As you can tell from the title, I’ve gone against my better judgment by picking Roger Federer to win the Sony Ericsson Open Miami (call it a case of March Madness!).
A few weeks ago my logic for going against the top guys at Indian Wells was that they weren’t ready or at 100% – Federer was coming off a lung infection, Rafael Nadal a bad knee, Novak Djokovic too much tennis, etc.
But in Miami, which begins today with first round non-seed matches, the upper echelon players should be rested, ready and in near-peak form. After all, it is the last hardcourt event until August. That’s right, AUGUST! And I think that fact alone may provide an additional spark to some select players.
So why Federer? Here are my five reasons.
1. Good draw
A number of you commented that because Tomas Berdych is in Federer’s section there’s trouble ahead for the Swiss. But really, how many times has Berdych come through with the big, signature win on a big stage? Almost never. In fact, while Tomas has enjoyed some decent results in Miami getting to the semifinals in 2008 and the fourth round last year, his lone Top 20 win in Florida was against No. 14 James Blake last year. Impressive? Not really. And I could also see Tomas losing to Thiemo De Bakker or Gilles Simon.
In the quarterfinals Federer could meet Marin Cilic. I liked Cilic a lot at Indian Wells and I think in Miami with the aid of former finalist Goran Ivanisevic he’ll have a strong tournament. But I still like Federer over the Croatian in the quarters – yes, that means Marin beats Marcos Baghdatis and then Fernando Verdasco to get there.
I can also see Roger losing a few sets along the way but in the end I like him out to the semifinals.
As I talked about, this is the final hardcourt event for a while, but I doubt Roger cares about that fact very much – his best results last year came on the clay! In the open I said by tabbing Roger that I was going against “my better judgment”, that being that Roger doesn’t care much about not winning these Tennis Masters type events. Well, I still feel there’s truth to that. However, he’s got to be sick of hearing such speculation for the last 10 days and really dating back to last year that this has been brought up. So no better way to shut people up than by getting this title.
3. The Contenders
While they may be fit(ter), I don’t think the top contenders are playing at their best – then again, neither is Federer. Andy Murray, Fed’s greatest threat in his half, has been lollygagging since he was at the wrong end of that Australian Open beatdown. Then Murray proceeded to lay an egg against potential Miami quarterfinal foe Robin Soderling last week in the desert. Murray trains in Miami and comes in as defending champion, but there are doubts.
Nadal certainly had his moments at Indian Wells, but he would only meet Fed in the final if the Spaniard can get there. Djokovic is also on the other side and I expect him to play much better than he did last week, but again, that match with Fed would come in a final. Roddick the same.
I think Fed also benefits by the withdrawals of Juan Martin Del Potro and Nikolay Davydenko, two guys who have proven that they can take the Swiss down.
So on Fed’s side of the draw, the hurdles are Berdych, Murray, Verdasco, Soderling, Simon and Baghdatis. Of the bunch, I think Soderling is the trickiest given how well he’s been playing, then Murray. But against any of them I think Fed’s the favorite right now – that could change depending on how Roger plays.
As I’ve said I think the extra couple week of practice, rest and recovery should help Roger get into better form than what we saw of him at Indian Wells.
5. Past Results
Fed’s won Miami twice before in 2005, 2006 although since his last title he’s struggled a little by Roger’s lofty standards.
His last three losses have come in three sets to the now-retired Guillermo Canas (4th RD – 07), Roddick (QF – 08) and that memorable racquet-smasher of a show against Djokovic in the SF last year, a performance I’m sure he’d rather have his fans forget. So perhaps he’ll have some added motivation to make up for his unsportsmanlike act against Novak from 2009. Regardless, the guy’s had success in South Florida and that’s a positive.
Those are my five reasons why Federer can win in Miami, but there are more. And to take the contrarian viewpoint, there are several arguments that can be made against Federer walking away with the championship. Among them: he doesn’t care about these events anymore; his only title in the last seven months came courtesy of a Davydenko choke; he has a tough draw and guys like Berdych, Murray, etc, will beat him in best-of-3; he’s still not 100% in playing form; he can’t handle the Miami wind.; and of course the popular fact that I have now pick him so…; etc. And those are all fair points, but I’m sticking with Rog here.
That said, my semifinals look like Federer v. Murray; Nadal v. Roddick with… Yes, a Federer v. Nadal final! How great would that be? Honestly, though, somehow I don’t see that happening!
A few other thoughts. I could see a guy like John Isner getting out to that semifinal, beating Nadal. I also think Soderling could upset Murray again like he did a week ago.
Overall though, I think we’ll see fewer surprises than we saw in the desert. But I’m all for it if we do!
As for today’s start of the men’s draw, we have some good matches on the schedule. Mario Ancic v. Jeremy Chardy, James Blake v. a rising teen (Krajinovic) and just two of the good matches plus David Nalbandian (who’s lurking in Rafa’s section), Richard Gasquet (remember his Miami “kissing” experience a year ago!) and American future star Ryan Harrison are also playing.
A few late withdraws to speak of were my fragile man Gael Monfils (wrist), Carlos Moya (foot) and Radek Stepanek (perhaps making early wedding arrangements!).
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