Miami Masters preview: Federer’s back, but can he trouble Djokovic or Murray?

Marianne Bevis previews the Miami Masters, where Roger Federer is set to make his comeback from knee surgery

Marianne Bevis
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It seems altogether extraordinary that Novak Djokovic, just two days ago, won a record fifth Indian Wells title, his third in a row, yet he arrives in Miami already with five titles to his name and the hot favourite to make it six.

And if that does not seem super-human, the world No1’s record in one of the toughest doubles in tennis, the Indian Wells-Miami double-header, certainly does. It is a feat that only two active men have achieved: Roger Federer a decade ago in 2005 and 2006, and Djokovic—three times already. Should he win Miami next week, he will become the only player to do so in three consecutive years.

And make no mistake, this is an ‘iron-man’ challenge, as the tour moves from the hot, dry conditions of the Californian desert to the hot and humid Florida Keys. Both tournaments are super-size and super-lucrative, boasting a 96-man draw—and even with a first-round bye for the 32 seeds, the champion must still play six matches in both events.

Djokovic the dominant

Even his biggest rivals concede that Djokovic is currently head and shoulders above the competition. He leads the rankings by almost twice as many points as the No2, Andy Murray.

He won a record-tying 27 Masters titles last Sunday, has reached 10 consecutive Masters finals, and has won eight out of those 10: that’s a 50-2 run.

In his past 20 tournaments since the beginning of 2015, Djokovic has won 14 titles from 18 finals, compiling match-winning statistics of 104-7. And only an eye-infection in Dubai interrupted that unbroken run of finals.

Then there is his record in Miami: He won his first title here at the age of 19, and has won the title in four of the past five years, 24 wins from 25 matches.

Roger the returner

The two-time former champion Federer has only played two of the last four Miami Opens, and was not scheduled to play this year either until the unexpected: An injury after the Australian Open that required knee surgery.

It meant withdrawal from Rotterdam, Dubai and Indian Wells, and the consequent loss of 1,100 ranking points. But having picked Monte-Carlo for his return, he changed his schedule just days before Miami.

The extra tournament could be a blessing further down the road, as seedings for the French Open and Wimbledon loom. Federer’s absence here last year means he can only gain points, he has only 90 to defend in Monte-Carlo, and, should he add Madrid to his schedule, only 10 to defend there. Altogether he has just 950 points at stake in the run-up to Roland Garros, compared with the 2,750 that Murray must defend.

Federer’s current No3 ranking, though, has dropped him into Djokovic’s half, and despite a 44-13 record, Miami has never been the Swiss man’s most comfortable place. So if he does reach that semi showdown, he would surely be more than happy—especially with Juan Martin del Potro as his likely first opponent.

However, until Federer plays on Friday, no-one knows whether he will hit the court running or simply be glad to get some matches under his feet.

Murray’s Miami

Murray has reached the Miami final in three of the past four years, winning in 2013 (as well as 2009) to set a 27-8 record.

Perhaps it is not surprising: Miami has been his training base since before that first victory. This time, he is looking forward to his return there even more than usual, as he will be reunited with his family.

Murray had a productive start to the year, with a final run in Australia, the birth of his first daughter soon after, and then three back-to-back wins in Davis Cup. But he could have an easier start this week.

Borna Coric, if he beats Denis Istomin, already has a win against Murray in Dubai last year. Grigor Dimitrov in the third round is also unpredictably dangerous: similarly Gael Monfils in Round 4. But Murray has avoided Federer in his half and No5 Rafael Nadal in his quarter, so it could be worse.

Former finalist and other hopefuls

· No5 Nadal has yet to unlock the Florida key. He has been runner-up four times, and twice more a semi-finalist, a 35-10 record. And after a tough 18 months of lost form and confidence, there have been signs of a return to something close to his best. He will have to negotiate some big-hitters to reach the semis, though: Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios, John Isner and Stan Wawrinka are all possible opponents.

· No8 David Ferrer has had an uncharacteristically slow start to his season, with his best performance arguably a quarter-final run in Australia. He was runner-up in Miami in 2013, is twice a semi-finalist and three times more a quarter-finalist: 30-13. His is a bottom heavy section, though, with Gilles Simon and Marin Cilic as well as Federer.

