Miami Open Preview Five Questions

Miami Open
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The Miami Open will take place in the new Hard Rock stadium this season with shiny new blue hard courts and improved facilities. The tournament comes hot, quite literally, on the heels of the BNP Paribas Open but it’s more an extension of the party than a hangover and the move from the Californian desert to the south Floridian beach side has left a few intriguing questions to be answered.

Is Novak Djokovic going to get back to ATP 1000 Championship winning form?

In Novak Djokovic’s previous heydays he not only won slams, but he won ATP 1000s left, right and center, too.

This time around, in what we could argue is his third prime (AO 2011- Miami 2012, the first; Wimbledon 2014-Roland Garros 2016 the second), he’s been a little flat on the ATP 1000 front of late.

Things started off well after Djokovic won Wimbledon and got his career back on track, winning in Cincinnati and Shanghai, but there was that Paris-Bercy final loss to Karen Khachanov, the London WTF loss to Sascha Zverev (not technically an ATP 1000 but closer to one than it is to a slam), and the recent last 16 Indian Wells loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber.

In all of those losses, fans watched on as the world No.1 looked listless and stuck for answers, a shadow of the player who during his career has won big title after big title looking pumped and asking all the right questions.

Part of the problem for Djkokovic is he often plays his early matches a little on the reactive side rather than imposing his offensive baseline style from the get go and tearing through the draw.

Waiting out the early stages of a match to see how his opponent is playing has worked for him more often than not as he is so skilled at exposing his rival’s weaknesses as well as breaking down their strengths. However, when he comes up against a player in form and whose weapons are finely tuned, he comes up short, often out of rhythm and unable to find his mark when he does decide its time to start playing to win.

In slams, Djokovic has longer to work his way into matches and the tournament, and the way slam draws play out and how the seedings are done, he’s not likely to meet anyone who can really pose a threat until the later stages by which stage he’s in the groove.

But in ATP 1000s, 2 sets can go by very quickly, and Djokovic is getting caught out.

In Miami, the top seed and 6 time former champ needs to come out with intent and make a statement before a 5 week break from the tour and embarking on completing the Djokoslam for the second time.

The Serb does not need to worry about peaking too soon with that break ahead of him, but he does need to worry about one of his Roland Garros threats getting too confident going into the European Clay stretch of the season, and that little bit of fear might be just what he needs in Miami for him to remind us how good he can be at ATP 1000s.

How will Roger Federer respond to the Indian Wells final loss?

Federer said he felt relaxed after his Indian Wells loss, that he felt his body and game were still there.

It’s not hard to see why that would take away some of the pain of defeat for Federer who saw the second half of his season fall apart in 2018 as his ground game deserted him.

For the Swiss, it’s most likely all about Wimbledon now. #RF21 is still a possibility as long as he’s healthy and playing well. For him, Miami is a good place to get match practice before his limited Clay season and his Wimbledon campaign gets underway. That lack of pressure and that abundance of freedom means Federer could end up losing in round 2 like he did last year or winning the title, and whatever happens, be it one of those scenarios or something in between, he’s got the experience to mold it so it fits into the bigger picture of his ambitions.

Can Dominic Thiem perform the sunshine double?

The sunshine double is a feat not often accomplished by players the first time they win in Indian Wells. Federer had to wait for another year, 2005, and Djokovic first won Indian Wells in ’08 before finally winning the double in ’11.

Pete Sampras did it his first time, winning both titles in ’94, but he was a no.1 by then and a multiple slam champ.

Agassi accomplished it in 2001, on the back of winning the Australian Open, 11 years after his first trip to a slam final (Roland Garros ’90).

Thiem is different to all those players status wise- they were all well established while although he’s been a top ten player a few years, he has only just really broken out by winning his biggest ever title.

Still, the sunshine double has been completed by one surprise act and that was Marcelo Rios in ’98. Rios had won in Monte Carlo the year before, signalling his potential much like Thiem’s clay court endeavors have his the last couple of seasons.

Thiem grabbing the Sunshine Double, like Rios did that year, would have seemed even more far fetched a couple of weeks ago, but the image of him holding the trophy in Indian Wells had that surprise factor sport lives by and was not entirely improbable thanks to hindsight. Novak Djokovic is struggling in ATP 1000s, Nadal is absent, Federer is Federer but 37 years old and focused most likely on Wimbledon. The rest of the field is either too inconsistent or suffering mentally or physically.

The courts will play in Thiem’s favor, too- even slower than in Indian Wells. So, it would appear that the setting is there for someone in form, feeling healthy, and loving their tennis, all of which Thiem seems to be, to make a run and grab the Sunshine Double in the Floridian sun.

Will the tournament be marred by injuries?

The withdrawals of Monfils and Nadal in Indian Wells did cast a shadow over proceedings. Monfils in particular was in inspirational form and though the media tried not to hype Fedal part 39, pre-match excitement on that front tends to take care of itself.

It’s already common knowledge the tour is too long, that hard courts impact the body more than other surfaces, and that they play too slow thus exacerbating that impact. That knowledge does not mean power in this situation, however. Instead, with another match on the schedule and another tournament on the next week’s horizon, the casualties can mount up and while spectators might find themselves gawping at the crash, an upcoming distracting and satiating view is sure to catch the eye.

Until, of course, it doesn’t. One of the dangers of having two ATP 1000s more or less back to back is that if one does end up being marred by withdrawals late in the event and the next event a similar situation occurs, the tennis community may not be left praising the tennis that took place on the court, but be left, instead, lamenting the tennis that never happened.

Are we going to get any breakout performances?

Thiem showed the Next-in-Line how to break out on the big stage with his win in Indian Wells.

For those who may have plans to step up come Miami, this is what a breakout might constitute:

Borna Coric winning the title- he already has an ATP 1000 final to his name, competing in last season’s Shanghai final. He’s got form on medium slow hard courts (Indian Wells SF ’18) and his early BNP Paribas Open exit has left him plenty of time to acclimatize to the Miami humidity and get some much needed preparation time after his busy Davis Cup winning end to 2018, illness hit off season, and globetrotting start to 2019 (he’s been to Australia- France-Dubai and now the US in the past 2 months).

Daniil Medvedev making the quarters. His best performance in an ATP 1000 has been a last 16 showing in Canada in 2018. A quarters is surely within reach soon, though the tall Russian might make an even greater stride into the semis or beyond considering how well he has been performing on hard courts. He might like conditions a little faster, though.

Stefanos Tsitsipas winning his first ATP 1000. Stefanos is already very accomplished- slam semi, ATP 1000 final- so a title would be the next step. He went out early in Miami, too, so he’ll be motivated and keen to get his momentum back on track.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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