Pig-pourri: ATP Miami Open Preview

MIAMIOPEN2

Miami Open Preview
It’s the second Masters event on the ATP Calendar as the ATP World Tour stops in Miami this week for the Miami Open. Top seed Novak Djokovic seeks the three-peat in Miami, an event he has won in four of the last five years. The Serb has an astounding 35-7 mark at this tournament which he has won six times. Miami also marks the return of Roger Federer. Federer has missed the last six weeks following surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The Swiss has won the event twice, but the last title run came in 2006.

Andy Murray is your second seed in Miami, where has won the title twice. His last title coming in 2013 when Djokovic was knocked out early by Tommy Haas. Federer is seeded third with Stan Wawrinka rounding out the top four. Wawrinka has been mostly middling at this tournament with a 7-7 mark, having never progressed further than the 4th round. The rest of the top eight fills out with Rafael Nadal (4 time finalist), Kei Nishikori (12-5), Tomas Berdych (2010 finalist) and David Ferrer (30-13).

Seed Report
In the early stages, the Miami Open is home to plenty of seeded upsets. All 32 seeds do get first round byes, but that seems to have left many rusty over the years. In the past five years, at least eight seeds have dropped their opening matches in four of those five years. Twice in 2011 and 2013, double digit seeds lost their first matches in Miami. Of those seeds to lose early, the highest in the past five years was a #5. That happened twice. Once in 2013 when Juan Martin Del Potro was stunned by Tobias Kamke and then back in 2011 when Andy Murray was bounced by Alex Bogomolov, Jr.

As with most high level tournaments, once the field begins to dwindle, the cream of the crop rises. Over the past five years, only four quarterfinalists in Miami have been unseeded. There has not been an unseeded semifinalist in that span. There is often a suprise in the semifinal field however, with a 22, 20, 15, 21 and 14 making that stage. To pound home the message that the higher seeds rule the business end in Miami, the championship match hasn’t featured a seed higher than four since 2010. That is when Andy Roddick won as a six against 16th seeded Tomas Berdych. With all of that to swish around in your mouth, here’s this week’s seed report.

1. Novak Djokovic
With a 36-5 mark in Miami and four titles in five years, Djokovic as usual is the heavy favorite. His form In Indian Wells was exquisite and he’ll be looking for the Indian Wells-Miami double that he’s pulled off the last two seasons.

2. Andy Murray
Murray will hope Miami is an elixcir for his unexpected early loss in Indian Wells. The Scot is 27-8 all-time in Miami. He has made the final in three of the last four years.

3. Roger Federer
Miami has been good, but not great for Federer. At 44-13, most would be very happy with that mark. For Federer, his lack of titles since 2006 is a bit puzzling here. He’s been a bit rocky in Miami since 2010 with only one semifinal showing. He’s lost in the fourth round or earlier twice in that span.  With no clue on form due to the injury layoff, anything Federer gets beyond the fourth round this week would be a bonus. An early exit could happen though with Del Potro possible as his first opponent.

4. Stan Wawrinka
Wawrinka was booted from Miami last year by Adrian Mannarino in the third round and Alexandr Dolgopolov in round four back in 2014. This simply is not a great site for Wawrinka. With a mediocre showing in Indian Wells last week, Wawrinka should be on early upset alert again.

5. Rafael Nadal
Nadal comes off a solid semifinal run in Indian Wells, where he lost to Djokovic in straight sets. A win over Nishikori and a miraculous comeback against Alexander Zverev should still have buoyed his confidence. The return to the old racquet strings just might have worked mentally for the lefty. Nadal is 35-10 in Miami. He suffered a third round loss to Fernando Verdasco last year. Rafa should be keen on returning to the results that saw him make semifinals or better in his four previous trips prior to 2015.

6. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori’s best run in Miami was a semifinal in 2014. At 12-5, his record is solid in Miami with the last two years seeing good overall results. In 2015, he lost in the quarters to John Isner. He could be primed to at least make another run that far.

7. Tomas Berdych
28-10 is the record for the Czech at the Miami Open. He continued his ho-hum run last week with a fourth round loss to Milos Raonic. Berdych has basically become a player at 30 who still beats who he should beat, but rarely seems capable of turning it up against the top tier. This has been a good tournament for him though with back-to-back semifinal runs.

8. David Ferrer
Ferrer returns after nearly a month off. Hopefully the rest serves him well. Miami has been a nice stop for the Spaniard with a 30-13 mark. He made the quarterfinals last year and hasn’t exited before the fourth round since 2008.

