Miami Open 2021: Djokovic, Williams, Federer absent, but defending champ Barty is back

Is door open for new a champion: Rublev or Tsitsipas, Swiatek or Muguruza?

Garbine Muguruza
Garbine Muguruza (Photo: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships)

Just two tournaments in the men’s and women’s calendar boast such big draws and as many seeds.

The March double-header of Indian Wells and Miami provides one of the sternest tests on the tour: a 96-player draw for both the ATP and WTA, with 32 seeds in each. Only the four Majors are bigger—and they do not fall in consecutive weeks.

Last year, the Sunshine Double marked the first casualties of the global Covid pandemic, the start of almost six months’ closure that included Wimbledon and the Olympics, followed by an unseasonal October playing of the French Open.

And even with the return of a number of tournaments, there were no fans, precious few media, and in some cases, the absence of many top players unwilling to jeopardise their health or endure weeks of quarantine without family and support networks.

And still some tournaments feel the only solution this spring has been to pull the plug, the biggest of them being Indian Wells. So the present playing of the Miami Open is a bold and welcome sight for sore eyes for tennis fans and many players.

Yet it will be a rather different Miami Open from the usual jamboree. The Hardrock Stadium, transformed into a vast Centre Court when the tournament moved from its old home in Key Biscayne for the 2019 event, will not be used. Instead, the Grandstand Court will be the main arena, No1 will be the second show-court, and Butch Buchholz court becomes show-court No3. Ticket sales will be strictly limited and allocated to these courts, with no general admission on any courts.

But although players have grown used to confinement within tournament hotels, plus heavy restrictions around the tennis venues, a locked-down chance to play, even for reduced prize money, is better than not playing at all.

That said, with the absence of Indian Wells this spring, many players have voted with their feet and decided not to leave Europe and the Middle East, which have hosted most tennis competitions since Australia.

So the two most successful champions in Miami, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, will be absent this year.

The defending and four-time men’s champion Roger Federer is another big name to withdraw, though on the men’s side, there are plenty more holes, including Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Gael Monfils and Stan Wawrinka. At the time of writing, there are 31 of the top 100 opting out.

The picture is less punctured in the women’s draw, and aside from eight-time champion Williams, 19 of the top 20 are due to play, with only three more potential women’s seeds missing.

Women’s draw

That means world No1 Ashleigh Barty will defend her title, playing for the first time outside her native Australia since reaching the semis of the Qatar Open more than a year ago.

World No2 Naomi Osaka has not played since winning the Australian Open, nor has No3 Simona Halep, but one woman who has been making her presence felt is Garbine Muguruza, who has won more matches than anyone on tour, 18-4, has reached three finals in 2021, leads the tour in top-10 wins, and has just won her first title in two years in Dubai.

One segment of the draw stands out: Two-time semi-finalist Halep will face either Caroline Garcia or a qualifier in the second round and perhaps teenage star Coco Gauff in the third round.

Halep could then face French Open champion Iga Swiatek for the third time in six months in Round 4. Swiatek, who won the Adelaide International last month, will make her Miami Open main-draw debut against Dubai finalist Barbora Krejcikova, with No18 seed Madison Keys in the third round.

As for Osaka, she has not lost a match in over a year, winning the US Open and Australian Open, and ending her campaigns in the ‘Cincinnati’ final and Gippsland Trophy with walkovers: That amounts to a 21-match winning streak.

In Miami, she is yet to make a deep run, and will be tested in the third round by No26 seed Yulia Putintseva, who has a 3-1 head-to-head advantage over Osaka.

No8 seed Bianca Andreescu, who played her first two tournaments in 13 months in Australia, and withdrew from the Middle East swing, is in Muguruza’s eighth, with Amanda Anisimova set to be her first seed. Looking ahead to the quarters, Andreescu’s top contender would be No4 seed Sofia Kenin, who is playing her first tournament since having appendicitis surgery following the Australian Open.

