Can Anyone Stop Federer and Del Potro ?
The ATP World Tour makes its last hard court stop of the Spring in Florida for the Miami Open. Roger Federer finally proved mortal last week in Indian Wells, losing a tense title match to Juan Martin Del Potro in a third set tie break. For Del Potro, Indian Wells continues a hot run that began in Acapulco. The Argentine has now won titles in consecutive tournaments and has pushed up to number six in the rankings. Combined, Federer and Del Potro are 34-4 in 2019 with two titles each. Clearly, they are the current gold standard.
So the questions beckons whether there is anyone in the field in Miami this week that can break up the current dynamic duo? Federer heads in as the defending champ and has won the Miami title three times. The 36-year-old was pressed hard by Borna Coric in the semis and then by Del Potro in the final last week, so it will be interesting to see if there is any lingering fatigue. Slotted second behind Fed is Marin Cilic. Cilic was a disappointing, albeit not unexpected early exit in Indian Wells. He’s only made it as far as the quarterfinals once in Miami and that was back in 2013. Cilic has dropped his opener at this Masters event in two of his last three trips.
Rounding out the top four seeds are Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev. Both were dumped out of Indian Wells in their openers last week. Dimitrov is just 8-7 all-time in Miami with the fourth round as his best finish. He lost his opener in Miami last year. Zverev is making just his fourth trip to Florida with last year’s quarterfinal finish as his best run. Del Potro is seeded fifth this week, making the Miami trip with poor recent history. DelPo has not made it past round two in Miami since 2012. Kevin Anderson is seeded sixth and has not made it past round three in five of the last six years.
Rounding out the top eight are David Goffin and Jack Sock. Goffin returns to the court for the first time since injuring his eye in a freak accident in Rotterdam. The Belgian made the semis here in 2016, but has had trouble getting deep into the tournament most years. Sock is a 2017 quarterfinaiist, but has just two wins in seven matches this season.
Djokovic Leads Other Seeds
Six-time Miami Open champion Novak Djokovic will be looking to prove fit this week as he slots in at #9. The Serb lost in Indian Wells last week in his opener, falling to Taro Daniel in three sets. The good news is that Djokovic is reportedly pain free in his elbow, but he’s certainly looking rusty and nervy – to be expected with just a handful of matches played in the last nine months. Tomas Berdych is seeded 10th and carries in an impressive streak to Miami. The Czech has made the quarters or better here every year since 2013.
Other seeds to watch this week include Nick Kyrgios. The 17th seed was forced to withdraw from Indian Wells last week with his right elbow still bothering him. It remains to be seen how healthy the Aussie is heading into this tournament. When healthy, he’s been a factor here with two straight semifinal runs in 2016 and 2017. Hyeon Chung is in at #19 in Miami. The South Korean is only 1-3 in his career here, but certainly is playing his best tennis again. He’ll be one to watch. Milos Raonic is seeded 20th and off his best result in eight months. Where his game is really at though is another question with Del Potro dismantling him easily in the semis last week.
The 26th seed is Kei Nishikori, who was a late withdrawal last week in California due to illness. e made the final in Miami in 2016 and will certainly be looking to elevate his level this week. Surprise Indian Wells semifinalist Borna Coric is in at #29. The Croat has a chance to build some major and unexpected momentum this week. Coric is 7-3 in his last ten matches. The ever-dangerous vet Fernando Verdasco slips in as the 30th seed this week. He’s a two-time quarterfinalist in Miami and he’s knocked off two top ten players this year. The Spaniard very likely could scare someone again this week.
Every week, we take a look at the seeds who could be in peril of losing their openers. The players capable of beating them, I call the Eliminati. Miami has been a blood bath for seeds in their openers in recent years. Last year, 14 seeds fell in their first matches – including a pair of top ten seeds. At least one top ten seed has fallen in Miami in each of the last three seasons. Overall from 2014-2017, at least eight seeds have been taken down in their openers each year.
Here is a look at the guys who could put more players in that club in 2018.
Because .. Jack Sock. Bhambri made it through qualifying in Indian Wells last week and scored a couple of wins in the main draw, including a stunner over Lucas Pouille. Sock certainly hasn’t shown a ton at 2-5 this season to inspire a ton of confidence. Bhambri must get past Mirza Basic first.
