If you had Richard Gasquet and Tommy Haas in your Miami SF bracket give yourself a very large pat on the back, because I doubt anyone on this planet did. After years and years of status quo at the top events – like the Miami Tennis Masters – we finally got a draw that didn’t go to form. That means no Novak Djokovic, no Juan Martin Del Potro and of course no Rafael Nadal/Roger Federer, neither of whom entered the event run by their former management company.
Andy Murray is there as is David Ferrer, but one-handed wizards Gasquet and Haas join in as longshot Cinderellas. And it’s somewhat refreshing.
Haas, who routinely dismantled a slumping(?) Novak Djokovic Tuesday night, is a former No. 2 and a player who I think deserves a better hand than the one he’s been dealt. Haas has suffered through an injury-riddled career yet now just days from turning 35 he’s still ticking and perhaps because of all that missed time he’s fresher than most would be at his age.
Gasquet might also be a late bloomer. “Baby Fed” was his nickname on this site years ago and fittingly so. But he’s never lived up to the billing. The 26-year-old is arguably the most talented player to have never even been to a Slam final. In fact, he’s only been to the quarterfinals ONCE in his Grand Slam career, and he’s never won a Masters title. But like a tease the Frenchman looked darn good last night in a walkthrough over Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-3.
So can these two relative bracket busters continue their run? On to my picks.
Tommy Haas vs. David Ferrer
For two guys in their 30s (both celebrate birthdays next week), this will be just their third career meeting. Ferrer has won both but there’s not much to derive from those matches as their most recent clash was way back in 2008 Dubai and the other at 2005 Paris. A long time ago.
Haas is clearly the hot player here. Beating Djokovic and then backing it up with an equally impressive won over Gilles Simon. Since his first match of the tournament, the German hasn’t even faced a set point. But Ferrer will make Tommy work hard, very hard. And David’s now into his third semifinal in Miami.
“It’s incredible what he’s done the last year,” said Haas on Wednesday. “It’s going to be a great challenge. I haven’t played him in a long time, so I’m looking forward to it.”
With three of the Big Four not around, this is another opportunity for Ferrer, and probably his last one to get a title like Miami. Maybe feeling that pressure, Ferrer stumbled a bit early against Jurgen Melzer yesterday. In his path, he didn’t really beat anyone of signifigance – Fognini? Nishikori? Still, we know Ferrer will give it all he can. But Haas, who trains in nearby Bradenton, will have the crowd with him, the weaponry and above all the momentum.
If Haas plays like he’s been playing and he’s not wiped out from all the tennis he’s played, he should win.
The pick: Haas in two
Richard Gasquet vs. Andy Murray
In the night match, it’s no surprise to see Andy Murray make the final four, but what an event for Gasquet. The Frenchman’s collected three pretty good wins – Youzhny, Almagro and Berdych – and he’s playing his best tennis in a long time.
Murray, meanwhile, has been slogging through, as usual. His win over Marin Cilic was completely forgettable (I lost count of how many service breaks) and even though he hasn’t dropped a set yet it’s hard to say Murray is playing inspired tennis this week. But he’ll need to today against a very sharp Gasquet.
These two have played seven times before and Gasquet has won three of them, but two remarkable chokes cost him additional victories (Wimbledon, French Open). And Gasquet is 2-0 against Murray on hardcourts.
“For sure, I know I can win against Andy,” Gasquet said. “He’s No. 3 in the world. But I know his game. I know how he plays. I play so many times against him. We did great matches in the past. I will do my best to win him. And for sure I have nothing to lose, and I can go on the court to play aggressive and try to win.”
Murray, though, is the US Open champion. He lives in Miami. He’s won this title before and he’s proven he can win these big time matches. And like Ferrer, with the top guys not around, what an opportunity. Gasquet? The talent, the game are there, but what about the consistency to win these kinds of matches? I haven’t seen it. Richard will keep it close….
The pick: Murray in three
ESPN2 concludes its live coverage today with both semifinals. CBS will have the finals this weekend.
FRIDAY MIAMI SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 12:45 pm
 S Errani (ITA) / R Vinci (ITA) vs [WC] L Raymond (USA) / L Robson (GBR) – WTA
Not Before 3:00 PM
 T Haas (GER) vs  D Ferrer (ESP) – ATP
Not Before 7:00 PM
 R Gasquet (FRA) vs  A Murray (GBR) – ATP
 N Petrova (RUS) / K Srebotnik (SLO) vs [WC] S Kuznetsova (RUS) / F Pennetta (ITA) – WTA
COURT 1 start 4:00 PM
Not Before 4:00 PM
G Dimitrov (BUL) / F Nielsen (DEN) vs  M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M Matkowski (POL) – ATP
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Noah Part of March Madness
Djokovic v Murray, Federer v Nishikori; Wednesday Miami QF Picks And Pans
Federer, Roddick Awarded Favorable Draws in Miami