Keys to Biscayne (II): Miami ATP Draw Preview

Now the top two seeds in Miami, will these men meet in the final again?

Even without Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the Sony Open ATP draw features plenty of dazzling stars to sparkle on Miami spring nights.  Here is the companion to the women’s quarter-by-quarter preview.

First quarter:  When he absorbed a disappointing loss in an Indian Wells semifinal last year, Novak Djokovic bounced back by winning his third Miami title without the loss of a set.  The world #1 benefited from a comfortable route to the final that year, and he can anticipate a similarly undemanding route at least until the semifinals this time.  His returns and passing shots should ward off the closest seed to him, Feliciano Lopez, while another potential third-round opponent in Evgeny Donskoy won a set from Murray at Indian Wells but lacks the experience to finish the job.  Aligned to meet Djokovic in the following round is Tommy Haas, who defeated him at Wimbledon four years ago and became the only man to win a set from him at the Rogers Cup last summer.  The 34-year-old German may find a few obstacles barring his path to the Serb, however, such as 2008 champion Nikolay Davydenko.   An upset of the seeded but struggling Alexandr Dolgopolov lies well within the Russian’s grasp.

Unable to win a match since the Australian Open, where he exited via retirement, Janko Tipsarevic absorbed ignominious routs at Dubai and Indian Wells.  Djokovic’s compatriot thus would count any victories in Miami as a step forward, and  a quarterfinal appearance opposite his fellow Serb would surpass expectations.  A menacing figure in his section, the South African leviathan Kevin Anderson reached his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal last week, continuing a strong upward trend from the season’s beginning.  If Anderson can upset Tipsarevic, he might face Gilles Simon for the second straight tournament.  Also of some interest in this area is Lleyton Hewitt, who justified his Indian Wells wildcard with a third-round appearance and received another here.  Anderson defeated Djokovic in Miami during the latter’s sophomore slump in 2009-10, creating a revenge subplot should they meet again.

Semifinalist:  Djokovic

Second quarter:  As he did at Indian Wells, Juan Martin Del Potro finds himself in a quarter with the draw’s third seed and in the same half as the world #1.  The Indian Wells runner-up expressed his eagerness to build on his accomplishments there in Miami, where he reached the semifinals in 2009 by upsetting Nadal.  But the arduous finish to that fortnight, playing three three-setters against the top five in three days, may have blunted his energy.  Fortunately for Del Potro, the highest-ranked man in his eighth has not won a set this year outside Davis Cup.  A surprise semifinalist in Miami last year, Juan Monaco briefly reached the top ten afterwards before struggling with injuries in recent months.  Perhaps more likely to meet Del Potro in the fourth round is the mercurial Julien Benneteau, who reached the Rotterdam final in February following another upset of Federer.  This section also contains two young stars still searching to fulfill their promise in Ryan Harrison and Ricardas Berankis.  Both have draws that could allow them to win a match or two, gaining crucial ground in the rankings.

The leading Spaniard here following Nadal’s withdrawal, David Ferrer hopes to bounce back from his opening loss to Anderson in the California desert, which cost him his top-four status.  Some dangerous shot-makers on recent hot streaks lurk in his section, including Dmitry Tursunov and Jeremy Chardy.  A qualifier here like Gulbis in Indian Wells, the Russian scored several victories at February main-draw events, while the Frenchman recorded his best career result by far with an Australian Open quarterfinal.  An all-French first-round clash between Benoit Paire and Michael Llodra also intrigues, as does the presence of Memphis champion Kei Nishikori.  The recurrently injured Japanese star has collected some success against Ferrer on prominent stages, but his physical condition looked questionable at Indian Wells.  Defeating Del Potro here last year, Ferrer may find the Argentine a more challenging opponent with his confidence restored.

Semifinalist:  Del Potro

Third quarter:  Not for some time, if ever, has Tomas Berdych held a top-four seed at an event of this magnitude.  When the Indian Wells draw opened for him in the wake of Ferrer’s early loss, he capitalized on the opportunity to reach the semifinals without losing a set.  Berdych rarely has excelled at stringing together impressive results, though, despite some improvements in that area over the last year.  He has dominated his hard-court meetings with third-round opponent Fernando Verdasco, who played so poorly at Indian Wells that he apologized on Twitter afterward.  Towering servers Milos Raonic and Sam Querrey look set to collide in the third round above, for only a few qualifiers stand between them.  The new top-ranked American man, Querrey has enjoyed previous success against Raonic, whom most consider the more promising talent.  Either would present an intriguing test for Berdych in the final sixteen, likely to produce a battle of few break points or long rallies.

Unable to take a set from the Czech at Indian Wells, notwithstanding a string of break points, Richard Gasquet could meet him again in the Miami quarterfinals.  Already a two-time titlist in 2013, the Frenchman has defeated most of the opponents whom he should without registering a single notable victory.  That level of achievement has sufficed to keep him in the top ten, just ahead of projected fourth-round opponent Nicolas Almagro.  Emotional peaks and valleys have defined this Spaniard’s season, filled with accomplishments like an Australian Open quarterfinal and disappointments like the two-set lead that escaped him in that match.  In addition to those of Gasquet and Almagro, other graceful one-handed backhands populate this eighth of the draw, such as those of Mikhail Youzhny and Philipp Kohlschreiber.  All more flamboyant and less reliable than Berdych, any of these four men would create an intriguing contrast in styles with him, but another episode of the Berdych-Almagro feud might offer the best entertainment.

Semifinalist:  Berdych

Fourth quarter:  Somewhat rusty in his return from a long hiatus at Indian Wells, Andy Murray should bring crisper form to the second Masters 1000 tournament in North America, where he has enjoyed better results than at its predecessor.  A runner-up here last year, Murray can look ahead to a potentially thorny draw filled with ambitious rising stars.  First in line is Bernard Tomic, the enigmatic Aussie who has shown signs of growing more mature—and hence more consistent—in 2013, although only by the Death Valley level that he had set previously.  Next would come Grigor Dimitrov, on the verge of taking a set from Djokovic at Indian Wells had he not double-faulted away his chance in an embarrassing implosion from which he may need time to recover.  Adjusting to his status as a seeded player in these marquee draws, Jerzy Janowicz has won a handful of matches this year but has not approached the quality of first-strike tennis that ambushed so many higher-ranked opponents in Paris.

Once he moves past Janowicz or Andreas Seppi in the fourth round, Murray should fancy his chances of progressing further against an odd collection of players who have underachieved over the last several months.  Foremost among them is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who produced a similar result to Murray at Indian Wells in that he advanced with greater difficulty than expected against his first few opponents and departed when he met his first elite opponent.  That trend has grown routine for Tsonga since the start of 2012, though, since when he possesses just a single victory over a higher-ranked opponent despite a handful of competitive matches against that group.  Far more desperate is the situation confronted by John Isner, gone in his Indian Wells opener as a miserable season that started with a knee injury grows no brighter.  The luster also has dimmed on the strong 2012 summer recorded by Marin Cilic, who won Zagreb but has left no impact on tournaments of greater note.  Murray’s agility and talent for disrupting powerful games seems well-designed to defusing any of these men, all of whom have struggled against him before.

Semifinalist:  Murray

Coverage of Miami will continue as the tournament progresses with previews of key matches and reflections on any intriguing stories as they unfold.