The men roll into Miami this week on the tail end of the back-to-back Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami. The climate change will be interesting for some to handle as usual. Heat certainly was seen in California, but now they’ll have the heavy and humid air of Miami to deal with. Indian Wells’ Champion Novak Djokovic is also the defending Champion here in Miami and has taken home the title in three of the last four years. Andy Murray has won Miami twice in 2013 and 2009, so he will also be one with high hopes for the week. Rafael Nadal will also be here. He’s usually played well in Miami, making the Finals four times including last year. He has never won the title though. Kei Nishikori will round out the top four seeds in attendance this week. Nishikori had his best showing at this tournament last season, but was forced to withdraw in the semifinals before a scheduled match with Djokovic due to a groin injury. There is no Roger Federer this year in Miami as he announced previously his intentions to skip this week.
Of the other seeds taking part in Miami, David Ferrer has had a good run of success. Ferrer is 27-12 all-time at the Sony Open with a Finals appearance in 2013 and a run of making the quarterfinals in three of the last four Miami Opens. Last year, he was eliminated in the round of 16 bby Nishikori in a grueling three set match in a third set tie break. Stan Wawrinka who has flattened out sommewhat again this year following the Australian Open shouldn’t be counted on to make a deep run this week either as he sports just a 6-6 mark in Miami. The 4th round has been his best showing in six years. Berdych bears watching this week as he made the semis last year before withdrawing and made the quarters the year before. He is 24-9 all-time at the Miami Open. Perhaps the biggest story of the week (we hope) will be the long-awaited return of Juan Martin Del Potro. The Argentine has been sidelined this season due to yet another injury as he has been rehabbing from wrist surgery. I think it’s wishful thinking to believe that Del Potro will do much this week. His main goal should be getting some match play under his belt and making it through pain free.
Planting The Seeds
I finally got clever with the name of this portion of the preview, so +1 for me eh? As usual, we look at how the seeds fare early in a tournament. Indian Wells was a big upset spot for seeds playing in their first matches and this year did not disappoint with ten seeded players biting the dust in their openers. So let’s look at Miami. In 2014, eight seeds dropped their 1st matches. In 2013, that number was ten. In 2012, there were just three seeds who did not win their 1st matches, but in 2011 it was a beating as 14 seeds lost their openers. So the trend again looks as if it will favor our fair share of “upsets” of seeds early. The majority of these upsets seem to come against players in the bottom half of the seeds, 16-32. There are a few stray upsets of top ten seeds historically, but those are much less prevalent. With that in mind, let’s take a look at who could be making early travel plans out of Miami.
#9 Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov has managed to skirt out of some tough 1st-ups this season without losing, but he’s been playing with fire almost every tournament since the Australian Open. All of his opening matches in the three tournaments since then have gone the distance with him prevailing, but then losing in the next round. He’ll likely be in for a battle again to open a tournament as he will face either Vasek Pospisil or the returning Juan Martin Del Potro. This might be the one where he finally gets stung early, especially if Del Potro wins and is feeling well this week.
#11 Jo-Wilifried Tsonga
Until proven healthy, you have to look at Tsonga as the possibility of being an early upset victim. He has no match play in 2015 due to an ongoing forearm issue and he withdrew from Indian Wells last week due to some discomfort still. It sounds like he will give it a go this week, but he’s anything but a sure thing here. He faces either Tim Smyczek or Menendez-Maceiras. He’s been on record saying he does not expect much from himself this week, so confidence could be very low with one of these guys having a chance to gain a scalp of a seed.
#13 Ernests Gulbis
Two interesting tidbits on Ernie. One, he actually won a match last week in Indian Wells. For those keeping track, that was #1 of the season. Two, he separated from coach Gunther Bresnik in the last two weeks. If you need a trifecta of tidbits, it’s that Gulbis is just 1-5 at Miami and will open against Juan Monaco or Bemelmans. The conditions seem to jive with Monaco who has always competed well here. It’s another week and it could easily be another early flameout for Gulbis.
#19 David Goffin
In what was supposed to be a year where Goffin was going to continue to rise up the rankings, Goffin has been unable to sustain the success he saw over the latter part of the 2014 season. He’s 5-6 in 2015 and hasn’t made it past his 1st match in half of the six tournament he has played. Haider-Maurer or the much lauded teenager from Croatia, Borna Coric, will await him this week. Coric beat Haider-Maurer last week at Indian Wells and while it’s tough to win twice in successive weeks against the same opponent, his confidence should still be high. A Coric-Goffin match would be eagerly anticipated and don’t discount Coric from sending Goffin packing early. I think he would have the better shot of the two to do so.
#20 Fabio Fognini
The slower conditions do potentially help Fognini here, but his form is rubbish this year so he belongs. He did make the 4th round rather unexpectedly in 2014. This year, the road might be tough. He faces either Soeda or Sock first-up. Sock was on the emotional rollercoaster last week, dedicating Indian Wells to his brother Eric who is still working his way back to full health after an illness and near death scare. All Sock did was reel off three nice wims and a doubles title with Pospisil. His worst enemy could be emotional and/or physical fatigue, but if he’s good after a little rest – he could give Fognini a go. I think if Soeda wins, then Fognini should be able to advance with an easier match-up.
#21 Pablo Cuevas
Cuevas split his two matches in Indian Wells, losing to Felciano Lopez in the 2nd round. This is his first trip back to Miami since 2011. He has gone 3-3 here in his career. This one could be more about the match-up than a lack of success. He’ll face either Lleyton Hewitt or Thomaz Bellucci first-up. Neither will be the easiest of openers, but neither is exactly in a rich vein of form. Hewitt has been out since the Australian Open and Bellucci is just 3-9 this season.
#22 Ivo Karlovic
The slower conditions could again work against Ivo as they did at Indian Wells when he lost his 1st match to Steve Johnson. He is just 3-10 in Miami and will draw either Berrer or Falla. Both are crafty veterans who could pose problems if Ivo’s serve is not effective in the conditions.
#24 Leonardo Mayer
Mayer was physically spent from Argentina’s Davis Cup clash a few weekends ago and withdrew from Indian Wells. He’ll be better rested, but still on a surface that does him no favors. He is 0-3 in Miami in his career. He will draw Nieminen or Matosevic in his opener and should be on upset alert.
#28 Jeremy Chardy
Chardy is 3-6 in Miami all-time and has lost his opener four of six trips down to South Beach. It could be five of seven with either Ryan Harrison or Jurgen Melzer on-deck as his 1st opponent. Harrison has been rejuvenated the past few weeks with some good performances, while Melzer has had some surprising success in Miami as a 2013 quarterfinalist. He’s also still trying to rebuild his ranking which would make either Melzer or Harrison an attractive shot to upset Chardy.
#32 Viktor Troicki
The Troicki Train isn’t totally void of momentum, but it is certainly slower since this Sydney title to open the year. He’ll have a very difficult 1st match with either Baghdatis or Bolelli. Baghdatis would seem the bigger threat and he played strong at this event last year with a run to the round of 16 before losing to Tsonga in three tough sets: 4-6, 7-6, 5-7. Troicki isn’t totally overmatched here, but it’s definitely a spot where he needs to bring his A game to avoid going out in his opener.
#33 Gilles Muller
The slower conditions in Miami as well as heat and humidty probably won’t do a bigger play a ton of favors this week. His opening match comes against Jaziri or Darcis. That’s not unbeatable, but Muller has been terrible in Miami with a 1-6 record. He did score some wins at the Irving Challenger last week, but his form has been only so-so lately. He’s definitely ripe to be planted on a quick flight out of town.