By Jürgen Fritz, Wed 24 Mar 2021, Cover picture: YouTube-Screenshot
The Miami Open 2021, the first Masters 1000 Tournament (C) of the year, starts today. In the absence of Djokovic, Nadal, Thiem, Federer and Berrittini, there is a huge chance for Medvedev and Zverev to win their fourth career C title, and for Tsitsipas and Rublev to win their first. Medvedev, Rublev and Tsitsipas can even overtake Djokovic and take the lead in the ATP Race to Turin. But let’s take a closer look.
Five important withdrawals
The Miami Open is considered the most prestigious of the nine Masters 1000s after Indian Wells, which was postponed indefinitely because of the pandemic, and next to Madrid. Only in Indian Wells and Miami is it not played in a 56-player (in Paris-Bercy even only in a 48-player) main draw, as is usually the case in C tournaments, but in a 96-player main draw.
The nine Masters 1000 tournaments (C) are very difficult to win, unlike the 40 or so ATP 250s (E), because they usually feature not 20 or 30, but at least 60 to 80 percent of the world’s elite, sometimes even more. This year, however, things look different. As many as five top ten players have cancelled Miami this year. And these five absentees are quite something.
One of the most painful cancellations for the tournament organisers was the withdraw of the world number one and six-time Miami champion (record holder together with Andre Agassi) Novak Djokovic, who seems to have recovered from his abdominal injury, but probably didn’t want to go back into a bubble and be separated from his wife and two small children for weeks. World number three and 35-time Masters 1000 champion Rafael Nadal has also cancelled, as he seems to want to fully recover from his back injury and prepare himself for the European clay court season, which is of course the King of Clay’s priority.
The world number four Dominic Thiem, who is in a deep form crisis, has not been able to shine at any tournament this year and wants to find his game again before he starts again, will not play in Miami. Four-time Miami champion Roger Federer had already withdrawn early, as he is probably not yet physically strong enough to play such a difficult tournament (96-player field) after his almost 58-week injury break. And finally, Matteo Berrittini (10), who could have been one of the most dangerous for the four players mentioned at the beginning, has also withdrawn, but his injury does not seem to have healed yet.
Clear path now for Medevedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Rublev
This means that the way is virtually clear for Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Rublev. Rarely have the chances been so good for them to win a Masters 1000. Medvedev and Zverev have done it three times so far, Tsitsipas and Rublev never. Andrey Rublev has become the king of the ATP 500 in recent months, winning four of these high-class D tournaments in a row. Masters 1000s, however, are a whole lot higher and the 23-year-old Russian has never been able to succeed here.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, who surprisingly won the ATP Finals (B) of the season’s eight best at the end of 2019, has otherwise never won an A, C or D tournament at all. On Saturday, he lost the final against Zverev in Acapulco (D) and thus missed the chance to win his second major tournament. The young Greek has so far mainly won lower-ranked E tournaments (ATP 250). Four of his five titles fall into this category. In the big and very big tournaments, however, the 22-year-old is still struggling. But that could change at some point.
Alexander Zverev, on the other hand, has already won three Masters 1000s (C) in addition to his victory at the 2018 ATP Finals (B), two in the 2017 season, one in the 2018 season, but none since. After his win in Acapulco (D) last week, it would of course be nice if he could follow it up with an even bigger tournament victory. But Daniil Medvedev, the top favourite for the title, will try to prevent that and Zverev could meet him in the semi-finals if both are not eliminated first. Like Zverev, the 25-year-old Russian has already won three Masters 1000s (C) and the ATP Finals (B) in November 2020. In this respect, a semi-final between these two most successful younger players up to 25 would be an absolute thriller. In the lower half, on the other hand, Rublev and Tsitsipas could face each other in the semifinals, both of whom want to finally win a tournament in this category.
The top eight players are likely to decide almost all the A, B and C tournament victories among themselves again this year
What a great chance it is that Djokovic, Nadal and Federer are missing is also illustrated by this figure: the Big Three have won a staggering 99 Master 1000 tournaments since 2002: Djokovic 36, Nadal 35 and Federer 28. Another 14 went to Andy Murray. If we add that one, the Big Four have shared 113 C titles among themselves. That would be as if they had won all the C tournaments for almost 13 years. Incredible numbers!