Seeded Upset Alert
12. Milos Raonic
After a long week in Indian Wells, Raonic looked a tad worn down in the final against Djokovic. He required medical treatment in the final and it could have been the pesky abductor injured that has plagued him early in the season. He’ll have adequate rest and should have too much for Hyeon Chung or Denis Kudla, but still …

15. David Goffin
Goffin had a nice run last week to make the semis in Indian Wells, but consistency isn’t always a dance partner for the Belgian. He would get Robin Haase or a qualifier in his first match. They played in Miami in 2013 where Goffin won in three sets.

18. Gilles Simon
He’s French, he’s bland, I’m King of Gelderland,  Liechtenstein! I digress. Simon is 13-10 in Miami with a pair of quarterfinal trips. Still, he’s been in a funk this season at just 6-6. Further, the Frenchman has lost his first match at a tournament in half of his six tournaments played this season. Drawing Juan Monaco or Ivan Dodig in the second round won’t be easy.

20. Benoit Paire
The name always says why he’s included in this column, it’s Benoit Paire which sometimes rhymes with “I Don’t Care.” His opener comes against Mikhail Youzhny or Ernests Gulbis. Paire has only played this tournament once, losing his opening round match in 2013.

23. Pablo Cuevas
He’s up first against Pablo Carreno Busta or John Millman. Both have enough to trouble Cuevas who is just 3-4 all-time in Miami.

24. Nick Kyrgios
The Aussie was dumped out in his opener in Indian Wells and again had a hot head moment where he was accused of cursing and then basically went away mentally. It’s his first trip to Miami. Marcos Baghdatis or a qualifier will be his first opponent. Since you never quite know, Kyrgios could again be an early exit candidate.

25. Martin Klizan
A potentially dangerous opening match awaits Klizan with Vasek Pospisil or Diego Schwartzman slotted to face him. Klizan is just 1-2 in Miami.

28. Jeremy Chardy
A rough draw for the Frenchman no matter who survives in round one between Fernando Verdasco and Gilles Muller. Chardy does have some modest success in Miami with a 4-7 record that includes two third round appearances. The last of which came in 2015.

31. Steve Johnson
In addition to his “meh” form, the American has a potentially difficult match-up should Alexander Zverev survive an opener against American Michael Mmoh. Zverev has been a mover and a shaker this year as he continues to climb up the rankings. He played well in Indian Wells and if that fourth round choke job against Rafa is out of his head, he could give Johnson a real run. Johnson is 0-2 career-wise in Miami.

The Quali-Fire
For the most part, qualifiers have been average at-best in round one in Miami over the years. Qualifiers do sneak out of the second round a time or two annually. Last year, two qualifiers made it to round three. Two also made it in 2014. You have to drift back to 2011 to find the last time that a qualifier made it to the fourth round. That was Olivier Rochus. This year’s crop of qualifiers has some punch that will bear watching. Taylor Fritz, Mikhail Kukushkin, Pierre Hugues-Herbert, Benjamin Becker, Tim Smyczek and a red hot Marcel Granollers are among the final 12 players to secure a spot in the main draw. Their match-ups could yield an upset or two.

Quarters Preview
First Quarter: Novak Djokovic (1)
An unspectacular quarter gives Djokovic every reason to expect a pretty smooth ride into the semifinals. Dominic Thiem is the 14th seed and runs in the same half of the quarter as the Serb. The only seed Djokovic could see before the 4th round is #33 Joao Sousa. Thiem’s part of the quarter could provide a bit more intrigue with #21 Felciano Lopez. Lopez faces either Yoshihito Nishioka or Jared Donaldson, so he has reason to believe he can make a run here. Thiem gets a shot at Sam Groth or Victor Estrella Burgos. Both are beatable. Lopez hasn’t made it past the third round in Miami since 2007, so Thiem could have a legit shot to make it to the 4th round.

The bottom of the quarter is led by 7th seed Tomas Berdych. Richard Gasquet is the next highest as the 10th seed with Benoit Paire and Steve Johnson also in this half. Berdych has the possibility of a good run with Johnson and non-seed Alexander Zverev as the best looking competition here. Gasquet and Paire’s portion of this quarter looks a bit more open with dangerous floaters like Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Mikhail Youzhny and Ernests Gulbis. Berdych and Gasquet both have played well here, so they could by vying for the quarterfinal spot opposite Djokovic.