Men’s draw

With so many big names missing in the men’s draw, there is room for a new young name to lift the trophy in what has been a near stranglehold on proceedings by Djokovic and Federer.

Only one former champion is in the draw after wild card Andy Murray withdrew Tuesday with a groin injury—and that after continuing to search for his best form following extended absences for hip surgery. No28-ranked John Isner won the title in 2018, and has also played a modest schedule in the last year or so, venturing out of America only once to play two matches at the French Open in October.

Realistically, then, eyes will focus on a clutch of younger men who have particularly impressed themselves on the tour and rankings since the end of lockdown last August.

Two of the biggest title prospects are from Russia: the world No2 Daniil Medvedev, who already has three Masters titles to his name, plus the ATP Finals trophy from last November, and No8 Andrey Rublev, who put together a 23-match winning streak at ATP500 level dating back to Dubai last year, with titles in Hamburg, St Petersburg, Vienna and this year’s Rotterdam. He also reached the quarters at all three Majors played in that span—and for good measure, shared the ATP Cup title with compatriot Medvedev.

Top seed Medvedev, 14-2 this season, arrived in Miami from winning the ATP Cup, making the final of the Australian Open, and winning in Marseille. He has also broken the ranking ceiling of the last 16 years, a period during which no-one but the Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray held the No2 ranking.

Medvedev heads a decent segment of the draw that avoids some of the biggest threats for the title, too, though his quarter eventually brings Isner, plus perhaps Lloyd Harris, who put together such an impressive run in Dubai last week via Thiem and Denis Shapovalov.

A potential semi-final could bring Medvedev into competition with Acapulco’s champion, Alexander Zverev, also a former Masters champion and Major finalist. These two have already faced each other nine times, with the Russian winning their three matches in the last five months.

Zverev finds the dangerous young star Jannik Sinner, seeded 21, in his eighth, plus Doha champion Nikoloz Basilashvili, with yet another Russian Karen Khachanov is the next highest seed.

Another Russian lurks in Rublev’s quarter, too, the man who took Australia and Dubai by storm to shoot up the ranks to 27. He beat both Sinner and Rublev in Dubai to win his first title.

The second seed, Stefanos Tsitsipas, faces a tough quarter at the bottom of the draw, with unseeded Kevin Anderson possible in his first match, the returning Kei Nishikori in Round 3 and Alex de Minaur in Round 4. The quarters could produce Shapovalov or Milos Raonic.

Previous Miami champions in women’s draw

Venus Williams (3)

Victoria Azarenka (3)

Johanna Konta (1)

Sloane Stephens (1)

Ash Barty (1)

Svetlana Kuznetsova (1)

WTA champions so far in 2021 [all hard courts]

500 Abu Dhabi, Aryna Sabalenka

500 Yarra Valley Classic, Ash Barty

500 Gippsland Trophy, Elise Mertens

Australian Open, Naomi Osaka

250 Phillip Island Trophy, Daria Kasatkina

500 Adelaide, Iga Swiatek

500 Doha, Petra Kvitova

250 Lyon, Clara Tauson

1000 Dubai, Garbine Muguruza

250 Guadalajara, Sara Sorribes Tormo

250 Monterrey, Leylah Fernandez

500 St Petersburg, Daria Kasatkina

ATP champions so far in 2021 [hard court only]

250 Delray Beach, Hubert Hurkacz

250 Antalya Open, Alex de Minaur

250 Great Ocean Road, Jannik Sinner

250 Murray River Open, Dan Evans

ATP Cup, Russia, Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev

Australian Open, Novak Djokovic

250 Singapore, Alexei Popyrin

250 Montpellier, David Goffin

500 Rotterdam, Andrey Rublev

250 Doha,, Nikoloz Basilashvili

250 Marseille Daniil Medvedev

500 Dubai, Aslan Karatsev

500 Acapulco, Alexander Zverev

Previous Miami champions in men’s draw

John Isner (1)

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