The second of back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 events kicks off on Wednesday. The Miami Open will be without Roger Federer who chose not to compete while Marin Cilic is the only other top 20 player not available this week.
Novak Djokovic secured his 21st career Masters title with a three set win over Federer at Indian Wells over the week, overcoming a second set collapse to take victory. Without the World No.2, the Serbian’s case for favouritism becomes even stronger as he edges closer to the 27 titles (and counting) record set by Rafael Nadal.
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With Martin Klizan or Paolo Lorenzi unlikely to put up much of a fight, even on a court like Miami’s, it will be up to Gilles Muller to pose the first threat. The Luxembourger does already have three top 20 wins to his name but came up short on each occasion against the top 10 this year. One of these was against Djokovic at the Australian Open, which Djokovic was a 6-4 7-5 7-5 victor in.
The four times winner is 19-2 on the year and would be projected to face an opponent in round four whom he lost to on their last meeting. 16th seed Tommy Robredo was a straight sets winner in Cincinnati but is 2-6 overall against the Serbian. Robredo will likely need to beat Alexandr Dolgopolov (faces Ricardas Berankis) and Pablo Cuevas to make it to the fourth round. Cuevas won the only meeting between he and Robredo but that was on the clay of Umag last year.
Aside from Federer in Dubai, Ivo Karlovic is the only player to defeat Djokovic this year. The big serving Croatian was broken just once in a 6-7 7-6 6-4 win in Doha. At 36, Karlovic is closing in on the top 20 with only second round points to defend this week. He begins with a qualifier with 12th seed Gilles Simon likely waiting in round three. He is 2-2 against the Frenchman although their most recent meeting was four years ago. Simon made the round of 16 last week in Indian Wells but lost fairly routinely to Rafael Nadal to exit from the competition.
After a 19-1 run to begin the year, David Ferrer finally ran out of steam at Indian Wells. He was a straight sets loser to Bernard Tomic, an opponent he had dealt with handily in the past. One of Ferrer’s 19 wins on the year was against Karlovic on his way to the Doha title, the first of three so far this year.
With the withdrawal of Roger Federer, a shift in seedings sees Kei Nishikori move into one of the top four spots. If both make the semi finals, he and Novak Djokovic will face each other outdoors for the first time since Nishikori’s shock US Open semi final win. Mikail Youzhny looks to extend a 5-1 head to head over Andrey Golubev with the winner taking on Nishikori. Viktor Troicki squeezes in as the 32 seed for the final bye but Marcos Baghdatis and Simone Bolelli are hardly easy opponents in round two, especially given Troicki was defeated in straights by Albert Ramos last time out.
An intriguing clash between two of the 2014 ATP World Tour Awards winners can play out if both seeds make the third round. Most Improved Player Roberto Bautista Agut plays a qualifier while David Goffin (Comeback Player of the Year) will begin against Borna Coric or Andreas Haider Maurer.
Some notable names complete the rest of the top half, headed by Milos Raonic who will look to reignite his rivalry with Nishikori. It is one that Nishikori leads 5-2 although they have split a pair in 2015 after Nishikori won in Davis Cup action this month, needing 5 sets to do so. Raonic has six losses on the year but only one has come against a player outside the top 10 – Simone Bolelli in Marseille. Raonic is 5-0 against projected 3rd round opponent Jeremy Chardy while the other two potential opponents in Ryan Harrison and Jurgen Melzer both have wins over the Canadian on American hard courts.
John Isner bounced back somewhat at Indian Wells with a run to the 4th round, losing to Djokovic in straight sets. He opens with either Pablo Carreno Busta or Andrey Rublev. Rublev will be taking part in his first Masters 1000 event after an impressive Junior run last year. A win over Carreno Busta may be possible but Isner should be a step too far for the young Russian. In what will be just his fourth match in over a year, Juan Martin Del Potro will face Vasek Pospisil. A mini-comeback in Sydney proved futile and just further put back his return as he was unable to compete in Melbourne without the possibility of pain. 9th seed Grigor Dimitrov plays the winner of this match.
Stanislas Wawrinka has never gone beyond the fourth round in Miami in six attempts but will have his best chance so far as the no.7 seed. Highly rated Aussie wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis made a bit of a splash at Indian Wells with a run to the fourth round but he will have his work cut out in round two assuming he can see off Carlos Berlocq. Adrian Mannarino is another off a fourth round appearance there, having his run ended by Andy Murray.
Mannarino was unseeded last week as a winner over Gulbis and Fabio Fognini who, although unlikely, he could meet in round four. Fognini’s hard court form continues to be poor for a player nearing the top 20 and he could be a target for Jack Sock in round two. Sock won three matches from a set down at Indian Wells, most impressively against Roberto Bautista Agut, before losing to Roger Federer in straight sets. 10th seed Feliciano Lopez picked up an impressive victory over Kei Nishikori before succumbing to Andy Murray at Indian Wells. The Spaniard has a fairly straightforward opener, facing either Dominic Thiem or Diego Schwartzman.
Andy Murray had a fairly easy time on his way to the semi finals at Indian Wells but his struggles against the elite continued, with him still remaining winless against the rest of the Big 4 since Wimbledon 2013. Djokovic being in the opposite side of the draw is a bonus but Murray was still blasted off the court by Wawrinka on the last two occasions they met, winning 12 games over 5 sets. He opens against either Donald Young or Yen-Hsun Lu, the former of which he beat in Davis Cup action very recently.
An all-Brit third round is possible, albeit unlikely, with Kyle Edmund facing a qualifier for the opportunity to play Santiago Giraldo. The Colombian is 8-15 on hard courts over the past year though, which should be a confidence booster for whoever takes him on in round two. 15th seed Kevin Anderson seems the most likely opponent for Murray in round four with Sam Querrey and Leonardo Mayer the expected opponents between him and the World No.4.
The final quarter is headed by Rafael Nadal who looks to bounce back after his quarter final, match-point up loss to Milos Raonic. His road to the final is paved with Spaniards with Nicolas Almagro possibly up first, although on his day Sergiy Stakhovsky can be a tough opponent. Fernando Verdasco awaits in round three if he can defeat a qualifier while the two seeds he could face in round four are either Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or an out of form Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis did manage to win his first match of the year but given he was then sent out in straights by Adrian Mannarino in the next round, it seems to say more about his opponent Daniel Gimeno Traver than suggest any return to form.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will play his first match of the year against a qualifier or Tim Smyczek. Smyczek comes into the tournament in decent form after making the final of a strong Irving Challenger. Gael Monfils could also face a qualifier in round two, with Dusan Lajovic the alternative.
A run to the quarter finals at Indian Wells, including a win over David Ferrer, suggested good things are to come for Bernard Tomic only for him to have to withdraw from the event. He likely should be fine and has a good chance to reach a career high ranking this week if he can win a few matches. Denis Istomin or a qualifier is up first but Tomas Berdych will be a tough ask in round three. The Czech is 3-0 against Tomic although they have never met in a three set format.
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