Second Quarter: Roger Federer (3)
Federer’s return to the court could be a short one. His opener could come against Juan Martin Del Potro, who faces Guido Pella in round one. A rusty Federer vs Del Potro searching for a big win to catapult him forward would be must-see TV. David Goffin, Viktor Troicki and Jeremy Chardy are the other seeds in this half. If Federer gets ousted early, Chardy could bear watching here. He’ll need to get past a tough opener against Verdasco or Muller. Qualifier Marcel Granollers might be one to monitor. He’s white hot after winning the Irving Tennis Classic last week. He could provide Goffin with a tough time, if the Spaniard makes it out of round one.

The other half of the quarter is led by 8th seed David Ferrer. Ferrer faces Taylor Fritz or Simone Bolelli first-up. If Ferrer is healthy, that’s a probable win for the 8th seed. The other seeds in this half are Marin Cilic (11), Gilles Simon (18) and Gullermo Garcia-Lopez (32). Cilic has had a rough time in Miami in three of the last four trips, where he has lost in the third round or earlier. His draw looks ideal to get to at least the third round with Dusan Lajovic or Dennis Novikov unlikely to beat him in the second round.

Ferrer is the class of the bottom half of the draw, but his fitness might be a bit questionable. Still, if he proves himself early, he could get through this quarter. Federer has a tough task early, but could be rolling late if he can get through the first two matches. Still, it looks likea  spot where Federer might struggle. Ferrer, Chardy and Cilic are the seeds to watch if Federer flops.

Third Quarter: Stan Wawrinka (4)
In Wawrinka’s half, Nick Kyrgios, Sam Querrey and John Isner are all seeded. All come with questions though, as does Wawrinka. Isner has the easier early match against either Tommy Paul or Tim Smyczek. Wawrinka should be able to get through his opener at least with Andrey Kuznetsov or Rogerio Dutra Silva as his first opponent. The first seed the Swiss would see is Querrey in the third round. The fourth would see him against Isner or Kyrgios. Isner again looks like a decent shot to upset the pecking order. He made the semifinals last year.

In the other half, it’s 5th seeded Rafael Nadal leading the charge. Milos Raonic, Jack Sock and Thomaz Bellucci are the other seeds. Raonic comes with some possible injury concerns, so Rafa may like this path. Nadal draws Dzumhur or Leonardo Mayer to open. Bellucci would be the first seed he could see and that wouldn’t be until round three. Sock made a career-best run to the third round in Miami last year. With Raonic questionable, Sock could scoot through to the fourth round.

With the health of Raonic iffy and Wawrinka not shown to be a great threat in Miami previously, this could be a chance for Nadal to make back-to-back semifinals after doing so in Indian Wells last week. If he fails, Isner could pick up the pieces. Also, watch out for the winner between Marcos Baghdatis and Benjamin Becker in round one as a possible dark horse to win a couple matches.

Fourth Quarter: Andy Murray (2)
This quarter is absolutely stacked with Murray, Kei Nishikori, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Roberto Bautista-Agut and Grigor Dimitrov among the seeded players. Murray’s half has Monfils and Dimitrov. Murray could see Dimitrov in the third round, but will need to get out of the gates fast against Borna Coric or Denis Istomin in his opening match. Monfils looks a possibility to get to the fourth round with 23rd seed Pablo Cuevas as the only seed in his path before round four. Murray-Dimitrov looks a possible third round match, where the Scot has won three straight in the series. Dimitrov has played him tougher of late.

The Nishikori half also sees Alexandr Dolgopolov (27). They could meet in round three. Pierre Hugues-Herbert plays Lukas Rosol in a good looking first round match for the right to meet Nishikori. The bottom of this half looks favorable for Tsonga, who opens against either Paul-Henri Mathieu or Santiago Giraldo. Bautista-Agut has never made it past round three here and looks unlikely to break that streak.

If seeds again rule the later rounds, this could be a Murray vs Nishikori. Still, the 6th seed from Japan does have a rough road to get to the quarters. That means it’s far from a lock. Dolgopolov as always could be the one to steal a spot if this quarter goes teets up.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO…..
The Pig ain’t no fool. This is as always, Djokovic’s title to lose. It’s difficult to see anyone right now in the same stratosphere. Expect a good rebound week from Murray who may have suffered from the Davis Cup effect last week in Indian Wells. Don’t be surprised to see Nadal make another good run, but again fall short of the ultimate prize. If history holds and a seed 20 or over makes the semifinal group, look to Chardy, Sock or a total stunner from Dimitrov.

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