What a week for Roger Federer, winning his fifth Indian Wells title slapping around good pal Stan Wawrinka in a 6-4, 7-5 victory Sunday.
And now Federer and the tour shifts to the other coast. Miami offers a change in court conditions, change in climate but will it change the outcome? Can Federer, who has already won the two biggest events of the season thus far, do it again?
His odds definitely improved when the Top 2 in the world, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, both withdrew with elbow injuries. The two had combined to win eight of the last ten Miami Opens. So that’s a big blow to the tournament but good news for the field. And without them, it means Stan Wawrinka is the top seed at a Masters for a first time.
So let’s go to the draw.
Stan Wawrinka Quarter
Stan Wawrinka had never done that well at Indian Wells, but he turned it around last week reaching his first semifinal and then final there. It’s similar for Stan in Miami, only worse because he’s never even made the quarterfinals! And I’m not sure he does it this time, though his draw is good. I just think he’ll peter out somewhere before then. Wawrinka has a good opener then things get tricky with the big-serving Feliciano Lopez followed by either John Isner or Alex Zverev in the fourth. Isner’s been struggling so I like Zverev to punch through and then stun Stan to reach the quarters. And there he gets a rematch with Nick Kyrgios. If he’s healthy, which he should be, Kyrgios gets through Ivo Karlovic, David Goffin and then beats Zverev again to earn his second straight trip to the Miami semifinals.
The Pick: Nick Kyrgios
Roger Federer Quarter
It’s been 11 years since Federer last made the final, beating Ivan Ljubicic for his second and most recent Miami title. Since then he’s only made the semifinals twice. But now he’s got the momentum, got the bigger racquet, but does he have the motivation and the draw? I can’t speak for the motivation, but I can his draw. It’s not quite the Quarter of Death, but it’s tricky. Very tricky because Federer could face Juan Martin del Potro in the third round. Wow, the big Argentine just seems to be snakebit with draws the last year or so. It’s a tough match, one that could either way, but I think Federer gets through, then keeps it going against Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the quarterfinals where his runs ends at the hands of Dominic Thiem. The Austrian, though, could have some trouble early with Borna Coric in his opener before wins over Mannarino and Tomas Berdych. In the heavy, humid conditions, I like Thiem to outslug Roger, who at that point might be a little gassed.
The Pick: Dominic Thiem
Rafael Nadal Quarter
Three of Rafael Nadal’s last five losses in Miami have been to either Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic. With them not in the draw, Rafa, a 4-time finalist, has to be pleased. But to advance he’ll have to get through a slew of 1-handed backhands. There’s Dudi Sela in the opener, then Phil Kohlschreiber followed by Grigor Dimitrov. It’ll be hot, humid and sticky. Those are good Rafa conditions that’ll help. Milos Raonic returns from a hamstring layoff and if he’s healthy I think he’ll serve his way past Mischa Zverev and the red-hot Jack Sock, but not Rafa.
The Pick: Rafael Nadal
Kei Nishikori Quarter
Of the top players, 2016 finalist Kei Nishikori has the best draw of the bunch. OK, Kevin Anderson in his first match is dangerous and so too is Fernando Verdasco, but he’s got Gilles Simon and in the quarters I’ll take Pablo Cuevas. It’s an open section there with Marin Cilic, Lucas Pouille, Joao Sousa and Cuevas. I think Cuevas continues his recent run, enjoys the South American crowd support and comes through to the quarterfinals where he gets picked apart by Nishikori.
The Pick: Kei Nishikori
Dominic Thiem d Nick Kyrgios: Slower courts help Thiem.
Rafael Nadal d Kei Nishikori: Rafa too strong for Kei.
Rafael Nadal d Dominic Thiem: Rafa is due. No Djokovic, no Murray and with Federer out, Rafa finally wins Miami!
Nadal’s been playing well and it just “feels” like he deserves a title after close calls in Melbourne and Acapulco. And I think had he won that Federer match last week at Indian Wells, maybe he takes the title in the desert. So why not in Miami?
And as I said, I like his draw, though I don’t love it. Kohlschreiber can be problematic. Dimitrov can, too. And Nishikori will really make Rafa work. So I don’t think it will be easy.
I also have to wonder how motivated Federer will be. Miami has become an event Roger skips — he’s only played once in last four years — and now after winning Indian Wells one would think withdrawing has to be on the table again. That is unless he thinks he can make a real run at No. 1.
And if Del Potro does beat Federer, he could ride the crowd, get hot and win the title. Wawrinka, Nishikori, Thiem and maybe Kyrgios are others who could come away with the title.
But really, this is yet another wide open event. And it also marks the end of the hard courts until July!
Matches begin on Wednesday.
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