The Future: Sinner, Ruusuvuori Worth The Wait

Emil Ruusuvuori (L) and Jannik Sinner (photo: @atptour/Twitter)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, March 30, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

One of the most anticipated matches in the men’s round of 16 at the Miami Open presented by Itaú took place Tuesday on Court 1 between #NextGenATP rising star and No. 21 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy and 83rd-ranked Emil Ruusuvuori, the 21-year-old bright hope from Finland. Regardless of the outcome, the Sinner-Ruusuvuori match would provide a great opportunity to watch and admire a couple of up-and-coming ATP Tour stars, both with bright futures ahead of them.

While a Hawkeye Live technical issue postponed the start of the match by 30 minutes, it may have only delayed the inevitable. That’s because Sinner was on his game and proved nearly unstoppable.

The 31st-ranked Sinner hit 20 winners and faced just two break points from Ruusuvuori during their 70-minute match and won 6-3, 6-2 to move into his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal round against No. 32 seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan.

Both Sinner and Ruusuvuori arrived for their 11 a.m. fourth-round match on time. However, about 15 minutes later, they were told by the chair umpire Joshua Brace to return to the locker room to wait out the delay. Then, at 11:30 a.m., the players returned to Court 1, were re-introduced by the public address announcer, and played the old-fashioned way – with lines persons making the calls.

Once the match began, there were back-to-back service breaks that broke the ice between these occasional practice and doubles partners. Then, each player stayed on serve until Sinner seized an opportunity and broke back in the eighth game. He served out the first set in the next game.

Later, Sinner broke Ruusuvuori to go ahead 2-1, and from there never looked back. He broke a second time in the set with a beautifully-executed cross-court backhand passing shot winner that gave him an insurmountable 5-2 advantage. Sinner’s fourth ace started the final game with a bang and four points later, Ruusuvuori hit a long return on the fourth shot of the last rally of the match – and Sinner was off to the quarterfinals. He outpointed Ruusuvuori 56-43 and benefited from the Finn’s 21 unforced errors.

The 19-year-old Sinner and Ruusuvuori are friendly – they recently played doubles together in Marseille – and as each attempted to reach their first Masters 1000 quarterfinal, it became evident that they definitely represent two of the freshest faces on the ATP Tour.

While both Sinner and Ruusuvuori have come a long way in their young careers, as recently as January 2020, they played against each other at an ATP Challenger event in Canberra, Australia, won by Ruusuvuori, 6-3, 6-4. Then, later in the year, they teamed in doubles at Rotterdam.

After Sinner’s nearly three-hour-long three-set victory over No. 14 seed Karen Khachanov on Sunday, he said: “It’s about trying to understand how to beat these guys, what can I improve more, trying to understand more the match. Obviously, it can give me a lot of confidence, but it’s always trying to understand what I’ve done good and what I can do better.”

Meanwhile, Ruusuvuori, the first Finnish man to reach the fourth round at Miami since Jarkko Nieminen in 2007, strung together impressive wins over Carlos Alcaraz, World No. 7 Alexander Zverev and Mikael Ymer before losing to Sinner. After beating Ymer on Sunday, he acknowledged: “We’ve both have played a lot of tennis in between [our last meeting].

“He’s improved a lot and has been playing great, as we all know. It’s going to be a very tough match again. He had a big win; it was a long time on the court too. … We know each other pretty well and we’ve practiced often, which is fun. He hits the ball so well. It’s going to be a fun match.”

After Tuesday’s victory, which was Sinner’s 12th of the season in 16 outings and advanced him to the quarterfinals in just his third Masters 1000 main draw, he said during his on-court interview: “For me it means a lot. The first goal is always trying to improve day after day, going on practice courts and then when you have sometimes good results, it makes you happy. I’m very happy about that and obviously I’m looking forward to tough matches here.

“You have to go on court and try to win matches. I’m just trying to do that. Sometimes, it works, sometimes not. For me, it’s just important giving 100 percent day after day and then I have to see what’s going to happen.”

Sinner reminded everyone that at the end of the day, while he’s very happy, it’s important to remember that “ranking is just a number. You still have to go on the court and play the match.”

Four American men vying for quarterfinals

For the first time since 2004, four American men have reached the Miami Open fourth round. Each of them – No. 28 John Isner, No. 32 Taylor Fritz, No. 58 Frances Tiafoe and No. 87 Sebastian Korda – were scheduled to be in action at Hard Rock Stadium Tuesday.

