A postcard from - Miami Open 2021

The travelling ATP circus lands in Miami

Welcome to Miami—a must-do stop on every player’s itinerary. The sun is shining, the smell of Cuban coffee wafts through the streets, your body wants to move to the entrancing rhythms of Salsa, and a cool 1000 ATP points await at the end of the fortnight.

This year, courtesy of the pandemic, the Sunshine Double becomes a lonely Sunshine Single. With Indian Wells cancelled for the second year in a row, Miami stands alone as the only tournament of the early American swing. It also marks a break in the hard court season until we come back in the second part of the year—after Miami Open is over, we are jetting off to Europe for the clay and grass court seasons.

But for now…

Party in the city where the heat is on
All night, on the beach till the break of dawn
Bienvenidos a Miami!

The elephants’ absence from the room

Before the tournament had the chance to even begin, the biggest story was a string of big-name withdrawals that left the ATP side of Miami Open at risk of looking like a Sunday afternoon hit at my local club.

Luckily, it was anything but. Despite the absence of some of the biggest names in men’s tennis, the quality on display was definitely not lacking, and it gave us the rare opportunity to glimpse what the Tour may look like in the difficult-to-imagine post-Big 3 era.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Dominic Thiem are just a few of the names on a long list of players missing from this year’s line up.

The Miami hot pot lacked the main ingredients, but—filled with the Next Gen talents of Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Next Next Gen hotshots featuring Emil Ruusuvuori, Sebastian Korda, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, and the Almost Next Gen as embodied by Reilly Opelka, Alexander Bublik and Christian Garin—it was still overflowing with flavour.


No good deed goes unpunished

When ATP ranking points were frozen at the beginning of the pandemic, the idea was unanimously lauded. It afforded the players the flexibility of choosing which event to take part in without the pressure of having to defend their points.

However, once the Tour resumed, and as players started competing in more tournaments, it became evident how difficult it is going to be to dislodge some of the Tour’s long-timers who had amassed a considerable number of points in the year prior to the pandemic.

Playing the ATP500 Acapulco event, Alexander Zverev took a moment to voice his displeasure under the hot Mexican sun.

I am the biggest Roger Federer fan, but he has not played for a year and he is higher ranked than me. I played a Grand Slam final, a Masters 1000 final. The system is just a disaster.

Zverev’s comrade, Andrey Rublev, asked what he thinks about Sascha’s comments, offered a philosophical answer.

“If we would have the normal system, I would be, like, number four in the world, I think. So what do you think is better for me: to be number eight or number four?

In the end, Sascha’s rage against the machine resounded in action—having won the Acapulco tournament, Roger’s biggest fan moves up by one spot in the official rankings to number 6, overtaking his idol.


Standing (a bit less) tall

John Isner, the third tallest tennis player in the world, has been taken down a peg—figuratively speaking.

The American’s fourth-round loss to Roberto Bautista Agut means that, having reached the final in the previous edition of the tournament, he loses 300 ranking points and drops 10 spots to number 38.

Isner falls out of the top 30 for the first time since August 2011, ending a decade-long stay at the top, and relinquishing the top American spot to, 12-years younger and 15-centimetres shorter, Taylor Fritz.


Medvedev’s hairy moment

Daniil Medvedev grew a moustache. There. It had to be said.

Quizzed on his motivation behind such a drastic change of style, Medvedev seemed non-committal.

“I’m going to leave it for this tournament, but probably after the tournament, even if I win it, no superstitions, [I’m] going to shave it off. Just did it for fun. Why not, you know? Just experimenting, maybe going to do something else next time.”

But that was not all for Medvedev’s memorable Miami moments.

In his third-round win over Alexei Popyrin, up a set and serving for the match, Medvedev started feeling his legs. Not long after, severe cramps reduced the Russian to a surprisingly decent caricature of Charlie Chaplin. Admittedly, the moustache helped with the impression.

“At the end, it was just that I almost couldn't walk. My legs were not following me. I couldn't bend it or make it straight, I had to keep the same posture. I couldn't make a step more than, I don't know, 10 centimetres.”

Medvedev struggled to hold on to the lead even as he went 5:3 40:0 up in the second set, eventually squandering three match points. He didn’t see another one for almost an hour when he finally sealed the match.

As for Popyrin, he took his loss in stride.

"I saw he couldn't walk at all, but he was bombing 120-mph serves. He was definitely struggling out there. Props to him that he was able to serve it out."

Despite his quarterfinal loss to Roberto Bautista Agut, Daniil Medvedev joins a very elite group of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to break the barrier of 10,000 ranking points.


Hostile work environment

Vasek Pospisil offered an unparalleled look into the Tour politics by the way of his on-court meltdown in a first-round match against Mackenzie McDonald.

At the end of the first set, Pospisil, who alongside Novak Djokovic spearheads PTPA, the newly formed union aimed at protecting the players’ interests on the Tour, let his nerves get the best of him.

