2016 ATP Miami Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The second Masters tournament of the season starts today in Miami as the ATP World Tour follows the sun and the world’s best players will bask in the beautiful South Florida weather this time of year.
Miami Open presented by Itau
ATP World Tour Masters 1000
Miami, FL, USA
March 23-April 3, 2016
Prize Money: $6,134,605
Top 8 seeds (top 32 seeds receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Andy Murray (2)
3: Roger Federer (3)
4: Stan Wawrinka (4)
5: Rafael Nadal (5)
6: Kei Nishikori (6)
7: Tomas Berdych (7)
8: David Ferrer (8)
The highest ranked players absent in Miami are Kevin Anderson and Bernard Tomic. Fabio Fognini, Ivo Karlovic, Martin Klizan, and Philipp Kohlschreiber are also notably absent.
First round matchups to watch:
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(Q)Yoshihito Nishioka vs. (LL)Jared Donaldson
The young Japanese player Nishioka has an ATP quarterfinal this season (Memphis), and qualified for Miami. His speed and baseline consistency has earned him two previous wins over the American Donaldson. He enters this young gun battle coming off of a semifinal in the Irving challenger and this one should be a competitive contest of potential future top 20 players.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. Ernests Gulbis
Youzhny has won three straight matches over Gulbis, after dropping three straight contests prior to that. This is their first meeting since 2014, and both players have suffered a severe decline to the fringe of the ATP level. The veteran Russian earned his first ATP win of the season after a challenger winning streak, as he won a round in Indian Wells. Gulbis has lost two straight, and has just two ATP wins this season. Both are talented, and earning ATP match wins is essential in a match like this.
Fernando Verdasco vs. Gilles Muller
Verdasco and Muller have split hard court meetings. The veteran Spaniard reached the third round in Indian Wells, while Muller has been in shaky form as of late. His serve and volley game is just 3-4 over his last seven matches. Muller should be a slight favorite, but I have Verdasco pulling this match off.
(Q)Mikhail Kukushkin vs. Brian Baker
Brian Baker will be playing his first ATP match since the Australian Open, as the veteran American continues his comeback attempt after multiple serious injuries. He’ll be a fan favorite as he puts his skills up to the test against Mikhail Kukushkin. The qualifier is a solid player and should prevail, but it’s a good form test for Baker.
Lukas Rosol vs. (Q)Pierre-Hugues Herbert
Herbert is bidding for the top 100. He qualified in both IW and Miami, reached the third round in Melbourne, and won a challenger title this year. The Frenchman is a bit of a doubles specialist, but he has singles skills. Rosol reached a challenger quarterfinal but hasn’t been in great form recently. I would not be surprised to see the Czech get upset in this match.
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Five time and defending champion Novak Djokovic is bidding to overtake Rafael Nadal and become the player with the most ever ATP Masters series titles. Fresh off a victory in Indian Wells the world #1 will go up against either Kyle Edmund or Jiri Vesely. With Vesely on a three match losing streak, and Edmund unimpressive right now as well, Djokovic should cruise into round 3. The seed set to face Djokovic would be Joao Sousa, however the Portugese #1 is currently on a six match losing streak, and the big serving Canadian Vasek Pospisil should beat Diego Schwartzman, and Sousa to reach round 3.
The rising Dominic Thiem won a pair of matches in Indian Wells and he should be able to add at least one more win this spring with an opening match defeat of Sam Groth or Victor Estrella. Estrella is staring down a three match losing streak, while Groth has lost seven straight. Thiem should then get a rematch of a match in Miami last year against Feliciano Lopez. Lopez opens with the Nishioka/Donaldson winner, and won a pair of matches in IW as well. Thiem is 3-1 against Lopez but dropped his last meeting against the Spaniard. Both are in good form, but Thiem has been a cut above most players on tour this year.
#7 seed Tomas Berdych and #10 seed Richard Gasquet are on track for a quarterfinal meeting in a competitive section. Berdych will open with Rajeev Ram or Evgeny Donskoy, and is likely to face young gun Alexander Zverev in round 3. The German opens with wild card Michael Mmoh, with #31 seed Steve Johnson to follow. Zverev reached the round of 16 in IW with three wins, while Berdych earned two IW wins. Berdych won a five setter in Davis Cup action over Zverev recently, and should have an edge. The American Johnson could spoil Zverev’s success however.
Gasquet also won a pair of matches in IW, and presuming he’s healthy, he should dispatch Albert Ramos or qualifier Alejandro Gonzalez in his first match. A struggling Benoit Paire will face Youzhny/Gulbis in round 2 for the right to face Gasquet in round 3. Paire has been poor this year and could well get upset, however I have Gasquet defeating him in round 3.
