AROUND THE CORNER: MIAMI MASTERS

Fresh off from a very intriguing tournament in India Wells, the ATP Tour now heads east to Miami for the next Masters 1000 event – the Sony Ericsson Open. Anyone willing to put money on another Roddick/Ljubicic final? Didn’t think so.

Well for starters the two are paired in the same half of the draw, so a meeting in the finals in Miami is a physical impossibility. I somehow doubt anyone would have guessed the 31 year old Ljubicic would have had such an amazing run in a big event like Indian Wells, and yet he captured his fist Masters Series event by defeating top-level talent like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and then Andy Roddick. A nice feather in his cap as retirement draws nearer, but not something that will be repeated.

Instead look for a big name like Murray (the defending champ) or Djokovic (winner in 2007) to capture the title in Miami.

In the top half of the draw we have world number one Roger Federer who still is shaking off the rust from a month and a half layoff after winning the Australian Open. Federer lost a match against Marcos Baghdatis in the third round at Indian Wells that he led 4-1 in the third set and had several match points as well. That can only be chalked-up to inactivity. Federer might need a bit more time to get back to his usual self out there, so don’t expect a big run in Miami – but don’t count him out either! Federer has a first round bye and then a pretty easy go until a potential fourth round meeting with Tomas Berdych.

Fernando Verdasco and Marin Cilic are two players who could cause Federer some trouble in his quarter of the draw and both will be looking to post a good result for the first time since the Aussie Open. Verdasco is 3-3 since winning in San Jose in February while Cilic has cooled considerably since starting the year with two titles and his first Slam semi-final.

Andy Murray heads up the other quarter in the top section of the draw and it is definitely time that he stepped up his game. After losing his second Slam final to Federer in Australia, Murray tanked in Dubai and was then beaten in straight sets last week against Robin Soderling. I’m not sure why Murray has played such a light schedule in 2010, perhaps he really does spend too much time playing video games. Either way, he is due for a title and what better place to grab one than in the exact spot he did a year ago. Murray’s draw should allow him to advance to the quarters before being tested, perhaps again, by Soderling.

In the bottom half of the draw look for quarter final matches between Tsonga/Nadal and Djokovic/Roddick. Tournament organizers will certainly be hoping for those outcomes. Tsonga has been quiet since the Aussie Open but has a nice section of the draw where his toughest competition will come from Philipp Kohlschreiber and John Isner. Nadal looked fit at Indian Wells and should be able to at least make it through to the quarters here in Miami. A returning David Nalbandian is in his section but the Argentine has a long way to go in his return from injury before being considered a threat. Let’s hope Rafa can stay healthy because the tour is much more interesting when he is in the mix.

Djokovic should advance in his section as should Roddick – although I wonder if the American is due for a slip-up after starting the year so strongly. A guy like Igor Andreev could trouble him in the early-goings.

Enjoy this last hard-court tournament before the clay-court season gets started next week at three European locations. The lead-up to the French Open is just around the corner.