· The other former runner-up in the draw is the ever-consistent, always formidable Tomas Berdych, finalist in 2010 and semi-finalist for the last two years. He is, though, in Djokovic’s quarter.

· No4 seed Wawrinka has two titles this year, but reached only the fourth round Indian Wells. He has, therefore, had time to acclimatise to Miami, though judging from previous outings, this is not his tournament: Only twice has he reached the fourth round—and no further.

· The only man in the draw other than Ferrer, Berdych and Wawrinka to break the ‘glass ceiling’ of the ‘big four’ in Masters wins is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who played well in losing to Djokovic in Indian Wells, though he has only three quarter-final runs to his name in Miami.

New names, new hopes

There have been more than a few signs that fresh blood is pumping through the men’s rankings and draws this season.

· David Goffin rose to No15 this week after beating his first top-five player, Wawrinka, and then Cilic to reach his first Masters semi last week.

· Dominic Thiem is on the verge of breaking the top 12, beat Nadal on his way to the Buenos Aires title, Ferrer to reach the Rio semis, and Bernard Tomic to win Acapulco. He is also level with Djokovic at the top of the match-wins table, with 22.

· The charismatic teenager Alexander Zverev is up to another career-high of 52 this week after taking the scalps of Dimitrov and Simon in Indian Wells, and holding match-point against Nadal in the fourth round. He could face a third-round rematch with Berdych, who survived a marathon Davis Cup battle against the young German three weeks ago.

· Coric is the highest ranked of the five teenagers in the draw at No46, and has a final finish to his name in Chennai. Things in Miami are tough, though, with Murray in the second round.

· A tough quarter also awaits the 24-seeded 20-year-old Kyrgios, with John Isner his first seed, a high-profile meet with Wawrinka in the fourth round—after a retirement on each side in their last two matches—and then Raonic or Nadal.

Previous champions in draw:
Djokovic (5 times and defending), Federer (twice), Murray (twice)

In and out:
The entire top 10 plays Miami for first time since 2012. The only two men missing from the top 20 are: No17 Kevin Anderson and No20 Bernard Tomic.
Other missing potential seeds are: No30 Philipp Kohlschreiber; No32 Fabio Fognini; and No33 Ivo Karlovic
Other injured main draw players: No47 Tommy Robredo; No71 Pablo Andujar

Wild Cards:
Roberto Carbelles Baena; Nicolas Jarry; Michael Mmoh; Andrey Rublev; Elias Ymer

British interest:
Andy Murray opens against Coric or Istomin
Aljaz Bedene opens against Carballes Baena
Kyle Edmund opens against Jiri Vesely [with Djokovic in Round 2]

[NB all seeds have a bye in Round 1, so first match is Round 2]

Top half

No1 seed Djokovic quarter
R2, Edmund or Vesely
R3, first seed, No25 Martin Klizan
R4, No21 seed Feliciano Lopez or No14 seed Thiem
QF, No10 Richard Gasquet, No20 Benoit Paire, No31 Steve Johnson, or No7 Berdych
SF, No3 Federer and No8 Ferrer are top seeds

No3 seed Federer quarter
R2, Del Potro or Guido Pella
R3, first seed, No28 Jeremy Chardy
R4, No 19 Viktor Troicki or No15 Goffin
QF, No11 Cilic, No18 Simon, No32 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or No8 Ferrer
SF, No1 Djokovic and No9 Berdych are top seeds

Bottom half

No4 seed Wawrinka quarter
R2, Andrey Kuznetsov or qualifier
R3, first seed, No29 Sam Querrey
R4, No24 Kyrgios or No13 Isner
QF, No12 Raonic, No22 Jack Sock, No30 Thomaz Bellucci, or No5 Nadal
SF, No2 Murray and No6 Nishikori are top seeds

No2 seed Murray quarter
R2, Istomin or Coric
R3, first seed, No26 Dimitrov
R4, No23 Pablo Cuevas or No16 Monfils
QF, No9 Tsonga, No17 Roberto Bautista Agut, No27 Alexandr Dolgopolov, or No6 Nishikori
SF, No4 Wawrinka and No5 Nadal are top seeds

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