Cameron Norrie/Nicolas Jarry
I don’t think it matters which one of these guys wins – they both will have a chance against Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine has not been able to get untracked on hard courts after a great South American clay court swing. In fact, other than his fourth round run at the Aussie Open – Schwartzman only has one other win on hard courts in 2018. Jarry’s power didn’t both Schwartzman on clay, but perhaps it could on this surface.
The American has a round one meeting with Victor Estrella Burgos. A win would get him a shot at 18th seed Adrian Mannarino. Johnson has won the last two meetings, since losing in five sets to Mannarino at the 2014 Australian Open. Mannarino made round four last year and has not lost his opener in Miami since his debut in 2011 – but this match-up would be tough in spite of Johnson’s 1-4 record in Miami.
Big Foe was an early casualty in Indian Wells last week, unable to follow up on his Delray Beach title run. This week perhaps he’s back in the weeds with a bit less press and that could make him dangerous. He will need to beat Nicolas Kicker in round one, but really has to put it together to do so if we’re going to take him seriously. A win would get him a showdown against 21st seed Kyle Edmund. Edmund lost his first match at Indian Wells, his first since being injured at the Australian Open. Edmund is just 1-4 in Miami for his career and short on match play in recent months. Tiafoe would have a legit shot if he can get through and Kicker might too if things work out that way instead.
Marius Copil/Mikhail Kukushkin
I think the winner of this first rounder has a good chance to take down #32 Karen Khachanov. The Russian has yet to score a win in Miami in two trips. Khachanov has gone 1-2 since winning his 2nd career title earlier this season in Marseille. Copil and Kukushkin are two vets who are full capable of matching Khachanov and springing an upset if the Russian can’t get it together.
Evgeny Donskoy/Aljaz Bedene
The winner here will face (25) David Ferrer. Donskoy has quietly made quarterfinal runs in two of his last three tournaments. The Russian also knocked out Khachanov at Indian Wells last week. Bedene ran well on clay, but has not been a big factor on hard courts lately. Donskoy does own a win in his last match against Ferrer, a three sets win at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Ferrer has avoided first match defeats in his last two tournaments, but does have three opening match losses in 2018.
Dusan Lajovic/Horacio Zeballos
Lajovic and Zeballos are on the list simply becase we’re uncertain how healthy Nick Kyrgios is this week. If the Aussie’s elbow is good-to-go, then I don’t see an upset in this spot. I’d be surprised if Kyrgios risked it if he’s not healthy, but he waited until match day at Indian Wells to withdraw. It could be a repeat this week if he’s not fit.
Denis Shapovalov/Viktor Troicki
The survivor gets (24) Damir Dzumhur and will provide some definite upset potential. Dzumhur has made it out of his first match the last two trips to Miami, but has a tough opponent waiting either way. Troicki has lost four of his last five matches, but does own a win over El Shapo in Shanghai last season. The Canadian wonderboy is still looking to really ignite his season. Shapovalov has been decent, but unable to make a real mark on the season. Could this be his chance?
Paire plays Mischa Zverev in round one, so it’s not a given despite the German’s 0-3 mark In Miami. It is Paire after all. The winner gets a shot at Novak Djokovic and you have to keep him on upset alert until he finds his rhythm and proves health. The Serb seemed nervy after the long layoff last week, so I would expect improvement this week. Keep this on the lowest tier of the upset alert, but you just don’t know with Djokovic right now.
Jeremy Chardy/Rogerio Dutra Silva
Chardy has been unable to beat Richard Gasquet in three tries, so normally this would be something I would not consider. Gasquet though has been out since since losing in Dubai to Borna Coric. A knee injury limited him in that one and so it’s up-in-the-air if Gasquet is fully healthy heading into Miami. That gives the winner of this first round match some potential to get a seeded scalp.
Jared Donaldson/Marcos Baghdatis
Either Donaldson or Baghdatis should have a shot against 25th seed Feliciano Lopez. Lopez did make a nice fourth round run in Indian Wells, but he lost to Donaldson in straights in Acapulco. Baghdatis is also 4-1 against the Spaniard, giving whomever survives a pretty good shot to take down Lopez.
If Pella can get past Mikhail Youzhny in round one, he would get a shot at Gilles Muller. Muller is just 2-9 in Miami and has lost his opening match in three tournaments this year. Pella stunned Dimitrov in Miami last year en route to the third round and could be a tough out for Muller.
