With Talent Galore, Miami Open Promises Plenty Of Popcorn Matches … And Much More

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

As one of the premier tennis events of the year, the Miami Open presented by Itaú features the best players from around the world. Well, almost. Because of knee injuries, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martín del Potro, ranked No. 2 and No. 8 in the world, respectively, are missing from this year’s 96-player men’s singles draw as a new era of the Miami Open begins Wednesday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

World No. 1 and six-time champion Novak Djokovic headlines the talent deep 2019 Miami Open field. In the top half of the draw, he’s joined by No. 3 seed and BNP Paribas Open winner Dominic Thiem, No. 5 seed Kei Nishikori and No. 7 seed and defending champion John Isner. The bottom half of the draw features No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev, No. 4 seed and three-time champion Roger Federer, No. 6 seed Kevin Anderson and No. 8 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. (Top seeded in the women’s singles draw is World No. 1 Naomi Osaka.)

Great match-ups

Looking for some early-round popcorn matches? The Miami Open has plenty of them. In the second round, how about No. 1 seed Djokovic against either Tomas Berdych or Bernard Tomic? Or, Zverev versus either Sam Querrey or the popular David Ferrer, who will be playing in South Florida for the final time before he retires later this spring. In the third round, it gets even better. Nishikori could face the mercurial No. 27 seed Nick Kyrgios, Federer might get another head-to-head with compatriot and No. 30 seed Stan Wawrinka (which would be their 26th meeting), and the possibility of Next Gen star and No. 20 seed Denis Shapovalov versus No. 9 seed Marin Cilic is worthy of being played on the Stadium court in front of a big night-time crowd.

In an effort to boost interest and spur ticket sales, on Monday night the Miami Open announced via its website and Twitter that Djokovic would make his tournament debut during Friday’s day session, Krygios will highlight Friday’s night session and Federer would be one of the big stars playing during Saturday’s day session.

Thiem seeking to complete the “Sunshine Double”

Thiem, who on Sunday was the first Austrian to win an ATP Masters 1000 singles title since Thomas Muster captured the Miami Open crown in 1997 – and the seventh player to win his first Masters 1000 title in the last 15 ATP Masters 1000 events – drew a first-round bye and will face either Matteo Berrettini or Hubert Hurkacz in his first match. His road to winning the Sunshine Double – the player who wins both Indian Wells and Miami in the same year – could include a third-round match against No. 25 seed Marton Fucsovics, a fourth-round encounter with No. 16 seed Gaël Monfils, a quarterfinal clash with Nishikori, and a semifinal showdown with Djokovic. It’s possible Thiem could get a rematch with Federer, whom he beat in the Indian Wells title match, in the Miami final on March 31.

Meanwhile, the first seeded opponent Djokovic might face is No. 32 seed John Millman in the third round, followed by a possible fourth-round matchup with either No. 15 seed Fabio Fognini, whom he played doubles with at Indian Wells, or No. 22 seed Roberto Bautista Agut. In the second week, Djokovic could get Isner or No. 12 seed Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals and either Thiem or Nishikori in the semifinals.

New venue

In its 35th year, the Miami Open’s move north from Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, the tournament’s home since 1987, comes with $72 million in improvements to transform the home of professional football’s Miami Dolphins into a state-of-the-art tennis venue. IMG, which owns the Miami Open, partnered with Stephen M. Ross, the owner of the Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium.

The new-look Miami Open, designed to bring together art, music, food and fashion with tennis, features a 14,000-seat stadium court painted in Oasis Blue and Biscayne Blue built within Hard Rock Stadium. It includes 4,738 premium seats – some right on the court – that range in price from $50,000 to $70,000 for the two-week tournament. There are suites with private dining rooms, and outside, there is also a 40-by-90 foot video screen – touted as the largest in tennis – located adjacent to the stadium that gives off a Henman Hill vibe. Additionally, there’s a 5,191-seat grandstand court plus two smaller show courts – one of them named after former longtime tournament director Butch Buchholz – and eight other match courts. There’s plenty of amenities for the competitors and for fans, too. Now, they can sit and watch their favorite players on one of 18 practice courts – and, maybe, snag a selfie with them or an autograph or two.

“I had a picture in my head of what I wanted this to look like, the same way I do my real estate deals,” Ross told The New York Times. “It’s all in the details. Little things matter. People notice, and they’re watching for those details.” 

