Who Can Challenge the Big 3 in Miami?
With Indian Wells ending with a bang, we move on to the second half of the Sunshine Double. The smart money as usual is always to bet on the Big 3 when they are active in a tournament. Last tournament was particularly peculiar seeing as Novak Djokovic went out early to Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Rafa Nadal withdrew at the semifinal stage, after a seemingly overall good week at Indian Wells, just ahead of a potential Fedal clash. Here, we look at some possible competitors to beat the Big 3 at Miami this week, taking into account hard court dominance as well.
This one is the clear choice simply by virtue of his Indian Wells title win being fresh in our memory. Miami has historically been another slow hard court, similar to Indian Wells, although with the change in venue to Hard Rock Stadium, it’s entirely possible that conditions could speed up. In slower conditions, though, Thiem can play very well, as seen at Indian Wells. What really stood out was that Thiem dominated by serving with incredible accuracy, as we see during his 2019 Indian Wells first serve win percentage (76.7%) and his first serve in percentage (71.3%) for the tournament. Reaching those numbers helped offset his relatively poor second serve win percentage (59.8%), it complemented his already strong groundstroke game, and helped him win sets with very slim margins, as he did in the tiebreak sets against Raonic in the semifinal, and in the tight 3 setter final against Federer. It remains to be seen if we will see consistency in him at this level, though that may be attributed to the number of tournaments he plays giving him fatigue that prevents him from performing at his highest level.
The young Greek star is only 20 years old, and while he’s incredibly talented, he still lacks the mental sharpness to consistently challenge for big trophies at the Masters 1000 level with any sort of consistency at the moment. He had a disappointing outing at Indian Wells where he lost to Auger Aliassime after a poor serving performance (37.5% second serve win percentage) and lack of overall consistency (12 winners to 17 unforced errors), but Tsitsipas showed much resolve when beating Federer on the way to the Australian Open semifinal, as well as in Dubai where he lost to Federer in the final after serving very nicely for most of the tournament (77.8% first serve win percentage). One might think that the serve shows potential, but that Tsitsipas may often go for pace over spin or placement.
The 3 time Major winner is finally showing some signs of life after being ranked in the 100s for quite some time, with the Swiss maestro being ranked 37 going into the Miami Open. The tools have always been there for Stanimal to win big in big tournaments, but an injury to the knee, as well as his age at 33 may have taken its toll on him as he took the second half of 2017 to recover from his injury, and then spent 2018 losing early in many tournaments. He made the final of Rotterdam and lost to Monfils in the final despite having the edge in net count Winners vs. Unforced Errors compared to the Frenchman (-9 vs -12). He even beat some quality opponents to get to the final in Nishikori, Shapovalov, Raonic, and Paire in some tight sets against each of them, but has been unable to replicate any such performances in 2019 outside of Rotterdam. Overall, while Wawrinka has won 87% of his service games in 2019 and 77% of his first serve points, his first serve percentage is only at 59% and he gets broken at a fairly high rate of 27% on break points. Perhaps it’s the knee that’s affecting him still, but on the big points especially like break points, Wawrinka has faltered and been unable to hold his nerve.