Ivo Karlovic/Vasek Pospisil
Andrey Rublev awaits the winner with the 27th seeded Russian on a three match losing streak, including losing his opener in two straight tournaments. I think Karlovic would be the tougher out for Rublev, simply because of the serve and Rublev’s own serve often wobbling in and out of rhythm.
Quarter #1 Seeds
(1) Roger Federer: 50-13 (W – 2005, 2006, 2017)
(6) Kevin Anderson: 13-8
(10) Tomas Berdych: 33-12
(16) Pablo Carreno Busta: 0-4
(21) Kyle Edmund: 1-4
(31) Fernando Verdasco: 17-15
(32) Karen Khachanov: 0-2
Federer’s path to the quarterfinals seems solid enough. He has Carreno Busta, Mannarino and Verdasco as the potential seeds standing in his way to that point. He opens against a qualifier with Calvin Hemery and Thanasi Kokkinakis going head-to-head in round one. Fed could then see Verdasco in round three. The Spaniard would need to get past the winner of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Tennys Sandgren. GGL hasn’t played on hard courts since Doha, while Sandgren has match play from last week in Indian Wells. Verdasco has made round three in four of his last six trips. If it comes down to Federer and Verdasco, the Swiss is 6-0 against the lefty.
Carreno Busta has never won in Miami in four tries, but might have a shot to break that streak. He faces Denis Istomin or 18-year-old Serbian wild card Miomir Kecmanovic. Istomin would obviously be a tougher out in spite of his overall poor form. The winner in that section would see Mannarino, Steve Johnson or Victor Estrella Burgos for a shot at the fourth round. Without a ton of success in the past in Miami, this is a wide open portion of the draw. If Mannarino can get past a tricky opener, he could step up and push into round four opposite of Federer.
In the bottom half, Kevin Anderson will look to get himself back on track after a loss to Coric last week. Anderson has struggled in Miami with a quarterfinal run in 2011 as his best result. He should be afforded a good start against either Thomas Fabbiano or Nikoloz Basilashvili. The potential third round opponents for Anderson consist of Khachanov, Copil and Kukushkin. You have to like Andersn to at least find his way to the fourth round with that sort of draw.
Opposite of Anderson is the segment with Berdych and Edmund. Edmund has the tougher early draw with either Tiafoe or Kicker to open. Berdych starts with either Yoshi Nishioka or qualifier Alex de Minaur. de Minaur couldn’t keep up with the Czech in Melbourne, so it’s difficult to see much changing if he is the round one victor. Berdych’s history in Miami is good, but a healthy Edmund would definitely be a challenge. I do think Edmund should improve after getting a match under his belt last week. It looks like this quarter comes down to the seeds.
Only two of the last four years in Miami have seen an unseeded quarter finalist and this part of the draw doesn’t look conducive to adding to that list. The obvious question is whether anyone can stop Federer shy of the semifinals in this quarter? Most of the seeded match-ups he could see lean heavily in his favor, but if a player or two can push him to play three sets early – perhaps fatigue can help someone pull a stunner. It’s still difficult to see though.
Quarter #2 Seeds
(4) Alexander Zverev: 5-3
(8) Jack Sock: 7-5
(11) Sam Querrey: 9-12
(15) Fabio Fognini: 8-6
(17) Nick Kyrgios: 8-2
(24) Damir Dzumhur: 4-3
(28) David Ferrer: 31-15
(29) Borna Coric: 3-3
Zverev will face a big hitter in his opener with either Stefanos Tsitsipas or Daniil Medvedev waiting. He’s already beaten Medvedev easily in their only career meeting, but he has yet to face the Greek Tsitsipas. The unfamiliarity of Tsitsipas could make that match interesting if he gets to round two, but I think Sascha’s overall game wins out. Ferrer is seeded to make the third round opposite of Zverev, but could be one and done against either Donskoy or Bedene. I’d favor that to be Donskoy. Sascha would probably be fine with that seeing that Ferrer does own a couple of wins against him. Zverev did win their most recent match in Rotterdam though to secure his first win in three tries against the Spaniard.
