Towering servers Milos Raonic and Sam Querrey look set to collide in the third round above, for only a few qualifiers stand between them. The new top-ranked American man, Querrey has enjoyed previous success against Raonic, whom most consider the more promising talent. Either would present an intriguing test for Berdych in the final sixteen, likely to produce a battle of few break points or long rallies.
Unable to take a set from the Czech at Indian Wells, notwithstanding a string of break points, Richard Gasquet could meet him again in the Miami quarterfinals. Already a two-time titlist in 2013, the Frenchman has defeated most of the opponents whom he should without registering a single notable victory. That level of achievement has sufficed to keep him in the top ten, just ahead of projected fourth-round opponent Nicolas Almagro. Emotional peaks and valleys have defined this Spaniard’s season, filled with accomplishments like an Australian Open quarterfinal and disappointments like the two-set lead that escaped him in that match. In addition to those of Gasquet and Almagro, other graceful one-handed backhands populate this eighth of the draw, such as those of Mikhail Youzhny and Philipp Kohlschreiber. All more flamboyant and less reliable than Berdych, any of these four men would create an intriguing contrast in styles with him, but another episode of the Berdych-Almagro feud might offer the best entertainment.
Fourth quarter: Somewhat rusty in his return from a long hiatus at Indian Wells, Andy Murray should bring crisper form to the second Masters 1000 tournament in North America, where he has enjoyed better results than at its predecessor. A runner-up here last year, Murray can look ahead to a potentially thorny draw filled with ambitious rising stars. First in line is Bernard Tomic, the enigmatic Aussie who has shown signs of growing more mature—and hence more consistent—in 2013, although only by the Death Valley level that he had set previously. Next would come Grigor Dimitrov, on the verge of taking a set from Djokovic at Indian Wells had he not double-faulted away his chance in an embarrassing implosion from which he may need time to recover. Adjusting to his status as a seeded player in these marquee draws, Jerzy Janowicz has won a handful of matches this year but has not approached the quality of first-strike tennis that ambushed so many higher-ranked opponents in Paris.
Once he moves past Janowicz or Andreas Seppi in the fourth round, Murray should fancy his chances of progressing further against an odd collection of players who have underachieved over the last several months. Foremost among them is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who produced a similar result to Murray at Indian Wells in that he advanced with greater difficulty than expected against his first few opponents and departed when he met his first elite opponent. That trend has grown routine for Tsonga since the start of 2012, though, since when he possesses just a single victory over a higher-ranked opponent despite a handful of competitive matches against that group. Far more desperate is the situation confronted by John Isner, gone in his Indian Wells opener as a miserable season that started with a knee injury grows no brighter. The luster also has dimmed on the strong 2012 summer recorded by Marin Cilic, who won Zagreb but has left no impact on tournaments of greater note. Murray’s agility and talent for disrupting powerful games seems well-designed to defusing any of these men, all of whom have struggled against him before.
Coverage of Miami will continue as the tournament progresses with previews of key matches and reflections on any intriguing stories as they unfold.
While the men’s draw has suffered from marquee withdrawals by Federer and Nadal, the women’s draw in Miami witnesses the return of world #1 Serena Williams and Australian Open finalist Li Na to North American hard courts. They have landed in the same quarter of the Sony Open draw, with which we start our women’s preview.
First quarter: Since she won Brisbane to start 2013, Serena’s season has not gone as she would have hoped. Injury and illness have contributed to losses at the Australian Open and Doha, so she will hope to regroup from those setbacks at her home tournament, which she has dominated when healthy. More successful here than almost anywhere else, Serena should deploy her serve to devastating effect against the meager return games of her first few opponents. Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta would have wished for a better draw than facing the world #1 in the second round, while potential fourth-round opponent Dominika Cibulkova should find her height and wingspan too limited to cope with this level of first-strike power. Somewhat more intriguing is the prospect of Lucie Safarova, a lefty more capable of matching Serena hold for hold when at her best, but her results have remained too erratic to depend on her reaching the fourth round.
On the opposite side of the quarter, an intriguing draw would pit Indian Wells runner-up Wozniacki against Australian Open runner-up Li in the fourth round, a rematch of some scintillating three-setters that the two have played on outdoor hard courts. Neither faces too intimidating a challenge before that stage, although the former might take note of surging Spanish phenom Garbine Muguruza. That rising star reached the fourth round of Indian Wells as a qualifier and easily could upset the reeling Pavlyuchenkova in the second round to reach Wozniacki in the third. But the Dane should have taken more confidence from her finals appearance in the desert than from her resounding defeat to Sharapova there. She should weather the test posed by Muguruza and probably also the challenge presented by Li, who has not played since her outstanding January campaign. The Chinese star may need some matches to regain her rhythm after so long an absence and so severe an injury. If Wozniacki does meet Serena in the quarterfinals, the top seed likely would relish the opportunity to avenge a miserable loss to the same opponent at the same stage last year.
