Saturday, 26 March 2016

Things heating up in Miami

The Miami tournament is the second consecutive joint WTA and ATP event and hundreds of players trekked from one coast of the States to the other to congregate at Key Biscayne, Florida and participate in the Miami Open (WTA) and Miami Masters (ATP).

As we prepared for a fascinating first Friday (US time) there had been a couple of upsets in women's second round matches.  The biggest was the defeat of 11th seed Czech Lucie Safarova by Yanina Wickmayer from Belgium.  Yet Lucie had only managed two matches this year prior to Miami and both those were losses too so not such a surprise.  Of course the Brussels tragedy had cast a pall over events across the world, and a number of Belgian players including Yanina are contesting here, so her victory must have been bitter sweet.
Heather Watson thrashed Sloane Stephens 6-3 6-0, and the 20th seeded American is hard to figure out, considering her solid start to 2016 with two titles and the look of potential coming to fruition.  Watson, to her credit, has been playing well of late with a title herself, and may have caught Stephens at the right time.  Seriously a 69 ranking is due for a slashing and perhaps it might occur after this event.

Today we saw a couple of the players who could be the next crop of stars, pitting their wares against seeded players.  American Taylor Fritz, the youngest member of the top 100, and qualifying for the main draw, won through to meet 8th seed David Ferrer in a second round encounter, Ferrer having had a bye in the first round as all seeds.

Ferrer had a battle in Set One but served for it at 5-4 only for the precocious Fritz to break and eventually force a tie break in which the Spaniard just snuck home 8 points to 6.  Once the set was his, Ferrer had the comfort he required and raced home 6-1 in the second to win a third round ticket.  Another step in the learning curve for Fritz.

Alexander Zverev, the German sensation, at 18, only 6 months older than Fritz, but just outside the top 50, enjoyed a much more winnable prospect against American 31st seed Steve Johnson.
Serving was the key and unsurprisingly tie breaks decided both sets which comprised the match.  The first set was won in a long breaker 11-9 by Johnson who had shown throughout that he was more capable of winning points on returning the serve of Zverev than vice versa.  He created two break points, whereas the German never threatened.
The prototype now set Johnson simply followed the plan and set two had all the same elements except the tie breaker was over in quicker fashion 7-3.
Zverev nevertheless will be top ten before he finishes his teenage years (my big prediction).

Roger Federer predicted that he was ready for a big year and it started fairly well with a final in Brisbane and a semi final in the Aus Open.  However injury struck and his comeback match here against Del Potro was eagerly awaited.  No - 2016 has hit the previously indestructible Swiss star again with a tummy upset and Miami is over before it started.
So for Roger he is relying on the clay, his worst surface, to kickstart his season and hopefully complete the back half of 2016 with a flourish.  Add to the challenge no matches since January and he is nearing 35 - if Federer meets this huge test, even if it doesn't include winning big titles, but just competing at the highest levels coming from ground zero, it will rate as one of his greatest achievements.  

The irony of Roger's withdrawal came when Del Potro, expected to ease through to the third round without the worry of the third seed, lost in straight sets to lucky loser in qualifying, and fellow Argentine Horacio Zeballos. (His first main draw win of the year)

No drama for the top seeds (ex Federer) in the men's draw - the early exits were courtesy of Feliciano Lopez (seeded 21) to a qualifier, Jeremy Chardy (28) to Fernado Verdasco who is far better than his current ranking, and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (32).

More interest with the women and 6th seed Carla Suarez Navarro whose terrific form was belied with a loss to American Coco Vandeweghe who served the Spaniard off the court, especially in the second set.  The win was most impressive, helped no doubt by the poor first serve percentage contributed by Carla.

The Pliskova sisters exchanged fortunes with high performing Karolina, seeded 17, losing out to hungry Hungarian Timea Babos in a three set thriller.  Kristyna, ranked 101, played five games before at 4-1 her seventh seeded Swiss opponent Belinda Bencic retired.
Other seeds removed in second round matches, after a first round bye were:
Venus Williams (10), Errani (14), Jankovic (18), Pavlyuchenkova (25), Mladenovic (27) and Lisicki (29)
One player relieved to survive is fourth seed Garbine Muguruza who defeated Dominika Cibulkova in a great match after dropping an opening tie breaker.

The late matches scheduled for Court One on Saturday are the ones to which I'm looking forward.  Nick Kyrgios v Marcos Baghdatis in a battle of the Cypriot who is finding some of the form which saw him through to the 2006 Aus Open and the outrageously talented Aussie whose non-tennis silliness has been overemphasised to the point of nearly blanketing his tennis achievements in 2016.
And Serbian Ana Ivanovic (seeded 16 and unpredictable - 7/6 match winning record in 2016) v Swiss Timea Bacsinszky (seeded 19 and unpredictable - 5/7 match winning record in 2016)

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