You have to go back to Paris 2004 (Marat Safin def. Radek Stepanek) to find the last time none of the Big 4 participated at an ATP Masters event. That changes this week in Miami where the four biggest stars — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — all passed on the very first Masters event of 2021.
Tournament champions collect about $300K for the title. That amount is far less than a Federer, Nadal or Djokovic command on the open market in appearance fees, which can go north of $1M. Plus, dealing with American travel, the Miami bubble and it being a one-off hard court event ahead of the clay, makes the trip for non-North Americans that much less appealing. And several others including Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka and Gael Monfils also pulled out.
So aside from Murray, those many players will have some extra time on clay — as if Nadal needs it!
With Novak and Rafa out, it’s a great opportunity for guys like Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas to pad their resumes and rankings.
Odds are, you have to think the title is going to this “New 4”. Maybe a Canadian like Denis Shapovalov, Milos Raonic or former semifinalist Felix Auger Aliassime can sneak one out, but I think the list of guys who can win it is still short.
On to the draw.
DANIIL MEDVEDEV QUARTER
The Russian will make his court debut as a World No. 2 and a first-time top seeding at a Masters. And he didn’t get an easy draw. While the names may not be big, the opponents literally are. He could get Sam Querrey in the second, then Reilly Opelka, followed by Frances Tiafoe and in the quarters it could be John Isner who has made the finals of the last two Miami Opens, winning in 2018 over Zverev. So it could be a tall order. Or not. Opelka hasn’t been playing great so Medvedev should have his way in that match. Then Dan Evans or the young Canadian Auger-Aliassime in the quarters. I think FAA gets through Isner, who’s also been in a slump, and then Roberto Bautista Agut. As long as Medvedev avoids Dusan Lajovic in the fourth round, he’ll be fine (both his losses since Vienna have been to Serbs!).
The Pick: Daniil Medvedev
ALEXANDER ZVEREV QUARTER
After failing to live up to expectations the last few years, things are finally coming together for Zverev. No longer an underachiever in Slams, he’s now a bona fide threat for the No. 1 ranking in a post-Big 3 era. He also made the Miami final in 2018 and I like his draw enough out to the semifinals. The 23-year-old who just won Acapulco could face the Spanish teen Carlos Alcaraz (again) in his opener, then Nikolaz Basilashvili and in the fourth the young Italian phenom Jannik Sinner. That bottom 16 of the top half is wide open with Grigor Dimitrov, Taylor Fritz, Alexander Bublik and David Goffin, none of whom inspire a lot of confidence. So on the home soil, I’ll go with the friendly Fritz to make the Elite Eight but fall to Zverev.
The Pick: Alexander Zverev
ANDREY RUBLEV QUARTER
Yeah, I’m going chalk again. After taking the top seeds in the first two quarters, why not the third and Andrey Rublev? The Russian No. 2 might have to deal with Tennys Sandgren, Marton Fucsovics and then in the fourth I’ll take the other Italian teen Lorenzo Musetti to emerge from a open section. In that quarter for Rublev, it looks like it will among 2021 breakout star Aslan Karatsev, Fabio Fognini and Sebastian Korda. Playing in his home state where he made the Delray Beach final to start the year, I’ll go with the 20-year-old Korda to surprise. But Rublev’s firepower puts him in the Final Four.
The Pick: Andrey Rublev
STEFANOS TSITSIPAS QUARTER
Do I really go all four top seeds in the semifinals? Nah. It’s not happening. It’s March Madness so someone is going to get bounced and I think that someone is Tsitsipas. While he did just make the Acapulco final and he beat Rafa in Melbourne, I just think he’s going to stumble in Miami. And the draw could be tough at the start with consecutive US Open finalists in Kevin Anderson and Kei Nishikori, then Alex De Minaur followed by one of the Canadians in Shapovalov or Raonic. Shapovalov beat Tsitsipas in the 2019 Miami fourth round and I’ll take the lefty to repeat the feat again. Denis, who made the Dubai semis last week, seems due for a big run at a big event. This is it.
The Pick: Denis Shapovalov
Medvedev d Zverev: Too bad they were on the same side of the draw (both won their last events), otherwise this would have been the final. Medvedev’s won the last three meetings, so let’s make it four.
Rublev d Shapovalov: Shapovalov also beat Rublev in the 2019 Miami event, but the Russian gets his revenge.
Medvedev d Rublev: The rematch from their one-sided Australian Open quarterfinal goes the same way. Medvedev never lost to his younger countryman and he knows what it’s like winning big Masters events. He’s already got four of them.
Times indeed are a changin’. It’s 2021 and while Djokovic is still on top, there’s a sense that by the end of 2022 that’s going to end. Federer’s no longer a serious threat to win these type of events and with each passing month it’s going to be tougher and tougher for Nadal to dominate again on hard courts. Thiem is also still a factor, but among the young guys there appears to be some separation with Medvedev, Zverev, Tsitsipas and Rublev pulling away from the pack.
With the completely Big 4 out of the way this week, they’ll have the stage and the spotlight all to themselves. Let’s see how they handle it.
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