Second quarter: Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska could not have drawn a much more challenging route to a repeat performance in Miami, nor did her performance over the last two weeks inspire much confidence in her. More impressive on a similar surface at Indian Wells, Mona Barthel will train her huge serve and return weapons against the Pole in the third round. Perhaps more compelling for local fans is the third-round meeting between Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens, who personify the past and future of American women’s tennis. The latter woman has not built upon her Australian Open semifinal in recent weeks, however, struggling with an abdominal injury and exiting Indian Wells in her first match. Venus, who has not played since Sharapova demolished her in Melbourne, has shared her sister’s history of success at their home tournament but fell to Radwanska here a year ago.
If she can survive the imposing serves in her immediate vicinity, Radwanska can expect little reprieve in the quarterfinals. The highest-ranked woman who could meet her there, Petra Kvitova, dismantled her with ease last month in Dubai and reached her first Indian Wells quarterfinal last week. On the other hand, Kvitova never has distinguished herself in Miami and will have some obstacles of her own to surmount before she can reach Radwanska. Among them is Marion Bartoli, knocking on the door of the top ten again and more successful here than Kvitova. The double-fister suffered a surprising loss to Errani in the desert, but her competitive tenacity could allow her to exploit the Czech’s inevitable episodes of erratic play. One of the most intriguing unseeded players in the draw, Andrea Petkovic aims to reawaken the memories of her 2011 semifinal run in Miami. She faces a stern series of opening tests against Bojana Jovanovski, Bartoli, and Julia Goerges before she even reaches Kvitova. From this unpredictable section of the draw, an unexpected semifinalist could emerge.
Semifinalist: Er, Kvitova?
Third quarter: One match short of the Indian Wells-Miami double in 2006, Maria Sharapova eyes a comfortable route to position herself at least within range of that accomplishment. She has not lost a set to anyone but Serena in her last two tournaments, cruising to the desert title without any physically or emotionally arduous matches that would have drained her energy. Many women would suffer a hangover after capturing a title of that magnitude, but the career Grand Slam champion has grown sufficiently accustomed to achievements on that level to avoid such a lapse. Even if she did, early rounds against Vesnina or an assortment of qualifiers and wildcards should not threaten her. A rematch of the Indian Wells semifinal might loom in the fourth round, but Kirilenko may struggle to sustain her Indian Wells form. The only woman to win a set from Sharapova at Roland Garros last year, Klara Zakopalova could inconvenience her on one of her more inconsistent days.
For the second straight Premier Mandatory tournament, Sara Errani would await Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Despite the Italian’s ability to reach that stage at Indian Wells, she may find her path more complicated this time. The massive serve of Sabine Lisicki, always fragile and always dangerous, could produce a stark contrast of styles if she meets Errani in the third round. But the third-round match below offers more intrigue, for it should pit Ivanovic against either Makarova or former Miami champion Kuznetsova. Gifted shot-makers all, those three women will look to stay patient on the slow hard court and bounce back from Indian Wells disappointments. They must stay even more patient against Errani than each other, but each might have a stronger chance than the Italian to trouble Sharapova because of their greater capacity to finish points. It is hard to imagine the world #2 stumbling early if she sustains her Indian Wells form, though.
Fourth quarter: Will she or won’t she? The question hovers over the status of Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Miami champion who withdrew from Indian Wells with an ankle injury. Having glanced at her draw and seen the heavy serve of Madison Keys in her opener, Vika may feel some trepidation about testing that joint in a match where she will need her movement to shine. Afterwards, she could meet a group of slow-court specialists like Cornet, Vinci, or Suarez Navarro. Climbing the rankings regularly in recent weeks, the Spaniard showcases the finest one-handed backhand among the seeded women here. Together with Keys on the list of home hopes, Christina McHale continues to regroup slowly from her mono last year. She led eventual Indian Wells semifinalist Kirilenko by a set and a break, so she should feel encouraged by her progress. Young British hope Laura Robson rounds out this section’s crop of rising stars.
Veterans proliferate in the upper half of this section, from Jankovic and Petrova to Zheng and Schiavone. Indian Wells semifinalist Kerber will need to raise her spirits following a dispiriting loss to Wozniacki in which she seemed firmly in control and battled to the bitter end. If she can, none of the opponents in this section should match her blend of alert anticipation and lefty shot-making, although Sorana Cirstea flickered into form at Indian Wells by winning a set from Radwanska. A finalist in Miami during her prime, Jankovic did not bring her momentum from winning the Bogota clay tournament to North America and struggles to string together strong results. Of greater note is the eleventh-seeded Petrova, remarkable still near the elite in singles and doubles despite her age. This section remains difficult to predict as long as Azarenka’s status is uncertain, but Kerber looks poised to take advantage of a lapse by the Australian Open champion.
Check back tomorrow for a similar look at the men’s draw in Miami.