While the first event of the traditional “Sunshine Double” was canceled (or postponed) at Indian Wells for the second straight year, the Miami Open is set to get underway Monday. After not being held in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, players are eager to get back to South Florida and participate in one of the biggest hard-court events of the season.
Who is playing and who are the players to keep a close eye on? What are the biggest storylines to watch? Is it still cool to reference Will Smith’s 1998 masterpiece “Miami” when talking about this tournament?
We answer all that and more.
Who’s in and who’s out?
While Miami always draws a star-studded lineup, this year it might be just as notable who won’t be there, particularly on the men’s side. On Friday, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic became the latest player to announce he would be skipping the event, citing restrictions related to the virus and a desire to stay home with his family. He joined an already substantial absentee list that includes reigning champion Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios and Stan Wawrinka.
So, who exactly is playing?
Daniil Medvedev, who recently became the first man outside of the Big Four to enter the top two in the rankings since 2005, will be the top seed and is now the favorite. Coming off a final appearance in Melbourne and having just won his 10th career title at the Open 13 in Marseille, France, Medvedev will look to further cement his status as the young player to watch.
Of course, there are more than a few other up-and-comers hoping to win one of the biggest titles of their careers. Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev will all try to capitalize on the slightly-weakened draw.
The women’s side remains largely intact with all but one of the top 20 in the draw. Still, the missing player is substantial.
Eight-time Miami champion Serena Williams, who had been set to play for the first time since her emotional exit in Melbourne when she fell to Naomi Osaka in the semifinals, withdrew Sunday, citing recent oral surgery. With questions and speculation swirling about her future in the sport, the 23-time major champion undoubtedly would have been very much in the spotlight during her run at the tournament. Alas, fans will now have to wait and see when and where Williams plays next.
A limited number of fans — approximately 15% of the Grandstand Court capacity, or 750 in total — will be allowed onsite this year. During the tournament’s inaugural year at Hard Rock Stadium in 2019, after moving from its longtime home in Key Biscayne, center court was featured inside the Dolphins’ home stadium itself — but that won’t be the case this time and the 5,000-seat grandstand will be the main court.
While the tournament will be expecting nowhere near the turnout permitted at the Australian Open, it will be the first North American tennis event to have any fans since the pandemic began, so it will undeniably be a welcome sight (and sound) for players — although there has been criticism over the steep prices for the limited number of tickets.
American Reilly Opelka, currently ranked No. 38, expressed his frustration and empathy to fans on Twitter last week in a series of tweets. He called the situation “sad” and emphasized the large drop in prize money at the event (overall winnings decreased at the tournament from $16.7 million in 2019 to $6.68 million).
This is sad.. players are certainly not playing for money at this point. We are playing for the greater good of the sport. If there are die hard tennis fans that want to come and are willing to pay 3k to watch tennis but cant afford it. Theres something wrong. https://t.co/tyEHfApfrN
— Reilly Opelka (@ReillyOpelka) March 18, 2021
Getting a fresh start in 2021
For many players, the Miami Open offers a hard-court redemption of sorts following disappointing starts to the season at the Australian Open. Here are four whose morale and confidence could certainly use the boost from a successful run:
Victoria Azarenka, who was coming off a resurgent 2020 which saw her reach the US Open final and win the Western & Southern Open, had to endure the “hard quarantine” protocol in Melbourne and isolate in her hotel room for 14 days following a positive test on her charter flight. The two-time Australian Open champion then lost in the first round. She reached the semifinals in Qatar soon after but had to withdraw following a back injury. A three-time winner in Miami, including while pregnant with her son Leo in 2016, and now a resident of Florida, a victory would be extra sweet for Azarenka.
Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, made her return to competition in Melbourne after a 15-month layoff in Melbourne and also having been stuck in the hard quarantine. She lost in the second round of her much-hyped comeback and then injured her leg the following week at the Phillip Island Trophy and had to withdraw from her next three events.
She’s expected to make her latest return this week and will be looking for wins — and to stay healthy.
Top-ranked American Sofia Kenin hoped to repeat her title at the Australian Open but was upset in the second round by Kaia Kanepi. Then, also playing in the subsequent Phillip Island Trophy, she was stunned by an unranked 18-year old wild card in her opener. Two days later she began experiencing abdominal pain and required immediate surgery to remove her appendix. Miami marks her first tournament since and she will definitely look to forget the first few months of 2021.
Diego Schwartzman reached his first major semifinal in 2020 at the French Open and cracked the top 10 for the first time in his career. And while he won his home Argentina Open, the rest of the new year hasn’t exactly followed the same trajectory — he lost in straight sets in the third round at the Australian Open (to qualifier and eventual semifinalist Aslan Karatsev) and in the first round at last week’s Mexican Open. With so many absences on the men’s side of the draw, Miami might just be the perfect place for Schwartzman to press the restart button.
Andy Murray’s comeback continues
The former World No. 1 will continue his comeback from 2019 hip surgery this week after receiving a wild card from the tournament. Currently ranked No. 118, Murray was unable to play at the Australian Open last month due to testing positive for COVID-19 and then missed the Dubai Championships after his wife gave birth to their fourth child. He last played in Rotterdam earlier this month before falling in the second round.
Due to his injury, related setbacks and the pandemic, it’s been a difficult and inconsistent stretch for the three-time major winner but he said he is finally feeling healthy and ready to play as much as possible.
“Over the next few months, I want to play matches — especially against the top players — work on my game and climb the rankings,” he told People magazine. “I want to get back playing a sport I love.”
Murray has won the Miami title twice, and will be playing at the tournament for the first time since 2016.
You promised to answer that Will Smith question!
It is cool? Not really.
Is it acceptable? Definitely. He is playing Richard Williams in that new biopic, after all.
Barty Party in the city where the heat is on
Ashleigh Barty won the then-biggest title of her career at the 2019 Miami Open as she knocked off three top-10 seeds en route to hoisting the trophy. The victory propelled her into the top 10 in the rankings for the first time and weeks later, she won her maiden Slam title at the French Open.
Two years later, Barty is ranked No. 1 in the world and is preparing to play her first event outside her home country of Australia in 13 months, having opted to skip the restart of the 2020 season. While she remained in the top spot due to temporary changes in the ranking system, she will see points start dropping in Miami and onward if she is unable to replicate her success. No. 2 Osaka could certainly gain some ground with a successful run at the event.
Needless to say, there is a lot on the line for Barty, 24, in Florida, and it hasn’t exactly been the smoothest comeback thus far. She started the 2021 season with a victory at the Yarra Valley Classic in February but then lost in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and fell in her opening-round match at the Adelaide International. She then withdrew from Qatar and Dubai due to a lingering left leg injury. How she will fare in Miami — and beyond — remains to be seen, but she sounded enthusiastic in an interview last week with Nine News.
“I’m looking forward to competing again, first and foremost,” she said. “I’m excited to get back out there and test myself against the best.”