Tuesday in Total: Every Sony Open Match Previewed!
One day after the women arranged their quarterfinal lineup, the men do the same in a day that features all of the fourth-round ATP matches in Miami as well as the first two women’s quarterfinals.
David Ferrer vs. Kei Nishikori: While their most recent meeting swung decisively in the veteran’s favor, the Japanese star won two of the previous three. Among them was Nishikori’s breakthrough victory at the 2008 US Open, a pulsating five-setter in which the similarities between the two men became apparent, such as their fitness and their high-percentage shot selection. Both can struggle to finish points at times, and both possess underrated weapons in crisp, streamlined two-handed backhands. Neither bombs huge serves, despite improvements in that area, so their solid returning could produce plenty of service breaks on this slow surface. The often-injured Nishikori recently won his third career championship in Memphis, while Ferrer already has claimed two titles this year.
Serena Williams vs. Li Na: Muddling through her previous match, the top seed will need to raise her level significantly—or at least sooner—when the level of competition soars. Li has stayed torrid for longer than she usually does, following her Australian rampage with three straight-sets victories here that revealed minimal rust after her injury. Although she has won only one of their seven meetings, the six tiebreaks and three three-setters prove that she can trouble Serena with her pinpoint groundstrokes and penetrating first serve. The Chinese star has moved much more alertly and sustained a more even level in matches than her quarterfinal opponent, who has traced the opposite of her usual progression through tournaments. Instead of growing more intent with each round, Serena has looked increasingly disinterested, never a fault of which one could accuse Li.
Andreas Seppi vs. Andy Murray: Having defeated two rising stars in Grigor Dimitrov and Bernard Tomic, Murray now faces someone on the opposite end of his career. Lacking real weapons to hurt the Scot, Seppi can neither outhit him nor outlast him from the baseline, and his tepid second serve should allow his opponent to showcase his stinging return. Murray lost his first meeting with Seppi on his home soil in Nottingham, but he has won all eight of their sets since then with one match on each of the four main surfaces (outdoor hard, indoor hard, clay, grass). In one caveat, he has not faced the Italian since the latter’s surge that started a year ago and propelled him into the top 20. This year has proved less successful for Seppi, who has not in fact defeated anyone in the top eight during his renaissance.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Marin Cilic: A stark contrast to the preceding match, this clash of two heavy servers marks just the second hard-court meeting between them at an ATP tournament. Tsonga moved past Cilic routinely at Cincinnati two years ago, but that much faster court played to his strengths more than the slow court does here. Whereas he looks for chances to step inside the court and approach the net, Cilic remains tethered to the baseline and uses his steadier, symmetrical groundstrokes to stretch his opponents laterally. He has won all seven of his tiebreaks at ATP events this year, a testament to this calm, lanky Croat’s poise when sets hang in the balance. Also stellar in that area recently, the more flammable Tsonga won a small title in February two weeks after Cilic did the same. Just three ranking spots separate them despite the Frenchman’s clearly more impressive career resume.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Kirsten Flipkens: The Miami tournament has produced plenty of surprises, few more notable than the quarterfinal appearance of this Belgian. Her mentor, Kim Clijsters, won this title twice with a more athletic, balanced game than what Flipkens needed to deploy in upsetting Petra Kvitova and backing up that statement with a victory over the raw Ajla Tomljanovic. This match would not seem unduly concerning for the defending champion, although she faces an opponent who can take time away from her, shorten points, and cut off angles at the net. Only once have they met, in Fed Cup three years ago, so both players may need time to adapt their distinctive styles to each other. Each woman has played a series of three-setters lately, suggesting ebbs and flows in their form. Having found the belief to win a set from Azarenka at Indian Wells, Flipkens needs to find it and keep it against the resilient Pole.
Novak Djokovic vs. Tommy Haas: The German has troubled the Djoker occasionally, defeating him at Wimbledon in 2009 and extending him to a final set at the Rogers Cup just last year. In three previous meetings at Masters 1000 hard-court tournaments, though, the world #1 has prevailed every time. He looks far more focused and purposeful this week than he did at Indian Wells, mirroring the trajectory that he traced at the twin events in 2012. That said, neither of his first two opponents approached the talents of the 18th-ranked Haas, who has drawn additional motivation this week from the presence of his daughter, Valentina. Djokovic relishes the spectacle of playing under the lights, so an upset looks less probable than he might have if Miami had scheduled the match before Valentina’s bedtime. The Serb’s consistency should undo the mercurial Haas on these slow courts as he extends the veteran into too many long, physically grinding rallies.
Albert Ramos vs. Jurgen Melzer: Not the fourth-round match that anyone anticipated in this section, it unfolds amid the wreckage left behind by Juan Martin Del Potro’s early exit. As one might expect, it marks the first career meeting between these two lefties, for either of whom a Masters 1000 quarterfinal would mark a substantial accomplishment. After winning the Dallas challenger last week, Melzer carried his confidence through two comebacks from losing the first set here. Ramos also weathered peaks and valleys in his form through consecutive three-setters against Juan Monaco, the second-highest seed in the section outside Del Potro, and home hope James Blake. Melzer owns the more imposing weapons, so the Spaniard should find himself in a counterpunching role. But that role may be the easier to play on these courts with so much at stake.
Richard Gasquet vs. Nicolas Almagro: For the second straight match, Gasquet faces a fellow practitioner of the one-handed backhand art. The florid sweep of Almagro’s swing should contrast elegantly with the elongated but more explosive swat that Gasquet produces. Like Tsonga and Cilic, these Europeans stand almost adjacent in the rankings, but the similarity in their backhands is echoed by other parallels in their playing styles. Both can forget to put substance before style with their fondness for spectacular shot-making displays, and both have proven themselves vulnerable when the time arrives to finish matches. Whereas Almagro spent last month on South American clay, Gasquet remained on hard courts in Europe. That preparation might prove more meaningful in Miami, although he lost their only meeting on hard courts in 2011.
Sam Querrey vs. Tomas Berdych: Flirting with disaster in each of his first two matches, Berdych lost the first set in both, rallied to win the second set in a tiebreak, and then established control early in the final set. He even saved two match points against Alejandro Falla yesterday, one with an audacious second-serve ace, and displayed some uncharacteristic patience in constructing the rallies that turned the momentum. Receiving a walkover from Milos Raonic, Querrey may have needed the respite after he too rallied from losing the first set to win the only match that he has played here. He defeated Berdych at the 2008 US Open, but the Czech has sezied command since then with three straight victories in the second half of last year. Once infamous for losses to anonymous opponents, the fourth seed has improved his consistency dramatically and rarely has lost to anyone outside the top eight over the last several months. The last American man standing will enjoy the support of the home crowd as he attempts to outslug Berdych in a match of staccato serve-forehand combinations.
Gilles Simon vs. Janko Tipsarevic: The world No. 9 trails the overall head-to-head 6-2 in a rivalry that has developed only recently. Five of the matches have reached a final set, where Simon’s superior fitness has reaped rewards, and the surface speed appears to have played a role. Tipsarevic’s two victories came on two of the fastest courts where they have met, the blue clay of Madrid and the fall Tokyo tournament, while Simon won here two years ago. Almost comically dismal at Indian Wells, the Frenchman has sharpened his game considerably through the first two matches—but so has the Serb, who surprised some by defeating the recently more dangerous Kevin Anderson. This match should feature plenty of long rallies, but Tipsarevic will try to redirect his groundstrokes down both lines to keep Simon on his heels.