Roger Federer has two Miami titles, but he hasn’t won the tournament since 2006. Federer is making his spring debut after a knee injury forced him out after the Australian Open. One of the most exciting early round matchups should be his contest against Juan Martin Del Potro. Del Potro will need to defeat his countryman Guido Pella who reached the third round in IW. Del Potro has played well enough in his comeback thus far, but Federer is likely to win their first meeting since the end of 2013 season. Jeremy Chardy is in Federer’s seed line, but he has lost three straight and the Verdasco/Muller winner is likely to be Federer’s third round opponent. Federer is 5-0 against Muller and 6-0 against Verdasco, thus he should advance presuming he’s not rusty.
#15 seed David Goffin is set to face #19 seed Viktor Troicki in round 3. Goffin was a surprise semifinalist in IW with wins over Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic. The Belgian is having a good season and his ballstriking should out do either Bjorn Fratangelo or Marcel Granollers, both of whom are qualifiers. Granollers won a challenger title last week, while Fratangelo took a set off Novak Djokovic in IW. Troicki has lost two matches in a row, but I don’t see him losing to young Russian Andrey Rublev who comes off a challenger quarterfinal. Rublev opens with Inigo Cervantes, a Spanish journeyman. Goffin has a pair of hard court wins over Troicki, and given his better recent form he should safely reach the quarterfinals.
#6 David Ferrer should be on upset alert against qualifier Taylor Fritz in his first match. The Spaniard is just 11-6 this season, and Fritz will be in good form after defeating Italian veteran Simone Bolelli. Fritz isn’t entirely consistent yet, but the talented young gun has the skillset needed for a marquee win. Fritz can make a deep run with wins over Ferrer, and one of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Teymuraz Gabashvili/Lucas Pouille. I have Pouille handing Gabashvili his fourth straight loss, and then upsetting a mediocre Garcia-Lopez to reach the third round. Ferrer, or the dark horse Fritz should advance from there.
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#11 seed Marin Cilic and #18 seed Gilles Simon are set to face off in round 3. Cilic reached the quarterfinals in IW, while Simon is a pedestrian 6-6 this year. Cilic will face either Dennis Novikov or Dusan Lajovic first, while Simon will face Ivan Dodig or Juan Monaco. The veteran Dodig, a recent challenger semifinalist, could upset Simon, and he should beat Monaco, a loser of three straight. Simon is 4-1 against Cilic in the h2h, but given their recent form, Cilic is a clear favorite.
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Two-time Miami champion and resident Andy Murray was stunned by Federico Delbonis in Indian Wells, but he’s still 9-2 on the season, and with a good record in Miami, he has a chance to have a good tournament. His first opponent will be a tough one, Borna Coric should deny Denis Istomin his first ATP win of the season again, to setup a match with Murray. Murray is 2-1 against Coric in the h2h, and he’ll be the favorite, although Borna won a pair of IW matches. Murray’s challenging draw will get no easier in round 3. He could get a rematch with Delbonis, but Delbonis would need to beat Elias Ymer and Grigor Dimitrov, who is 12-6 on the season. Dimitrov is a better hard court player and likely advances. Murray has won his last three meetings against Dimitrov, it’s a tough test, but the world #2 should prevail.
Murray has the toughest draw in the tournament, as #16 seed Gael Monfils is his likely round of 16 opponent. Monfils opens with serve and volleyer Nicolas Mahut or qualifier Tatsuma Ito, The Indian Wells quarterfinalist is 12-4 this season and should defeat Mahut/Ito and one of Pablo Cuevas/Pablo Carreno Busta/John Millman to reach the fourth round. Carreno just lost to Monfils in IW, while Cuevas is mediocre on hard courts and Millman is struggling.
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Kei Nishikori and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will need to navigate challenging sections if they are going to face off in the round of 16. Nishikori will face the Rosol/Herbert winner after reaching the quarterfinals in Indian Wells. Alexandr Dolgopolov should follow in round 3 after defeating Andreas Seppi or a struggling Donald Young. Nishikori is 3-0 against Dolgopolov and in better form, thus he’s the favorite.
The IW quarterfinalist Tsonga should defeat his countryman Paul-Henri Mathieu, a recently challenger finalist, in his first match. PHM opens with a struggling Santiago Giraldo. Tsonga would then be slated to face #17 seed Roberto Bautista Agut in round 3. RBA will be look to move to 17-5 this season with a win over recent challenger finalist Aljaz Bedene. Bedene opens with Roberto Carballes Baena. After two wins over RBA last season, Tsonga lost to him in Auckland this year. It should be a great match, but I give the Frenchman a slight edge to prevail.