The 18th seed Isner, who won the 2018 Miami Open title, began Tuesday’s play on the Grandstand court by taking on No. 7 seed Roberto Bautista Agut – and the patience of the Spaniard rewarded him with advancement after two hours and 19 minutes with a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7) victory.

Bautista Agut withstood 23 service aces and 48 winners from Isner by hitting 20 winners of his own and taking advantage of the American’s 44 unforced errors. He put away the victory on his second match-point opportunity after Isner hit a wide forehand return on the 10th shot of the final rally.

On nearby Court 1, the 22nd seed Fritz took on Bublik and lost, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4. Later, the unseeded Tiafoe would be featured on the Grandstand against top seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia. Finally, once the south Florida afternoon morphed into evening, Korda would have his shot at matching skills with World No. 9 Diego Schwartzman from Argentina. Korda was looking to reach his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal.

Elite Eight: Women’s quarterfinals begin with Barty’s triumph

With the women’s singles field pared from its original 96 down to eight, the quarterfinals began with the upper half of the draw featured on the Grandstand court. First, World No. 1 (for 58 weeks counting) and top seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia, who saved a match point in her opening match in Miami and since has backed up her world ranking, was the first to reach the semifinals.

Barty, the defending Miami Open champion, beat No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus, 6-4, 6-7 (5) 6-3, on the strength of her steadiness under pressure Plus, she hit 28 winners and had zero breaks of her serve. It was Barty’s 10th consecutive Miami Open victory going back to 2019 and it’s her first Top 10 win in 14 months.

Barty told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference that a big difference between winning and losing her quarterfinal against Sabalenka was her ability to defend her service games.

“I think we had very few break points,” Barty said. “There were a couple games, particularly in the first set, where I was down love-40 and there were some 15-30 and 30-all points – big points – where I was able to produce some of my better stuff. That’s what we’re after. That’s what you’re always trying to do. On the other hand, Aryna served her way out of trouble, too. Just getting a couple of breaks is all the match needed.”

The second quarterfinal matching World No. 5 Elina Svitolina from Ukraine against unseeded Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia was scheduled for later Tuesday evening.

Tuesday’s Miami Open results – WTA

Tuesday’s Miami Open results – ATP

Wednesday’s Miami Open order of play

Around the Hard Rock Stadium

No. 26 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, who lives part time and trains in Florida, remained undefeated in Sunshine State matches this year (7-0) following his latest victory over No. 12 seed Milos Raonic of Canada.

Hurkacz rallied from a set down to win 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) in two hours and 20 minutes for his second victory against a Canadian opponent this week after beating Denis Shapovalov, 6-3, 7-6 (6) in the third round. The 37th-ranked Hurkacz finished with 31 winners, including 14 aces, and 34 unforced errors, while the heavy-hitting Raonic hit 38 winners but committed 50 unforced errors.

Earlier this year, Hurkacz won the Delray Beach Open in January, and now is into the Miami Open quarterfinals after winning his third match.

Bianca Andreescu: A late-night conversation

Canada’s personable Bianca Andreescu arrived for her virtual press conference about 12:40 a.m. this morning, about an hour following her three-set victory over Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza that advanced her to the quarterfinal round against another Spaniard, Sara Sorribes Tormo. The time allowed the 20-year-old Andreescu a chance to unwind from her match, grab a snack, check her social media and collect her thoughts.

Near the end of the lively 15-minute conversation that at times was confessional for the young Canadian, Andreescu described for the international media assembled at that late-night hour her journey to return to the WTA tour after taking 2020 off.

“I was dealing with a lot the past couple months, even 2020. It wasn’t that good of a year for me in many ways. I was super down on myself. I’m not gonna sit here and say, like, yeah, it was okay. It really wasn’t,” Andreescu said.

“What really got me through that were my family and my friends. To me, that was the most important thing, just having my family and my friends by my side. They really showed me the way and how this sport is really meant for me and how I have – I talk about this a lot, like a bigger purpose in life, and I’ll be able to achieve that by playing this sport. That just gives me motivation to continue and to have the same passion and love for the game.

“It’s showing. At the beginning of the year, not so much, but now it’s showing and I’m trusting the process and it’s really turning out well for me.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Garbiñe Muguruza on how much confidence was gained from a successful winter hard-court season, in which she reached three finals, won a title in Dubai, and leads the WTA in victories with 20: “I think it’s been great. I mean, so far probably my best start of the year, and happy about that. I take the positive.

“I know right now it is a tough moment, but, you know, in five minutes I’m just going to change my mind and, you know, just look ahead of the clay court which is my favorite surface and, yeah, happy with the way I’m playing.”