It’s that time of year again, time for the world’s best tennis players — and some of the sport’s most passionate and boisterous fans — to descend on Key Biscayne for the Miami Open.
Can anybody stop the resurgent Roger Federer?
A year ago, Federer was bothered by a sore knee, battling a stomach flu and had not won a Grand Slam tournament in four years. Although he remained a fan favorite, common sense said he probably wouldn’t lift another major trophy.
Common sense doesn’t apply to the age-defying Federer, the 35-year-old father of four who two months ago shocked the world, and himself, by winning the Australian Open after a five-set epic match against Rafael Nadal. Last weekend, he won the title at Indian Wells. He looks rejuvenated, is hitting his backhand better than ever and is back up to No. 6 in the world.
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are injured and missing the Miami Open, easing Federer’s path to another trophy. Standing in the way could be Nadal, who has made four finals here but never won.
Will Angelique Kerber play up to her No. 1 world ranking?
If you ask the casual sports fan to name the No. 1-ranked female tennis player in the world, chances are the answer will be Serena Williams. That would be the wrong answer.
It is Angelique Kerber of Germany who sits atop the world rankings, ahead of No. 2 Williams, who dropped from the top spot after missing the Indian Wells tournament with a knee injury. Kerber has not won a tournament since last year’s U.S. Open and has not reached a final this season. She was beaten 6-3, 6-3 in the Round of 16 at Indian Wells by eventual champion Elena Vesnina.
With Williams skipping the Miami Open, it is the perfect chance for Kerber to get back on track.
Is there any chance an American man will win the title?
The Williams sisters have won 11 titles here (Serena with eight, Venus with three) and American men won 12 titles from 1990 to 2004 (six for Andre Agassi). But the last U.S. man to win on Key Biscayne was Andy Roddick in 2010.
The best chance in this year’s men’s draw is probably 17th-ranked Jack Sock, who replaced John Isner as the top-ranked American last October. He beat his first top-five opponent, Kei Nishikori, at Indian Wells and reached the semifinals, where he lost to Federer. He won two titles this season, Auckland and Delray Beach (by walkover).
“I think he right now is clearly the best American player,” ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert said. “He’s got one of the biggest forehands in the world. He moves tremendous ... the big thing is can he make a deep run in a Slam? I do think those are realistic goals.”
Is Svetlana Kuznetsova primed for a second title?
Kuznetsova, the 30-year-old Russian, is fluent in Spanish because of many years living in Spain. So, she feels right at home at the Miami Open. She has also played well here, winning in 2006 and making the final last year before losing to Victoria Azarenka.
Kuznetsova says she is enjoying tennis more than ever these days, and she looks like it. She reached the final at Indian Wells, losing to Elena Vesnina, and beat Roberta Vinci and Karolina Plisnova in the earlier rounds.
She enjoys playing in the Miami heat and humidity, and with Williams and Azarenka (maternity leave) missing, she could win a second title here.
Will Stan be The Man?
Third-ranked Stan Wawrinka is the top seed in the Miami Open because Djokovic and Murray are out. Known to lose early in big tournaments last year, he made a breakthrough by reaching the final at Indian Wells last week, where he met and lost to his longtime friend and Swiss countryman Federer.
Wawrinka has been in Federer’s shadow for several years, despite winning three Grand Slam titles. He is the reigning U.S. Open champion, has done well on American soil, and his side of the draw looks winnable, except for one name that stands out — Federer.