Although the early reviews of the new-look tennis campus at Hard Rock Stadium have been positive, there’s still a bit of nostalgia and feelings for Crandon Park, a public park on Key Biscayne, about 20 miles south of Hard Rock Stadium, which over the years featured men’s champions such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Mats Wilander and Andy Roddick. Isner, last year’s champion, told The New York Times, “Key Biscayne had a very intimate setting, and you can’t beat the drive over the Rickenbacker Causeway, with blue water on both sides of you. We had a lot of history in that place, and that stadium court will always be very special to me.”

Tournament director and former pro James Blake was quoted by The New York Times as saying, “There’s a bit of a challenge in giving people the confidence that this really is for the best.”

Notes

• March madness: After a four-hour rain delay and with more precipitation forecasted, play was cancelled on Tuesday at about 3 p.m. local time. None of the 12 first-round women’s singles matches on Tuesday’s order of play or the remaining men’s and women’s singles qualifying draw matches scheduled reached court. So, it means that a total of 54 singles matches – men’s and women’s first-round main draw and men’s and women’s final-round qualifying draw – will be on Wednesday’s crowded order of play.

Outer court play will commence at 10 a.m. local time (2 p.m. London, 3 p.m. Central European), and following an 11 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony on the Stadium court that will feature Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, play will commence there and on the Grandstand court at noon (4 p.m. London, 5 p.m. Central European).

• The opening match on Stadium at noon will feature No. 46 Victoria Azarenka against No. 35 Dominika Cibulkova. It will be followed by Janko Tipsarevic versus Bradley Klahn, then Bernard Tomic versus Tomas Berdych. The Stadium night session will feature BNP Paribas Open women’s champion Bianca Andreescu versus Irina-Camelia Begu not before 7:30 p.m. (11:30 p.m. London, 12:30 a.m. Thursday Central European) followed by Maximilian Marterer against Taylor Fritz. A complete order of play is available via the tournament website, MiamiOpen.com.

• Among the more intriguing players still trying to qualify for the men’s draw are No. 57 Felix Auger-Aliassime and No. 118 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Both are in action on Court 1 on Wednesday. Auger-Aliassime, who is seeded second in the men’s qualifying draw, faces No. 17 Paulo Lorenzi, while Tsonga, who received a wild card into qualifying and is seeded No. 22, takes on No. 7 Pablo Cuevas.

• No days off: Men’s No. 4 seed Roger Federer wasted no time in flying across the country from Indian Wells in the California palm desert to Miami, near the Florida palm beaches, following his loss to Dominic Thiem in Sunday evening’s BNP Paribas Open final. By Monday afternoon, social media had captured Federer walking out to much fanfare on the stadium court to practice. Another video showed Federer introducing his father, Robert, to Miami Open tournament director James Blake, while casually sharing conversational pleasantries.

• Equality: The 96-player men’s draw is chasing after a first-prize payout of more than $1.3 million (U.S. dollars) and 1,000 ATP rankings points. Meanwhile, the women’s 96-player draw is also in pursuit of a first-prize award of more than $1.3 million (U.S. dollars) and 1,000 WTA rankings points.

• According to Forbes magazine, Miami Open owner IMG, “entered into a profi-sharing agreement with the Dolphins. IMG handles sponsorship sales, while the Dolphins sell luxury suites and tickets. Revenue from tickets and sponsorships are both trending up significantly after the move to Hard Rock.”

What they’re saying

Mark Shapiro, president of Endeavor, IMG’s parent company, was asked by The New York Times about the Miami Open’s change of venue. He said, “Key Biscayne was lovely, but we simply outgrew it. What we’ve got now is going to be supernatural, like walking through a Lollapalooza, and a tennis tournament grew out it. Forget becoming the fifth major, we’re the new U.S. Open.”

• James Blake, Miami Open tournament director, in a Tennis.com interview, believes his relationships now and as a former player with established stars such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Serena and Venus Williams can be beneficial. He said, “I think it’s great, because we’re witnessing history. I’m also partial, because I played against them and with them, and I think they’re incredible human beings. Whether it’s Alexander Zverev or Felix Auger-Aliassime who makes a big move, I’m not worried about the next generation. The transition will come.”

• Quick hits: “The new facility looks fantantic,” said  Hall of Famer and Tennis Channel analyst Lindsay Davenport. “I really like it. It’s a big upgrade,” said No. 28 seed Frances Tiafoe, ranked No. 34, interviewed on Tennis Channel Live during its Tuesday evening show.