By Mike McIntyre
Inspired by watching a fantastic week and a half of tennis in Indian Wells, I return to write my first tennis article since the U.S. Open in August. While my passion for tennis is as strong as ever, finding time to properly devote to the sport has been a challenge since becoming a Dad a year and a half ago. It is a challenge that I happily relinquish my writing skills to with every opportunity I have to spend with my wonderful son Emmett. That being said I think I am finally ready (and able) to spend the occasional late night returning to focus on the developments on the ATP World Tour that I have so enjoyed covering for the past eight years.
Here then is my take on the upcoming Miami Open, the final hard court tournament until after Wimbledon in roughly four months.
Well if anyone can complete the Indian Wells/Miami double then who better than world number on Novak Djokovic. Not only did he accomplish that feat last year, but he is also fresh off his 50th career ATP title (one more than his coach Boris Becker) and his 21st Masters 1000 event. Djokovic is certainly the man to beat so far in 2015. He has two tournament victories in the four events he has appeared in and those just happen to be the two biggest draws we have had so far this year (Aussie Open and BNP Paribas Open). Novak will open against either Paolo Lorenzi or Martin Klizan after receiving an opening round bye. Smooth sailing appears to be in his forecast until the quarter-finals where he could meet 7th seeded David Ferrer or perhaps the big serving Ivo Karlovic, seeded 22nd, who beat him earlier this year in Qatar.
Other interesting names in the top quarter include Lleyton Hewitt who appears ready to call it a career after this season, the enigmatic and controversial Alexandr Dolgopolov (who claimed last week that female players have a harder time dealing with injuries than the men) and Gilles Simon who at times looks like he is indeed a top-20 player. Ferrer and Karlovic however seem to be the two most likely to advance to a quarter-final match against the Djoker.
This section of the draw has "fireworks" written all over it with the likes of Milos Raonic, John Isner, Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov and the returning Juan Martin Del Potro appearing. Nishikori should be able to navigate his way to the quater-finals here, though lookout for veteran Mikhail Youzhny who he could face in the second round. Youzhny has been a shell of his former self over the past year but I would never count him out. Anyone who hits himself in the head with a racquet is a foe I'd hate to face!
In the bottom section of this quarter is where the real fun is set to unfold. Dimitrov draws the worst of the lot by having to potentially face Del Potro in the second round, Isner in the third and then Raonic in the fourth. Ouch! Del Potro is a face that tennis fans worldwide will be happy to welcome back to the sport after only playing a single tournament (Sydney in January 2015) since February 2014 due to ongoing issues with his left wrist. Del Po will have a strong test from Canadian Vasek Pospisil in the opening round. The 24 year old Canuck is on a role lately after playing hero for Canada in closing out their Davis Cup tie against Japan in the 5th and deciding rubber and then winning the Indian Wells doubles title along with Jack Sock. Pospisil is currently ranked 60th in the world but one that many would consider a top 30 talent.
Based on his play of late, another Canadian - Milos Raonic - will have to be considered the favourite to advance in this section of the draw. Raonic has been so consistent over the past year, making 8 of his last 10 Masters 1000 quarter-finals or better. A hard serving battle against Isner in the third round would be fun to watch (if you like that kind of stuff) and a re-match from Davis Cup against Nishikori in the fourth round would also capture our attention.
A showdown between 3rd seeded Andy Murray and 6th seeded Stan Wawrinka is what fans will be looking for in the third quarter-final. Murray seems in-form after a semi-final showing in Indian Wells, while Wawrinka has been underachieving lately. A second round defeat last week at the hands of Robin Haase highlights the up and down nature of the Swiss No. two's game lately. He has cooled since he opened the year with two tournament victories and a 5 set semi-final loss to Djokovic at the Aussie Open. Which Wawrinka will we see in Miami this week? Anyway you look at it the stats will tell you that he has never before advanced beyond the 4th round at this event, but who do you see in his draw (Lopez, Sock) that could realistically take him down?
Rafael Nadal takes Roger Federer's place as the 2nd seed in this event as the Swiss superstar is sitting this one out for some family time. Nadal is admittedly not yet back to his usual self and with the clay court season about to begin I can't imagine he is overly concerned with how he performs in his final hard court event for the next few months. Tomas Berdych is in this section and would be his likely quarter-final opponent. A fantastic third round match could transpire between Frenchmen Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga is making his first appearance in 2015 after being sidelined with an arm injury sustained in Davis Cup late last year. Too soon to get our hopes up with him, so I'd stick with a Berdych/Nadal quater-final in this section of the draw.
Enjoy this final hardcourt tourney before we switch to two months of red clay followed by a brief transition to grass court tennis. Djokovic appears the man to beat here as he is the defending champion and showed no signs of weakness in last week's tournament victory (minus three untimely double faults to Federer in the 2nd set breaker). I have to give Murray a shot here as well since he has won the event twice before and has a favorable draw to the semis. He might be better rested than Djokovic for this one in fact. Only time will tell.