The segment opposite of this one is intriguing with Fognini and Kyrgios as the seeds. The lack of news on Kyrgios will keep everyone guessing until his first match. If he is healthy, he’s obviously a threat to do well here. Fognini is certainly one to monitor as well, after making the semis last year. Fognini has the easier time in his opener against Spain’s Nicola Kuhn or qualifier Darian King. With Kyrgios lacking match toughness and fitness, I could see Fognini working through here and into the fourth round opposite of Zverev most likely.
In the bottom half, Americans Jack Sock and Sam Querrey are the highest seeds – but it’s Borna Coric that everyone will likely have eyes on this week. Coric put together a solid run in Indian Wells to his first Masters semifinal. A bit steadier play and he probably would have made the final and beaten Federer. Can he follow it up this week? He’s got Leonardo Mayer or Donald Young to open. He has owned Young and destroyed him again last week at Indian Wells. The match-up. Mayer is tougher, having beaten Coric twice on clay in 2014 and 2015. Coric would love to see Young instead. The winner could see Jack Sock who faces the winner between Yuki Bhambri and lucky loser Mirza Basic. Bhambri stunned Lucas Pouille at Inidan Wells, so beating Sock may not be that far fetched if he advances.
Querrey and Dzumhur are the seeds in the other segment. Querrey has not made it past round three in Miami since 2013. Querrey could see Radu Albot in his opener. Albot plays qualifier Ricardas Berankis in round one. Dzumhur, I talked about in The Eliminati with a tough opener against either Shapovalov or Troicki. This might actually wind up being a good spot for Querrey to make a push. The quarterfinal spot could come down to Sock, Querrey and Coric.
I think it’s time for Sascha to step up and make some noise after a quiet few months to start 2018. The two roadblocks for Zverev in this segment are a healthy Kyrgios and Coric. Coric is 2-0 against Sascha with his defense really helping work over the German.
Quarter #3 Seeds
(3) Grigor Dimitrov: 8-7
(5) Juan Del Potro: 15-9
(9) Novak Djokovic: 42-5 ( W – 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016)
(13) Diego Schwartzman: 2-3
(20) Milos Raonic: 11-4
(22) Filip Krajinovic: 1-2
(26) Kei Nishikori: 20-7
(30) Richard Gasquet: 12-10
Tons of big names here, but only one is playing top notch tennis and that is Del Potro. Still, this is a vast difference in paths than what Federer is seeing in his quarter. Del Potro opens against either Yuichi Sugita or Robin Haase. DelPo is a combined 6-0 against the two, so expect him to move to round three. That is where he is seeded to see Kei Nishikori. Nishikori missed Indian Wells with an illness, which puts him back a step after he seemed on the cusp of making a move. Nishikori goes against Peter Gojowczyk or qualifier John Millman. It would be harsh not to get the DelPo-Nishikori match-up, but the 26th seed has to prove his game again.
Opposite of this segment, there is plenty of intrigue with Djokovic as the lead seed along with Krajinovic. Djokovic admitted after Indian Wells that he felt nervous and felt that led to many abnormal unforced errors. He will hope to calm himself this week as he looks to get some traction on the season. Nole faces either Paire or Mischa Zverev to begin. For me, Paire is the bigger challenge with his bigger ground strokes. I think Mischa’s weak serve will get eaten up by Djokovic. Krajinovic will await the winner of an all-quali first rounder between Bjorn Fratangelo and Liam Broady. There are obviously some winnable matches for Djokovic, but we will see what his form looks like this week.
In the bottom half, you’ve got Grigor Dimitrov as the 3rd seed. Dimitrov was a loser to Verdasco in his opener last week at Indian Wells. Miami has been marginally better to him historically and his early draw should be a bit better. I would say Marton Fucsovics or Maximillian Marterer could push him a little in his opener, but he should win. A win would set him up well for a likely fourth round run. Gasquet is the other seed in this section and his iffy knee wouldn’t seem to lend him to a deep run.
The other section here sees Schwartzman and Raonic as the seeds. Raonic got some needed wins last week, but his overall form still isn’t top notch. He awaits Mikael Ymer or Jan-Lennard Struff to start in Miami. Struff’s serve could help him go toe-to-toe with Raonic, but the Canadian would seem to be the better bet to come through. Schwartzman gets the winner between Cameron Norrie and Nicolas Jarry. Jarry was a revelation on clay and his big serve and forehand could translate well to hard courts. The Chilean hasn’t been on the surface since Melbourne, so we will see how he does. Norrie has been competitive of late.