Stan Wawrinka is 15-3 on the season, and he’s set to face Andrey Kuznetsov just a few days after defeating him in Indian Wells. The Russian first has to defeat lucky loser Rogerio Dutra Silva. Though he was somewhat unimpressive in IW, the Swiss should dispatch either Sam Querrey or Adrian Mannarino in round 3. Mannarino opens with Illya Marchenko, and has a 1-0 h2h over Querrey. The higher ranked American will likely defeat the in form Frenchman on U.S. soil however. Wawrinka is unlikely to want to face Mannarino after losing to him in Miami last year, he’s 4-1 against Querrey.
John Isner vs. Nick Kyrgios is a highly anticipated third round matchup if it takes place. Isner won a pair of matches in IW and he should be better than his countryman Tim Smyczek, or Tommy Paul in round 2. Both are qualifiers and Smyczek just beat Paul in IW. Kyrgios is likely to face Marcos Baghdatis, presuming the veteran defeats qualifier Benjamin Becker in round 1. I have Baghdatis pulling an upset over Kyrgios in their first meeting. Nick was terrible last week in an opening match IW loss, Baghdatis is well rested, and his experienced and steady attacking play may drive Kyrgios mad. Isner over Baghdatis (6-0 h2h) is my pick for the third round. The American #1 Isner is also 2-0 against Kyrgios.
IW Semifinalist Rafael Nadal, who has never won the title in Miami, will open with Leonardo Mayer or Damir Dzumhur. Mayer is 4-1 in his last five matches but he shouldn’t trouble a seemingly in-form Rafa on hard courts. Nadal should improve to 14-5 on the season with wins over Mayer and the winner of Baker/Kukushkin or Thomaz Bellucci in round 3. I have Kukushkin slipping past a struggling Bellucci before falling to Nadal.
IW finalist Milos Raonic may not be entirely healthy after a great week in IW, but a painful final drubbing. The Canadian #1 opens with either Hyeon Chung (2-0 h2h vs. Kudla) or Denis Kudla and both are credible enough on hard courts to exploit an upset chance if Raonic is wobbly. Still I have Milos serving his way into a third round match with American favorite Jack Sock. Sock opens with serve and volleyer Sergiy Stakhovsky, or wild card Nicolas Jarry in round 2. With Sock just 6-5 on the season, and just 1-6 in his career against Raonic, Milos will be a heavy favorite to reach the round of 16. Since Sock upset Raonic in Memphis back in 2013, the Canadian has won six straight matches against him.
Dark Horses (one for each quarter of the draw): Alexander Zverev, Taylor Fritz, Jack Sock, Borna Coric
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Zverev would need to upset Berdych, but the German young gun is rising and he could go as far as the quarterfinals. Fritz needs to upset Ferrer, but he has a great chance at least the roudn of 16, and possibly the quarters as well. Sock could exploit any weakness in the Raonic section to make a run to at least the round of 16, and Coric will look for his second career win against Murray. Grigor Dimitrov and Federico Delbonis could also make noise in the Murray section, as Delbonis did last week, though Murray is still the most likely to survive.
Round of 16:
Djokovic d. Thiem (1-0 h2h)
Berdych d. Gasquet (6-7 h2h)
Federer d. Goffin (4-0 h2h)
Cilic d. Fritz
Nadal d. Raonic (6-1 h2h)
Isner d. Wawrinka (2-1 h2h)
Nishikori d. Tsonga (5-2 h2h)
Murray d. Monfils (4-2 h2h)
It’s hard to see Djokovic losing to Thiem, Berdych likely has a slight edge on Gasquet given the surface. Federer could be rusty, but he’s always handled Goffin well, Cilic should beat Fritz or Ferrer. Nadal could lose to Raonic, but his h2h is good, Isner should slip past Wawrinka if Stan plays like he did last week. Nishikori beat Tsonga this year in Melbourne, and Murray should have an edge in Miami over Monfils.
Djokovic d. Berdych
Federer d. Cilic
Nadal d. Isner
Murray d. Nishikori
Djokovic should have no problem earning his second win of the year over Berdych, Federer hasn’t faced Cilic since losing to him at the 2014 US Open, but he still should be good enough given his 5-1 h2h. Nadal has never lost to Isner, and his IW showing gives him hope. Murray is vulnerable but he just beat Nishikori in Davis Cup play.
Djokovic d. Federer
Murray d. Nadal
Federer doesn’t have it in him to beat Djokovic at this point, Murray should be better on hard courts vs. Rafa if he can survive a murderers row of opponents.
Djokovic d. Murray
Hard to see Djokovic losing a final as he’s won eight of them in a row. Look for him to take the Masters titles record with a victory in Miami.