By Mike McIntyre
After a week of Masters level tennis and controversy in Indian Wells, the tennis world hopes that the focus returns to the court as the Miami Open begins first round play on Wednesday this week.
Seeded first is none other than Novak Djokovic. While Djokovic uncharacteristically made some careless comments about the prize money distribution between the men and the women his on-court performance was its usual flawless self. The only set that he lost was the opener against American qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo and he only improved as the tournament went along. Beating Rafael Nadal 7-6(5), 6-2 in the semifinals and then destroying Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-0 in the finals was an emphatic way to capture his fifth title at the event. Djokovic will begin his Miami experience against the winner between Kyle Edmund of Great Britain and Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic. A fourth round match against up and comer Dominic Thiem could test him followed by a possible encounter with seventh seed Tomas Berdych.
Also in the top half of the draw is a returning Roger Federer, the third seed, who has not played since losing the Aussie Open semifinal to Novak back in January. Sidelines with surgery on his knee, it will be interesting to see how a rusty Federer performs. Roger probably wasn't thrilled to see that he will likely open his tournament against Juan Martin Del Potro who plays the little known Guido Pella in the first round. While Del Potro has missed a ton of tennis these past few years, he has looked formidable acquiring a 4-2 record thus far in his comeback attempt. I'd put this one at 50/50 for Fed but he can't be too frustrated if it takes a little time to get back up to speed.
Also in Federer's section of the draw is Belgium's David Goffin who just made his first career Masters semifinal in Indian Wells. It is pretty cool to see the future of men's tennis starting to take shape with the successes of players like Goffin. The "big four" are not going to be at the top for an indefinite period of time and it will soon be time for the next generation to seize the moment.
Another David, Ferrer in this case, is the eight seed and also lurks in this section. Gilles Simon, who has come the closest to toppling Djokovic in 2016, (in a full match without retirement) and Marin Cilic are also among this grouping of talented players.
The bottom half is led by Andy Murray the second seed. Murray remarkably was taken out in Indian Wells by Federico Delbonis who is more known for his clay court prowess. Chalk it up to adjusting to the lack of sleep that parenthood brings with it perhaps? Murray made the finals of the Aussie Open and then took a month off to spend with his newest family member. He went undefeated in a Davis Cup tie against Japan and is now playing his next tourney after IW. Murray has a tricky draw where he will first face either the crafty Denis Istomin or the rising Borna Coric. In the third round he could face a struggling Grigor Dimitrov who you know is just waiting to turn his season around, followed potentially by the entertaining Gael Monfils in the fourth round. This is going to be a tough event for Murray and he will have to raise his game to it's highest level to make it deep in the draw here in Miami. The sixth seeded Kei Nishikori could be his quarter-final opponent and would certainly be looking to avenge his recent five set Davis Cup defeat.
The final quarter to examine has Rafael Nadal as the fifth seed and facing either Leonardo Mayer or Damir Dzumhur in his first match. An enticing third round match here has Jack Sock and Milos Raonic lined up to face one another. That is if Raonic is healthy after sustaining a leg injury in this final loss at Indian Wells against Djokovic. Raonic has been having a fantastic season so far and has been hailed by Sports Illustrated's respected Jon Wertheim as playing the "second best tennis of anyone in the world." A Raonic/Nadal fourth round match would be a juicy one for sure. Fireworks could also occur in this section of the draw if Nick Kyrgios and Stan Wawrinka make it to the fourth round where they would play one another.
Tough to imagine anyone going against Djokovic in any event he enters this year. The folks at William Hill would no doubt put the odds in his favour. The world No. 1 sits at 22-1 so far this season with only a retirement against Feliciano Lopez causing a minute blemish on his record. Look for David Goffin to continue his recent ascension with a strong tournament in Miami as well or potentially the vet David Ferrer advancing to the semis against Novak in the top half of the draw. In the bottom I would lean towards Wawrinka to make a splash and Jo-Wilfrid Tsonga as well who is in the same section as Murray.