Schwartzman hasn’t been good outdoors outside of the Australian Open. He made the fourth round there, but is just 1-4 in four other outdoor hard court tourneys this season. He could be an early casualty and that means the quarterfinals in this quarter could come down to Dimitrov and Del Potro. Nishikori is an X-factor here for me as I think DelPo could find some fatigue this week and Dimitrov simply hasn’t shown consistency from week to week to trust.
Juan Martin Del Potro
Quarter #4 Seeds
(2) Marin Cilic: 9-9
(7) David Goffin: 11-6
(12) Roberto Bautista Agut: 7-6
(14) John Isner: 13-10
(19) Hyeon Chung: 1-3
(23) Gilles Muller: 2-9
(25) Feliciano Lopez: 11-15
(27) Andrey Rublev: 2-3
Cilic is just 2-2 since making the Australian Open final. His opener in Miami will be Taylor Fritz or Pierre-Hugues Herbert. I think that is a good match-up for him, although Fritz did play fairly well out west last week. It is a winnable segment though with Rublev as the other seed. The Russian has flat lined some lately and could face big serving Ivo Karlovic to open. Karlovic plays Vasek Pospisil in round one. Karlovic could actually be the toughest out for Cilic here with the Croat taking three of the last four meetings.
In the other segment in this half, Muller and Isner are the seeds in a very iffy section. Isner has a decent opening match-up against either Jiri Vesely or Lukas Lacko. In spite of his trouble getting Ws early this season, there is no excuse to lose to either of those guys if he’s going to pull out of the hole he’s dug himself. Muller has it tougher potentially with Guido Pella or Mikhail Youzhny as his first foe. Pella as I stated earlier could be a potential Eliminati member this week. I think Youzhny would be by far the easier match for Muller with the Russian struggling to match big servers. Isner could have a real shot to scoot into round four.
In the other half, it is the return of David Goffin. Goffin has been out since February when a bounced ball deflected off his racquet and into his eye. His vision has been blurry since then, but the Belgian is ready to give it a go this week. If Goffin’s vision has cleared, he could be a dark horse in this part of the draw. Goffin has made the fourth round or better in three straight trips to Miami. He will get either Ryan Harrison or Joao Sousa in round two. The survivor is seeded to see Feliciano Lopez in round three, but the Spaniard might be one and done to either Jared Donaldson or Marcos Baghdatis. If there is an unseeded player who might get a shot at a quarterfinal, it could be the Donaldson-Baghdatis winner.
It’s Roberto Bautista Agut and Hyeon Chung leading the other section. RBA has made two straight fourth round runs in Miami. Bautista Agut gets an opener against Christopher Eubanks or qualifier Michael Mmoh. That should be advantage RBA. Chung will get the survivor of a first rounder between Matthew Ebden and Gilles Simon. Chung has been a beacon of consistency in making five quarterfinals in six tournaments played this season. I like him in this section to get past Bautista Agut. That could mean a great match-up with Goffin in round four for another shot at a quarterfinal.
This looks like a chance for Cilic to get back on track following some subpar tournaments. It’s difficult to know if Goffin can find his game quickly enough to be a factor here, so it could be Chung who pushes for a spot in the semifinals. Double digit seeds have made a habit of making the semis in Miami with five of the last 16 Miami semifinalists fitting that mold.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …
Del Potro is the form player right now and he has a massive chance this week to cement himself as a challenger to the throne of Roger Federer in 2018. Last week’s win over Fed in Indian Wells sounded the bell for that fight and this week, DelPo goes for the knockout punch. It will be interesting to see how Federer bounces back from his first loss of the season. The top seed has made the final three of the last four years and the fourth was Federer making it in 2017 as the #4 seed.
2010 was the last time a seed outside of the top six made the final with Tomas Berdych losing to six seed Andy Roddick that year. There are some outliers who could change that like a healthy Kyrgios, Nishikori or Chung. My brain is stuck on Sascha Zverev this week as a potential winner, although Borna Coric could derail that before it comes to fruition. For me, Federer, Cilic, and Zverev should be in the mix. I still think Del Potro is going to run out of gas this week.
If you’re looking for seeded long shots, I do feel like Goffin and Nishikori can make some noise if they find a rhythm early and Chung seems like he’s becoming a weekly threat to be in the last eight.