by Randy Walker
The Miami Open will be more unpredictable than it has been in years in 2017 with many question marks and absences entering this’s year’s event.
Both world No. 1 Andy Murray and world No. 2 Novak Djokovic are both out of the men’s event – both with elbow injuries! The duo have combined to win the last six Miami Open titles – and seven of the last eight! Djokovic alone has won the last three titles and six titles in all in Key Biscayne since 2007, one of this first break-through tournament wins on the ATP World Tour. On the women’s side, eight-time champion and world No. 2 Serena Williams is out with a knee injury, joining defending champ Vika Azarenka (maternity leave), Maria Sharapova (suspension) and Petra Kvitova (hand injury) on the sidelines.
All of the absences, however, will provide new excitement and a new look to the event from the past few years.
Roger Federer is the old, new face of men’s tennis coming into Miami in a resurgence, having won the Australian Open in January for his 18th major title, and the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Sunday for a fifth time. Federer has won two titles in Key Biscayne, but not since 2006 when he beat his current coach Ivan Ljubicic in the final.
Miami is one of the few titles Nadal has not won in his career, losing in the final in 2005 (to Federer, despite a two-sets-to-love lead in the best-of-five-set final), 2008, 2011 and 2014, losing the last two to Djokovic. Nadal could have extra motivation to fill the Miami void on his career resume.
While the elevation and heat in Indian Wells called for faster play, the humidity, wind and sea-level altitude creates for slower conditions that could be favorable to Nadal or Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina. Miami has often been regarded as the biggest tournament in Latin America as crowds have had a heavy South American influence. A Davis Cup-type atmosphere with enthusiastic Argentinean fans of Del Potro could buoy his chances to win what would be the second-biggest individual title of his career after his 2009 U.S. Open title.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka is showing that he is a threat to take Djokovic’s No. 2 ranking, or even threaten to be the next world No. 1. After his U.S. Open win in September, he reached the semifinals in Australia and reached the Indian Wells final where he lost to Federer. Dominic Thiem, David Goffin, and Grigor Dimitrov are also candidates for a signature breakthrough tournament win as well as Kei Nishikori, who lost to Djokovic in the 2016 final.
Could Miami be the launch point for the immensely talented Nick Kyrgios of Australia to win a big title like Djokovic did there in 2007? The Australian has beaten Djokovic in the last two events – in Acapulco, Mexico and Indian Wells, where food poisoning prevented him from playing Federer in the quarterfinals.
For the women, Serena Williams has won the title eight times and Venus Williams has won three titles. Both Australian Open finalists love to play in the South Florida sun and humidity just 90 minutes from their Palm Beach Gardens homes. However, with Serena on the sidelines, it will be up to Venus to represent the Williams family this year in their home tournament.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Angelique Kerber of Germany is back in the No. 1 world ranking and will look to add another signature hard court title to her 2016 titles at Flushing Meadows, at the Australian Open in Melbourne Park and her silver medal from the Rio Olympics.
Elena Vesnina of Russia comes into Miami playing the best tennis having won in Indian Wells for the biggest win of her career and will have to avoid the emotional let-down in Miami. Svetlana Kuznetsova, who Vesnina beat in the Indian Wells final, seems to play her best tennis in Miami, handing Serena Williams a rare loss there last year in the round of 16 en route to the final, while also winning the title in 2006.
Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, the 2016 U.S. Open runner-up, may also continue to show that she is future contender for the No. 1 ranking and for the biggest titles in the world in Miami. Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, the reigning French Open champion, will be a fan favorite with her South American roots being born in Venezuela. Aga Radwanska, the 2012 Miami champion, is one of only three former women’s champs in the field, joining Kuznetsova and Venus Williams. Two young Americans are worth keeping an eye on, Madison Keys, who finished fourth at the Olympic Games, and Coco Vandeweghe, who reached the semifinals of the Australian Open.