• Tom Grant

Miami Open - Preview

Time after time, at various points over the last two decades, talk has been of the so-called ‘next generation’ coming through.

The future of tennis. Those players who will replace the ‘Big Four’ at the top of the men’s tour.

We’ve had names like Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov and Richard Gasquet mentioned as the men who would move in and dominate the sport for years to come.

But that changing of the guard has never happened. Because the men at the top of the sport are immovable objects.

However, during the next ten days in Miami, tennis fans WILL get a chance to glimpse into the future.

A chance to see what the game they adore will look like when the legends of the game have decided to hang up their rackets and finally give others a chance to win major tournaments.

Big Names Withdraw

There’s no shying away from the fact that the Miami Open has been hit with some big names withdrawing from the event over the last couple of weeks.

This began at the start of the month as the last man to win in Miami, Roger Federer, decided not to defend his 2019 triumph and continue his slow return to action following two knee operations.

And old foe Rafael Nadal soon followed, citing the ongoing back issues he has battled with since the turn of the year.

Dominic Thiem, who’s had a poor start to the season, made it another of the top ten not making it to the Florida event, admitting the French Open in May is his main focus.

And then on Friday evening, world no.1 and once again Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic confirmed in a tweet that he too would be missing at Miami. Novak hasn’t been seen since his February triumph in Melbourne. At his post-final press conference, he admitted that his sole goal left in the sport is to finish his career with the most Grand Slams and so will be playing fewer events in order to be fully prepared for each major.

It seems that Andy Murray just can’t catch a break. After being granted a wildcard to the Miami event, ANOTHER injury, this time his groin, has forced the Scot to withdraw on the eve of the tournament.

And this all adds to talk by some off ‘feeling sorry for Miami’ due to the pull-outs.

But on the flip side of this, this now presents someone with one almighty opportunity to win big on the men’s tour and secure 1000 ranking points.

Players to Watch

The Miami Open is the first ATP Masters 1000 event of the year and is undoubtedly the biggest tournament since Melbourne after Indian Wells was scrapped.

And new world no.2 Daniil Medvedev will be hoping to regain the winning streak that has allowed him to become the first man not named Djokovic, Nadal, Federer or Murray to occupy the spot since 2005. He goes into the tournament as the new number one seed. A whole new kind of pressure.

Red hot Russian Andrey Rublev continues to improve and impress after winning the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament at the start of the month. He followed this up with semi-final appearances in both Qatar and Dubai but will need to find a fix to his current compatriot hoodoo.

ATP Cup teammate and doubles partner Aslan Karastev has had an astonishing start to 2021. And it was he who triumphed over Rublev in Dubai with some tremendous hitting to end the younger Russian’s 23 match win streak at ATP 500 events. Karastev has forced his name into the mix for Miami. In that semi-final win against Rublev, he had a quite staggering 41 winners and completed a remarkable run by winning the Dubai event. Only Djokovic and Thiem have beaten Karastev this year.

Karastev has without doubt been the shock package of the year so far, but Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili, conqueror of the returning Federer, could have a fair shout to be considered for that particular mantle. The world no.42 had a dream week in Qatar and overcame Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the final to secure a fourth career title.

Big-hitting Denis Shapovalov hadn’t lost a service game or a set on his way to the semi-final of the Dubai Duty-Free Tennis Championships before his demons re-emerged and he had an almighty collapse against Lloyd Harris. Leading by one set and 4-2 up in the second, the Canadian leftie somehow managed to lose the match. But this guy has a big game and a big talent and if he can conquer those demons, he can be a contender over the Miami fortnight.

The aforementioned Harris has come from nowhere after a quite sensational fortnight in the Persian Gulf. He was beaten by Karastev in the Dubai final and goes on the one to keep an eye on list at the Hard Rock Stadium.

Two names that seem to have been around for years already as part of the ‘next gen’ group of players are also in town in the form of Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who faced off in the final of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco. It appears these two will be meeting in finals throughout this decade and they served up another thriller in Mexico with Zverev triumphing in straight sets.

Todays Miami Open event offers an opportunity that hasn’t been presented to tennis fans for a long long time. It’s the first Masters 1000 event without any of the ‘Big Four’ since 2004. Who will step up? Who can handle life in the Miami bubble? It all makes for an intriguing week and a half and one that has the potential to be very special.

Written by Tom Grant