Andy Murray will be the only Big Four player in Miami, but since his serious hip injury in 2017 (he underwent several operations and an artificial hip), he is no longer the Murray of 2016, when he finally managed to pass the Big Three and become world No. 1, or the Murray of the years before. For the likeable Scot and great sportsman, it is now only about winning individual matches, but probably no more major tournaments.
The fact that Dominic Thiem, who is currently completely out of form, is also missing increases the chances for Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Rublev even more. Diego Schwartzman should not be a serious competitor for the four best U26 players in the world on hard court. The little Argentine does not play in the same league as the top eight, who are again likely to settle almost all A, B and C tournaments among themselves. Let’s see who of the four remaining can take advantage of this great opportunity and win the Miami Open 2021, unless a fifth-place finisher throws a spanner in the works.
Zverev will definitely overtake Federer in the ATP rankings and Medvedev can take the lead in the ATP Race if he reaches the semi-finals
The third Russian in this round would be the most likely to do so: Aslan Karatsev, who won the D tournament (ATP 500) in Dubai on Saturday – his first tournament victory ever. The 27-year-old was already convincing at the Australian Open, when he surprisingly reached the semi-finals, and he is currently in brilliant form. He could meet his compatriot Andrey Rublev, whom he surprisingly defeated in the preliminary round in Dubai, in the quarter-finals. But the two dream semi-finals would certainly be: Medvedev – Zverev and Rublev – Tsitsipas. From then on, the form of the day will probably decide, whereby Medvedev is probably a tad stronger than the other three.
Alexander Zverev, by the way, will definitely overtake Roger Federer in the ATP rankings after Miami and move up to position 6, as Federer, who is not competing, will lose many world ranking points as the defending champion of 2019 (last year’s tournament fell victim to the pandemic).
You can see what a big deal Miami is for the rankings as well by looking at the following:
- If Medvedev reaches the semi-finals, he overtakes Djokovic in the ATP Race to Turin (world ranking points from 1 January) and would be the most successful player so far in 2021.
- Unless Rublev or Tsitsipas wins the tournament and Medvedev loses in the semi-finals. The winner in Miami gets 1,000 points, half as much as for a Grand Slam win (A). So Rublev and Tsitsipas, even Karatsev, also have a chance to overtake Djokovic, who is not competing in Miami. If Medvedev reaches the final, he will definitely take the lead in the ATP Race, even if Rublev or Tsitsipas win the title.
- If Medvedev, who is considered the biggest favourite, wins Miami, he will have a lead of 810 points over Djokovic and the battle for first place until the ATP Finals in Turin and at the end of the year will finally be on and Djokovic will be seriously challenged.
So the Miami Open 2021 promises to be very exciting despite the five-time cancellation, or even more exciting because of it.
This is how the quarter-finals in Miami could look like
- Medvedev / Lajovic – Bautista Agut / Auger-Aliassime (or Murray)
- Zverev / Sinner / Khachanov – Dimitrov / Goffin / Fritz
- Schwartzman / Karatsev – Rublev / Garin
- Shapovalov / Raonic – Tsitsipas / de Minaur
This is how many tournament wins the Big Four plus Wawrinka and the five current best players under 28 have had so far
A tournaments: the four Grand Slam events – B tournaments: the Olympic Games and the ATP Finals – C tournaments: the nine Masters 1000 – D tournaments: the 13 ATP 500s – E tournaments: the 40 or so ATP 250s
- Roger Federer (39 years): 103 tournament wins ==> 20 A – 6 B – 28 C – 24 D – 25 E
- Rafael Nadal (34): 86 tournament wins ==> 20 – 1 – 35 – 21 – 9
- Novak Djokovic (33): 82 tournament wins ==> 18 – 5 – 36 – 14 – 9
- Andy Murray (33): 46 tournament wins ==> 3 – 3 – 14 – 9 – 17
- Dominic Thiem (27): 17 tournament wins ==> 1 – 0 – 1 – 5 – 10
- Stan Wawrinka (35): 16 tournament wins ==> 3 – 0 – 1 – 3 – 9
- Alexander Zverev (23): 14 tournament wins ==> 0 – 1 – 3 – 3 – 7
- Daniil Medvedev (25): 10 tournament wins ==> 0 – 1 – 3 – 1 – 5
- Andrey Rublev (23): 8 tournament wins ==> 0 – 0 – 0 – 4 – 4
- Stefanos Tsitsipas (22): 5 tournament wins ==> 0 – 1 – 0 – 0 – 4
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