The visibly upset Canadian whacked a ball out of the court, smashed his racquet and angrily confronted the chair umpire, Arnaud Gabas, which cost him the first set after a point penalty. For the benefit of anyone perplexed by the Canadian’s outburst, including Gabas, Pospisil launched into an explanatory rant.

"For an hour and a half yesterday, chair of the ATP, screaming at me in a player meeting for trying to unite the players. For an hour and a half. The leader of the ATP. Get him out here. Why am I supporting this? If you want to default me, I will gladly sue this whole organisation."

Once the mists of rage cleared, Pospisil offered a repentant apology.


The kids are all right

The final match of the tournament pitted two relative newcomers to the big stage. Pole Hubert Hurkacz (24) and Italian Jannik Sinner (19) battled through their respective halves of the draw and met for the first time in the grand final.

For Sinner, this was the first Masters 1000 main draw appearance. Hurkacz, who has been around a little longer, made it his deepest run at a Master 1000 tournament since his 2019 Indian Wells quarterfinal loss to Roger Federer.

Following a few months of subpar tennis by his standards, Hurkacz flew into the tournament under the radar. According to his coach, Craig Boynton, the lack of pressure helped Hurkacz find his best game and produce a series of solid performances en route to the final.

Scoring a routine win in the second round against Dennis Kudla (7:6[5] 6:4), the Pole proceeded to take his revenge on Dennis Shapovalov (6:3 7:6[6]) after a loss two weeks earlier in Dubai, and then had to twice come back from a set down in his wins against Milos Raonic (4:6 6:3 7:6[4]) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (2:6 6:3 6:4). In the semifinal, Hurkacz defeated Andrey Rublev (6:3 6:4) in the pair’s second encounter, playing impressively aggressive tennis that offered a glimpse of the player he could yet become.

Jannik Sinner, for his part, also with a BYE in the first round, defeated the 2020 French Open sensation Hugo Gaston in straight sets (6:2 6:2), battled through Karen Khachanov from a set down (4:6 7:6[2] 6:4), served up a free tennis lesson to Emil Ruusuvuori (6:3 6:2), and took down Alexander Bublik (7:6[5] 6:4).

After his defeat, Bublik, a fine player in his own right, was left bewildered. “You are not a human, man,” he quipped. “You are 15 years old and you play like this. Good job.”

In the semifinal, Sinner came across a spirited challenge from Roberto Bautista Agut, and for a while, it seemed that his impressive maiden Masters 1000 run would come to an end. Ultimately, the young Italian prevailed, once again clawing his way up from a set down and snatching the victory (5:7 6:4 6:4).

In the final, Hubert Hurkacz started off the better player, scoring an early break and holding his serve twice for a 3:0 lead. However, Jannik Sinner broke back shortly after and the two dug deep trading blows.

As during the rest of the tournament, Hurkacz’s serve was a potent weapon keeping his opponent at bay. Sinner, who at this early stage in his development lives and dies by his forehand—and he wasn’t able to find it for most of the match—had more trouble controlling his service games.

Nevertheless, it was Hurkacz who cracked under pressure first, and dropped his serve at 5:5, giving Sinner a chance to serve for the set. The Italian wasn’t able to capitalise on the advantage, and consequently lost his own serve and then the tie break.

In the second set, Hurkacz, already scenting blood, executed an even more ruthless brand of tennis. The Pole, playing much more aggressively than his fans are accustomed to, broke Sinner twice and rushed off to a 4:0 start. He remained firmly in control despite Sinner managing one break back.

This was Hurkacz’s third singles trophy (Maharashtra 2019, Delray Beach 2021) and the first Masters 1000 singles trophy won by any Polish player. He caps off a brilliant fortnight by moving up 21 spots to a career-high number 16.

Despite the disappointing ending, Sinner will look to build on a great tournament, and use this loss as a stepping stone for the future. This was the first but surely not the last final on the big stage for the young man.

🇵🇱 Hubert Hurkacz d. 🇮🇹 Jannik Sinner - 7:6[4] 6:4


Around the net


Big movers

Here are the biggest movers of the week.

Top 10:

  • ⬆️. 6 (+1) Alexander Zverev (Sascha gets his wish and moves one spot above Roger Federer)

Top 50:

  • 🔥 16 (+21) Hubert Hurkacz

  • 🔥 22 (+9) Jannik Sinner

  • ⬆️ 30 (+2) Taylor Fritz (overtakes John Isner to become the highest-ranked American)

  • ⬆️ 50 (+2) Lloyd Harris (the talented South African breaks into top 50)

  • ⬆️ 51 (+5) Cameron Norrie

Other:

  • 🔥 64 (+23) Sebastian Korda

  • ⬆️ 76 (+7) Emil Ruusuvuori

  • 🚀 422 (+452) Dominic Stephan Stricker


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