Miami Open 2021: Former champ Johanna Konta heads into Round 3
Fellow Brit Jack Draper, playing in his first main-tour draw, falls victim to heat
The 2021 season has seen the rise and rise of the teenage star in men’s tennis.
First and foremost was 19-year-old Yannik Sinner, who won his first title late last year, and then a second in Melbourne last month. He already had a Major quarter-final run in the bag, in Roland Garros last October, and a quarter run in Dubai last week took him to a career-high 31 in the ranks.
Then there was Lorenzo Musetti, the newest teenage arrival in the top 100 at 94 after reaching the semis in Acapulco via qualifying and with wins over Diego Schwartzman and Grigor Dimitrov. A former No1 junior—he won the 2019 Australian Open junior title—his flashy single-handed game would take on Michael Mmoh in his Miami debut.
Then there was fellow 19-year-old, Briton Jack Draper, a late developer now standing 6ft 3ins tall. He was most familiar with his home nation as the runner-up at Junior Wimbledon in 2018, but the teenager was now literally making his first foray on the main-tour stage.
Thus far, in his short pro career, it had been ITF and Challenger events all the way, but with a Miami wild card, Draper was in at the deep end—the first round of one of the biggest Masters tournaments in the calendar.
He was against the experienced Mikhail Kukushkin, ranked 105 but a former No39, and a man with one title from four finals in his career. The test, then, began early, though the young Briton showed himself up to the task, saving break points on his first service game, and then bringing up break chances against Kukushkin. Each man held, but it took 23 minutes to reach 2-1, and both were drenched in the hot and humid conditions.
The leftie teenager was not afraid to attack, either, throwing in some net charges, and while it was Draper who was first broken in game four, he levelled again, 3-3.
They edged towards a tie-break, with Draper earning a break chance at 5-5, but he was beginning to look very drained, and he called the trainer and doctor at the change of ends, apparently struggling with breathing and dizziness.
After a long wait, they continued, but it was clear Draper was in trouble, and reaching for a ball on set point, his legs went, and he fell to the court. Inevitably, he was forced to retire, 5-7, after an hour and 20 minutes.
But even with the withdrawal of former Miami champion Andy Murray due to groin injury, but remained a British seed in each of the main singles draws.
Dan Evans, ranked 29 and playing some his career best tennis, won his first title in Melbourne in early February, and after a first-round bye, faced the dangerous unseeded Frances Tiafoe in the top segment of the draw that is headed by Daniil Medvedev.
He was joined in Round 2 by Cameron Norrie, who pulled out a fine comeback win against Yoshihito Nishioka, after the Japanese man had served for the match. Norrie next faces No9 seed Dimitrov.
Liam Broady, with some fine, deep Challenger runs this season, made it through qualifying in Miami to take on the 46-ranked 21-year-old, Miomir Kecmanovic. His match would be the last of the Britons on a muggy Thursday.
And on the women’s side, there were high hopes for former Miami champion and No17 seed Johanna Konta, who faced Magda Linette.
The British woman had found wins hard to come by through a difficult 2020, and thus far in 2021 as well: no fewer than seven first-round exits, and only one match-win so far this season. The No50-ranked Linette, though, had precious few wins in recent months, too.
But the Miami courts and climate clearly suit Konta, and it showed in her confident play and body language The Briton got the first break at the optimum moment, saving break-back point to serve out the set, 6-4.
She faced one break-back point in the next game but held firm, pulling off a drop-shot to hold for 2-0. Linette got on the board, and threatened to break, but Konta held off for 3-1.
However, at the next chance, Linette did level: Konta needed to be alert to the danger, and threw in a reassuring love hold for 4-4. She finally got the breakthrough in the 11th game, and served out the win, 7-5, where she awaits the winner between No9 seed Petra Kvitova and Alize Cornet.
Konta was joined in the second round by Katie Boulter, who came back from a set down to beat Kristyna Pliskova. However, Heather Watson lost in the first round.