American Talents Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul March on at Miami Qualifying
Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
Taylor Fritz justified his position as the top ranked player in the men’s qualifying draw at the Miami Open by reaching his second successive Masters 1000 main draw.
The US Open Boys’ champion is currently ranked 81st in the world and reached his first ATP final in Memphis last month. Opening his Miami campaign against Argentina’s Nicolas Kicker, a player who achieved a ranking high of 155 two weeks ago, the American eased his way to a 6-4, 6-3, victory. Following his straightforward first round win, Fritz encountered a much tougher meeting against wildcard Alex Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov recently ended his three-year title drought by winning a Futures tournament in Canada. Fritz dropped the first set against the world No.422 before clawing his way back to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, to seal his place in the main draw at Miami for the first time.
Fritz’s triumph in Miami was one of a series for American players. Five American men qualified for the main draw for the first time since 2009. Bjorn Fratangelo was another to delight the home crowd. At the BNP Paribas Masters in Indian Wells, the 22-year-old became the fifth player this year to take a set off world No.1 Novak Djokovic. The impressive display by Frantangelo in California continued in Miami with two solid qualifying wins. Facing French 18th seed Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the first round, the American saved two match points in the second set to upset the Frenchman 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. After surviving the scare in the opening round, Frantangelo was more convincing in his second round win over Great Britain’s James Ward. Winning 78% of his first serves and successfully saving 7/7 break points, he eased to a 6-3, 6-3, victory after only 65 minutes of play.
Dennis Novikov’s first experience of the Miami Open is already one that he will remember. The American has a poor record in Masters 1000 tournaments after failing to qualify in three out of his past four attempts since 2012. On his route to his maiden Miami main draw, Novikov started proceedings by defeating 18th seed Ruben Bemelmans 6-4, 6-4. The Belgian player was playing in his first match after being sidelined from action due to back injury. He rounded off his successful qualifying campaign with a 6-1, 7-6(7), win over Argentina’s Marco Trungelliti.
Tommy Paul was the only player in the draw to produce back-to-back wins over seeded players to reach the main draw. Paul is the current french Open Boys’ champion and has won two Futures titles at the start of the year in the Florida cities of Plantation and Sunrise. After a straight sets win over 24th seed Carlos Berlocq, the 18-year-old played 10th seed Rogerio Dutra Silva. At the start of March Silva reached the final of the ATP Cachantun Cup, a Challenger tournament in Chile. The Brazilian was no match for Paul as the teen cruised to a 6-2, 6-3, win.
Completing the American contingent of qualifiers is the experienced Tim Smyczek. Since reaching the quarterfinals at the Delray Beach Open, the American hasn’t won a main draw match after losing to Juan Martin Del Potro in Indian Wells and Jared Donaldson at the Irving Challenger. He will now have an opportunity to end this losing streak following a straight sets win over Christian Harrison and Grega Zemlja in Miami. Since 2011 Smyczek has played three main draw matches at the event, winning just one (first round against Adrian Menendez-Maceiras in 2015).
Apart from the group of American victors, seven players from other countries also booked their place on the main stage of the Masters 1000 tournament. Mikhail Kukushkin, who was the second seed at the tournament, moved to the main draw after overcoming Brazil’s Joao Souza 6-4,7-6(4). The Kazakh player won 81% of his first serves compared to just 38% of his second against Souza. Kukushkin, who has fallen from 46th to 90th in the rankings since October, has only won five main draw matches this year. His best tournament so far this year was the Memphis Open when he reached the quarterfinals before losing to Kei Nishikori.
Marcel Granollers dropped only 11 games to book his place amongst the best in Miami. The Spaniard is currently on a seven match winning streak after winning the BMW Of Dallas Irving Tennis Classic, crushing Aljaz Bedene 6-1, 6-1, in the final, Granollers won his first title on hardcourts since the 2011 Valencia Open. He faced little resistance in Miami after easing his way past Vincent Millot and Alexander Sarkissian during qualifying. He will play in the main draw at Miami for the sixth time in his career.
34-year-old Benjamin Becker is edging closer towards a return back into the top 100. The world No. 102 has reached the quarterfinals at two ATP tournaments this year (Memphis and Delray Beach) as well as the semifinals at a Challenger tournament in Mexico. Seeded seventh in Miami, he endured a mammoth battle in the first round against Czech veteran Radek Stepanek. With the help of 11 aces, the German edged past Stepanek 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Becker also experienced a bumpy ride in his second round match against Italy’s Andrea Arnaboldi. The Italian has had a slow start to the year, winning only two main draw matches. Despite being broken three times in the match, the world No. 100 closed the match out 7-6(4), 6-2.
France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert crushed 2014 US Open Boys’ champion, Omar Jasika, 6-1, 6-0, in his opening match in Miami. Herbert is climbing up the rankings after a good start to 2016 by reaching the third round of the Australian Open before winning the ATP Bergamo Challenger. For a place in the main draw he faced Germany’s Mischa Zverev. Saving 6/10 breakpoints, Herbert sealed a 7-5, 6-2, win after 71 minutes on the court.
Yoshihito Nishioka survived a second round scare to progress to his first ever Masters main draw. After defeating Jozef Kovalik in straight sets during the first round, the 20-year-old faced 9th seed Horacio Zeballos. Zeballos has reached three semifinals so far this year this year on the Challenger circuit. The Japanese player was on the verge of going out as he trailed 4-6, 0-2. He managed to turn the momentum around to upset the higher ranked player 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, in a match that lasted four minutes shy of the two hour mark.
Another Japanese success story occurred for 12th seed Tatsuma Ito. Starting his Miami campaign against Casper Ruud, who is currently ranked No.11 in the junior rankings, he outlasted the 17-year-old 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-1. Next up for Ito was Noah Rubin. Rubin has just broken the top 200 for the first time in his career after qualifying for the main draw in Indian Wells. Ito put a halt to Rubin’s current momentum by taking the encounter 6-4, 6-4.
Completing the 12 qualifying players is Colombia’s Alejandro Gonzalez. In February he reached his first final of the year at the Morelos Challenger in Mexico, where he lost to Gerald Melzer. Facing American talent Jared Donaldson for a chance to qualify, he took the match 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. In his career, Gonzalez has only won one main draw match in Miami which was against Malek Jaziri at the 2014 tournament.
Full list of qualifiers
Rogério Dutra Silva